Symphony Center

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Symphony Center
Orchestra Hall Chicago.jpg
Orchestra Hall
Address 220 S. Michigan Ave.
Location Chicago, Illinois
Owner Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association
Type concert hall
Capacity Orchestra Hall: 2,522
Armour Stage: 150
Grainger Ballroom: 300
The Club at Symphony Center: 120
Buntrock Hall: 350
Built 1904[1]
Opened December 14, 1904 (1904-12-14)

Symphony Center is located in Chicago
Symphony Center
Coordinates 41°52′45″N 87°37′30″W / 41.87917°N 87.62500°W / 41.87917; -87.62500Coordinates: 41°52′45″N 87°37′30″W / 41.87917°N 87.62500°W / 41.87917; -87.62500
Architect Daniel Burnham[1]
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 78001127[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP March 21, 1978[2]
Designated NHL April 19, 1994[3]

Symphony Center is a music complex located at 220 South Michigan Avenue in the Loop area of Chicago, Illinois. Home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Chicago Sinfonietta, and the Institute for Learning, Access, and Training, Symphony Center includes the 2,522-seat Orchestra Hall, which dates from 1904; Buntrock Hall, a rehearsal and performance space; Grainger Ballroom, an event space overlooking Michigan Avenue and the Art Institute of Chicago; a public multi-story rotunda; tesori restaurant; and administrative offices. In June 1993, plans to significantly renovate and expand Orchestra Hall were approved and the $110 million project resulting in Symphony Center being completed from 1995 to 1997. Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994.[1] It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.


Built in 1904, Orchestra Hall was designed by renowned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. The new hall was specifically designed as a home for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which had previously performed in the larger Auditorium Theater. Construction began on May 1, 1904 and the first concert was held on December 14, 1904. The building has "Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall" inscribed in its façade, after the orchestra's first music director who died less than a month after his conducting debut there. The names Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner are inscribed above the ballroom windows on the façade.

From 1907 through 1996 the ninth-floor penthouse of the building served as the home of the Cliff Dwellers Club, with interior architecture by Howard Van Doren Shaw and the first significant mural of John Warner Norton.

Orchestra Hall was also used as a movie theater during the 1910s, to maintain income during the summer months, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was playing at the Ravinia Festival. Lectures and other programs were held at Orchestra Hall in the 1920s and 1930s, with speakers including Harry Houdini, Richard E. Byrd, Amelia Earhart, Bertrand Russell and Orson Welles.

In 2008 the venue hosted the 2008 Green National Convention alongside the Palmer House Hilton.

Acoustical History[edit]

Suboptimal acoustics within Orchestra Hall have been an ongoing concern throughout its history, and have been adjusted in major overhauls of the main hall in both the 1960s and as part of the Symphony Center transformation between 1995 and 1997.[4]

Critical reaction is that the 1995-97 acoustical revamp was largely successful, though with room for further improvement, particularly in the upper registers. Reviews at the time noted "...[the hall] sounded altogether new, with a depth and spaciousness never before heard here. ... The low strings, especially, had a new warmth and solidity, and the whole bass and baritonal range of the orchestra provided a firmer basis and a mellower foil for the sound above it, which has always been brash and brilliant. ... Not that everything is perfect. High frequencies can still sound glassy, and the high strings have not yet benefited as much as their brethren. [Supervising acoustician R. Lawrence Kirkegaard] had already begun to work on the problem after a private concert on Tuesday evening and continues to do so.",[5] "The orchestra now has a mellow bass sound that simply didn't exist before. Bass drums, previously the source of loud, dry thwacks, have a new resonance and texture. Violins have a richer color.",[6] and "It's fair to say that Orchestra Hall is, overall, vastly improved. The reverberation time, almost nonexistent before, is much lengthened. The strings, particularly in the lower ranges, are far more audible than was once the case, and all of the instruments resound with far more bloom, warmth, and brilliance. The sound is a good deal better in the other traditional trouble spot, the main floor beneath the balcony overhang, superb in the lower balcony and altogether glorious in the gallery.".[7]

In a review of a piano recital, not an orchestral concert, Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein wrote "...everything registered with the impact of the old hall, only better. There was more warmth, more space, around the keyboard. Similar reports came from listeners in the gallery.".[8] However, the same critic also noted shortly after the renovation "As of now, the low end has been dramatically enhanced, perhaps too much so. The lower strings and lower brass are going to have to modify their sound output to the new sensitivities of the acoustics. In many ways, then, Orchestra Hall is a work in progress. The coming weeks and months will require adjustments from players and audience members alike. Lawrence Kirkegaard ... said he and his associates were 'intensively involved' in minor adjustments last week and will continue to tinker with the sound sporadically throughout the season.",[9] and some years after the transformation, critics at the Chicago Tribune newspaper expressed dissatisfaction with the Orchestra Hall acoustics.[10][11]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Orchestra Hall, NHL Database, National Historic Landmarks Program. Retrieved 10 February 2007.
  2. ^ a b Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  3. ^ "Orchestra Hall". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  4. ^ Chicago Symphony Center Project Overview.
  5. ^ Oestreich, James (6 October 1997). "Celebration in Chicago for a New Orchestra Hall". New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Delacoma, Wynne (9 October 1997). "Symphony Center upgrade was a sound investment". Chicago Sun Times. 
  7. ^ Miller, Sarah Bryan (9 October 1997). "Orchestra Hall Gets a Tune-Up". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  8. ^ von Rhein, John (14 October 1997). "Fine-tuned Chopin: Pollini's mastery puts Symphony Center sonics to test". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  9. ^ von Rhein, John (5 October 1997). "Symphony Center Uncorks Improved Sound, Lets It Breathe". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Artner, Alan; von Rhein, John; Reich, Howard (1 December 2002). "How can Orchestra Hall reverse a flawed redesign?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  11. ^ von Rhein, John (29 June 2003). "Henry Fogel: Leaving the CSO in uncertain times". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 

External links[edit]