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Sumptuous new-old look now has a sound to match

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A big question on the lips of New York concertgoers these days is: ``Were the acoustics of Carnegie Hall changed by the restoration?'' The answer is now clear: Yes - for the better.

To be wholly accurate, one must point out that they have actually been restored to something approximating their 1891 state, when the new hall was dubbed one of the best, acoustically, in the world. The sound was altered in the 1940s, when the domed ceiling over the stage was chopped open to make room for the special lighting and cameras needed for the film ``Carnegie Hall.''

So a whole generation of concertgoers was deprived of that sound. Now the ceiling has been sealed over again. And the acres of acoustically deadening gold brocade curtains that hid both the hole and all sorts of lights, electronic organ speakers, and other paraphernalia have been removed.

The Carnegie Hall I have lived with and loved for over a decade as a music critic here was resonant but not reverberant. Resonant, because when a full orchestra rang out in all its glory, the floorboards rumbled sympathetically. Not reverberant, because there was no audible slow decay to the sound after an abrupt chord.

The newly restored Carnegie has 1.9 seconds of reverberation. The sound now strikes me as similar in effect to Boston's magnificent Symphony Hall, the standard by which I judge all other concert halls. Carnegie is now so live that a solo violin projects effortlessly into the auditorium without giving the listener the feeling that strain is necessary to hear the sound.

And a full orchestra still causes the floorboards to vibrate, but not quite so dramatically as it used to: The auditorium floor and subfloor are brand new, as is the stage floor, and it will take several years for that wood to season enough to behave as the old flooring did.

Meanwhile, Carnegie's elegant new-old look has a sumptuous sound to match.


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