Music Hall hosts final concerts before repairs

Music Hall renovations get a (conditional) OK
Posted at 7:00 PM, Apr 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-20 07:20:16-04

CINCINNATI -- Over the protests of a few vocal opponents, renovations at Music Hall are set to move forward June 1.

The Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board conditionally approved a certificate of appropriateness April 11 for the $135 million project, which is being managed by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, or 3CDC.

The board met in city council chambers at City Hall instead of its normal space at Centennial Plaza to accommodate the large number of people in attendance.

As a condition of the approval, all windows, doors, paint, light fixtures and acoustic treatments must be submitted to the conservation board for approval by July 1, and must be approved prior to installation.

3CDC is also required to submit an application for a federal tax credit, remove any unnecessary street cuts around Music Hall, and remove backout parking on Central Parkway.

The renovations will include extensive remodeling to both the interior and exterior of Music Hall.

The exterior of the building will receive a new coat of paint, and the roof will be replaced. Concrete filling in window frames will be knocked out, and new windows will be installed.

The more controversial changes are being made to the inside of the building. Within Springer Auditorium, the number of seats will be reduced and the seat sizes increased by a few inches, and the spacing between rows will be widened by about 3 inches.

“These tiny, incremental dimensions make a huge difference in human comfort levels,” said project architect Alan Weiskopf, of Pittsburgh-based Perfido, Weiskopf, Wagstaff & Goettel.

Music Hall has the largest seating capacity of any building of its kind in the United States. Some members of the public expressed worry that changing the seating configuration would take away an element that makes the building unique.

Cincinnati Opera General Director and CEO Patricia Beggs told the board that the opera and Music Hall’s other companies have all bought in to the changes.

New interior walls will be constructed to reduce the overall size of the auditorium, a move that proponents of the renovation claim will contribute to improved acoustics in the auditorium.

Owen Lee, the principal bass with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, said that while Music Hall has some of the best acoustics in the world, they still have room for improvement when compared to Carnegie Hall in New York City and Symphony Hall in Boston.

“Classical music is meant to be heard unamplified in an acoustically beautiful room,” Lee said.

Harley Piltingsrud, who led the charge to have an organ installed at Union Terminal in the 90s, cautioned the board that “the remodeling of [Music Hall] erodes its connection to the past.”

Music critic Donald Vroon warned the board that tampering with the acoustics of the auditorium was an invitation for trouble.

“If you start tampering with the size of the room, you’re going to change the acoustics,” said Vroon, who is the chief editor and co-owner of American Record Guide, a bi-monthly magazine about classical music.

Other improvements include additional bathrooms and concession areas, space for a new gift shop and a VIP area, and additional elevators.