Ensembles' seating and acoustics in practice
Because of the in-concert logistics involving very different ensembles in the program, the seating arrangement on stage was planned to be as practical as possible. Les Citations by Dutilleux, the opening number, was positioned on the far right-hand side of the stage, with the percussion instruments set practically in the corner, and the harpsichord, double bass and oboe successively to the left of the percussion. The grand piano was placed a bit left of the mid-stage, only about 1.5 meters from the back wall. For the duo performance of the Hindemith Sonata the double bass was moved to the left of the piano, close to the curve of the grand, taking acoustic advantage of the left-hand corner of the stage in terms of projection and reflections. After the intermission, the quintet was positioned quite normally in the middle of the stage, the strings curved in orchestral order in front of the grand piano.
Seating in the first part:
double bass oboe percussion
grand piano double bass harpsichord
Very soon after the start of rehearsing, the reverberation time was set to maximum. Our acoustician, Henrik Möller also provided the ensembles with some drier options, but the players' mutual hearing and the sense of dynamics obviously required the most reverberant setting. Due to the final design and the above-mentioned obstacles in the hall, the sound projected to the audience was rather unpredictable. The musicians' sound picture on stage also seemed to be highly sensitive.
The small acoustic discomforts were most evident in the Dutilleux and the Hindemith since the instrumental placements were on the opposite sides of the stage. The players' ability to hear each other and the sense of balance seemed to change remarkably with only minor changes in the seating position. By comparison, the Vaughan Williams Quintet, being set in the normal mid-stage area, did not feel nearly as position-sensitive; not that its rich, romantic score would be especially vulnerable in this sense.
The organizing of the third concert again turned out to be rather complicated partly, due to the many different and some rather laborious instruments involved. Dutilleux quartet was obviously the most challenging. The composition is extremely complex and performing it without a conductor requires careful rehearsing. A good deal of logistical consideration and extra planning was also needed in terms of seeking a rehearsing space with easy access to the required instruments, as well as the setting up of the percussion and the tuning of the harpsichord. We ended up rehearsing the piece mainly in the rehearsal hall of the Finnish National Opera, where the percussion instruments and the harpsichord were easiest available at the same time. For the other pieces in the program we also had to find several compensating venues before the few rehearsals in the Camerata, because it is the most popular concert venue of the Sibelius Academy. Furthermore, in order to speed up the pace of the concert series I decided to set the concert date in early December, which for several reasons is one of the busiest periods of the year for all musicians.
The adjustable elements of the Camerata Hall are restricted to controlling the reverberation time with the acoustic curtains that can be drawn down the walls behind the figured surface panels. In order to avoid a too dry and analytical sound and in order to enhance the overtone resonance, acoustician Henrik Möller set the reverberation to its maximum, which is still not more than 1.5 seconds.
However, the main problem with the acoustics appeared to be the placement of the ensembles onstage. In order to avoid time-consuming stage management between the pieces of the first half, I decided to set up the quartet on one side of the stage and the duo on the other. (In in this case, and also later in the fifth concert, I wrongly predicted – because of the surface materials - that the reflections from the corner walls would provide some extra support.) This caused some unpredictable sound reflection problems for both ensembles, as the acoustics in the hall turned out to be very position sensitive. However, in terms of the practical running of the concert, we made only minor adjustments to the seating and positioning and concentrated mainly on the music-making.
In the end, it appeared that the piano quintet, positioned in the traditional formation in the middle of the stage, did not suffer from the sound-reflection difficulties, partly perhaps its score delivers a straightforward, fully romantic sound. Through the microphones, the pieces in the first half of the program seemed to be acceptable; but from my own experience of the concert, there were not many ways to control consistent ensemble sound, even in the duo for double bass and piano. With the exception of the piano quintet, the ring of the overtones onstage appeared inconsistent. Comparing Jukka Isopuro's Second opinion with the comments of other listeners in the audience, the ensemble sound varied a lot depending on the seat from which it was heard. All in all, the musical message seemed to carry to the audience rather well; but the concert, with its challengingly variable choice of ensembles, also revealed the peculiarly unpredictable acoustic characteristics of the Camerata Hall.