Celebrating its 30th anniversary in the 2012-2013 season, the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall has been the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since its opening on September 16, 1982. Among the most recognizable structures in Baltimore, the unique, circular building instantly became the artistic and cultural hub of Baltimore, serving as a world-class performance space for the BSO. Named for the late Baltimore philanthropist and former BSO president, Joseph Meyerhoff, the 2,443-seat hall has been hailed for its pristine acoustics and versatility. As one of the city’s premier cultural venues, the Meyerhoff has played host to international classical stars such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Emanuel Ax, and popular performers including singer-songwriter Harry Connick, Jr., bluegrass singer Allison Krauss and comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
In November of 1978, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall took place, symbolizing the start of a new era for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Designed by the architectural firms of Pietro Belluschi, Inc. and Jung/Brannen Associates, the Hall, made possible through the financial and administrative support of its namesake, the late Joseph Meyerhoff, opened its doors on September 16, 1982.
The excellent acoustics of the hall were developed by the firm of Bolt, Beranek and Newman. Using a series of convex curves to avoid uniform reflection or concentration of sound, the hall was constructed without flat walls or ninety-degree angles. Mounted above the stage were 18 convex curved discs suspended at different angles to reflect the sound from the Orchestra evenly throughout the hall. The ceiling in the auditorium slopes from 62 feet high at the rear of the hall to 44 feet above the stage; suspended from it are 52 precast concrete “screw heads.” The main purpose of these screw heads is to form a sound-diffusing surface at the ceiling. Similarly, sound diffusing baffles are situated at various locations along the walls. A unique double-wall method of construction acoustically isolates the auditorium from the lobbies, backstage areas and mechanical spaces, insuring a soundproof performance space. Approximately 420 tons of plaster was used to cover the walls of the auditorium to create a hard, sound-reflecting surface.
The building is uniquely designed, combining glass, brick and wood to create both an elegant and modern concert hall. Every one of the 2,443 seats has an unobstructed view of the stage, and it is one of the few halls in the country that has box seats over the stage. The Meyerhoff Hall's facilities include a Grand Lobby and Governing Members Lounge, both with full bar service in convenient locations; rooms for public and private receptions; a Recital Hall for rehearsals, auditions and receptions; private backstage dressing rooms for the conductor and principal guest artists, as well as additional dressing rooms on the lower level for soloists, orchestra and chorus members; and the Administrative Offices for staff of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
In 1997, the BSO began a five-year renovation of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, in order to take advantage of advancements in acoustical design and to better serve the needs of audiences without disturbing the basic architectural aesthetic of this world famous design. The project was undertaken by the Baltimore-based architectural firm of RTKL Associates, in conjunction with theatrical designers, Auerbach and Associates and the acoustical design firm of Kirkegaard and Associates. Working only during the short period of time that the Hall is closed each summer, the work crews successfully completed acoustical improvements to reduce excessive loudness on stage as well as the echoes within the hall. Measures were also taken to improve acoustics on stage and enhance the overall audience experience, including the installation of risers on stage, the reconfiguration of the auditorium walls and the installation of sound diffusers with retractable sound absorption panels into the rear wall of the house. The work culminated in the summer of 2001 with the installation of a new acoustic canopy, replacing the original convex disks. The canopy has been designed to more effectively blend the sound of the orchestra on stage and to better project the sound into the Hall. It is also intended to allow the Orchestra to better hear one another and blend more effectively as an ensemble. In addition, a modern sound system, offering more control and clearer sound than previous technology allowed, was installed.
Other improvements made in recent years include the reconfiguration of the stage walls and the installation of a retractable stage extension allowing greater space capacity for larger orchestras. A large storage room was created on the lower level and a motorized, on-stage lift was installed to facilitate the movement of pianos and other large equipment from lower level storage up to stage level. A new theatrical lighting system installed in the summer of 2001 has greatly improved the quality of onstage lighting.
Additional renovations have been completed behind the scenes to improve the overall performance experience for musicians and audiences alike. The musicians’ lounge and the backstage and soloists’ dressing rooms have been renovated and modernized and the John Gidwitz Recital Hall has received acoustic and aesthetic improvements. Also, the Green Room, renamed the Zamoiski Room in honor of the BSO’s Chairman Emeritus, Calman “Buddy” Zamoiski and his wife, Ellen, was renovated in 2003. Improvements to the public areas of the hall include increased restroom facilities, expansion of the ticket office, improved accessibility for patrons with physical disabilities, the installation of a state-of-the-art assisted listening system for those patrons who are hearing impaired and the creation of the Georgia and Peter Angelos Governing Members Lounge.
Most recently, in the fall of 2007, Maestra Marin Alsop’s dressing room was the subject of a “dressing room makeover,” featured in Style Magazine. Consulting closely with Maestra Alsop, a team of designers transformed the space into a stylish, contemporary suite.