Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall

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Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, the concert hall component of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, was built in 1980 at a cost of US$28 million to give the San Francisco Symphony a permanent home. Previously, the Symphony had shared the neighboring War Memorial Opera House with the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet. Its construction allowed the symphony to expand to a full-time year-round schedule.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Pietro Belluschi along with acoustical consultants Bolt, Beranek and Newman, its modern design is visually elegant both inside and out. A “cloud” of movable convex acrylic reflecting panels over the stage enables the acoustic space to be adjusted to suit the size of the orchestra and audience, while adjustable fabric banners around the auditorium can alter the reverberation time from approximately one to two-and-one-half seconds. Acoustic isolation of the performance space was obtained by constructing a building within a building. The outer building uses one inch thick structural glass as a curtain wall, with the next structural wall forming the back wall of the lobby spaces. Passing through a door leads to a hallway, bounded on one side by the lobby wall and on the other by the structural wall of the inner building. This continuous hallway acts as an acoustical isolator and is surfaced with sound absorbing material. However, the hall's large volume and seating capacity initially resulted in less than ideal results. Acoustical renovations under the direction of Kirkegaard Associates were completed in 1992 at a cost of US$10 million, resulting in substantial improvement. The modifications included narrowing and shaping the walls above the stage to reduce the volume of space and increase useful reflections, replacing the cloud of reflector discs with a more effective array that covers a larger area and is computer adjustable, pulling in the walls of the floor-level seating to make the audience area narrower and more rectangular, adding aisles to replace the former continental seating, adding diffusing elements in various parts of the hall, and increasing the “rake” of the floor seating to provide better sightlines. In addition, risers were installed on stage to allow the musicians to both see and hear each other better. These and other improvements enhanced not only the acoustics but also the hall's beauty. Current seating capacity is 2,743.

Fratelli Ruffatti concert organ
The Fratelli Ruffatti electro-pneumatic pipe organ was added in 1984. It features five manuals, 147 ranks, and 9,235 pipes, making it the largest concert hall organ in North America, and is designed to accommodate repertory from the pre-baroque to the present. The console can be electronically reprogrammed to correspond to the two major schools of organ keyboard organization - the German and the French. The console can be placed where appropriate to the program - in the center for an organ concert, at either side for orchestral works, or in a side-hall when a large orchestra occupies the entire stage.

In addition to the concert hall itself, an adjoining building contains the Robert H. Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, comprising three separate rehearsal spaces. The largest of these was designed to be the same size as the stage of the Opera House across the street to accommodate Opera and Ballet rehearsals. Davies Hall also contains offices for Symphony staff, a music library, dressing rooms, a recreation room and lockers for Symphony musicians, and the Wattis Room, a private dining room for major donors. A proposed recital hall was never built; that portion of the site remains empty, and is used for employee parking. A Henry Moore bronze sculpture, “Large Four Piece Reclining Figure” (1973), is displayed outside the hall at the corner of Grove Street and Van Ness Avenue. Davies Hall also occasionally hosts non-orchestral performances by contemporary musicians.