The 14 Best Concert Halls In The World

Aug 18, 2014

Category: Living

We don’t think about it when we’re camped out overnight in line for a Stones or Springsteen concert, but a big part of the sound we can hardly wait to wrap our ears around is down to the acoustics at the venue. Great acoustics is what the concert hall is always after. Space where sound reflects in detail, not soaked like a sponge until it all goes down the toilet. Which is where some people have suggested Bob Dylan’s voice has been the last fifty years. This is why concert halls are not built like toilets, but are grandly designed spaces that draw the greatest performers to have ever lived. And why without them we’d still be outside in the rain straining to catch a flicker of Adele, or if we’re very lucky, the Berlin Philharmonic. Here’s our pick of the 14 best concert halls in the world.

Carnegie Hall New York City

Carnegie Hall, New York City

A chance meeting on a transatlantic crossing between Andrew Carnegie and Walter Damrosch resulted in Carnegie helping to fund the creation of what is one of the world’s great concert halls. The world’s greatest and most renowned artists come to perform here, and as such it represents a pinnacle of achievement. There are three performance spaces: The Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage, the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, and the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall. There are also banquet spaces available to rent. Completed in 1891, the five day opening ceremony drew some of New York’s best known museums and hospitals: the Whitneys, the Sloans, Rockefellers, and Fricks. In 1972 Groucho Marx performed his last one man show. [Details]

Vienna Musikverein Vienna

Vienna Musikverein, Vienna

In the same way that golf clubs hit golf balls further, cars break down less, and phones can whip up a pretty good breakfast at the push of a button, so has our knowledge of acoustics improved. To the point that these days when we build a music space we actually know what we’re doing. Well, not us specifically, but the people doing the building. They know things like what’s going to happen to the sound a trumpet makes when someone blows into it. But back in 1870 architects didn’t have a whole lot to go on. They guessed, with the result that concert halls were designed and constructed based on not much more than intuition. Luckily, Hansen’s sense of acoustics was more of a hit than most, which is why the Great Hall, as it’s known today, is recognized as one of the greatest concert halls ever built. It seats 1,744 people, with standing room for three hundred. Similar in shape to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the Symphony Hall in Boston, the Musikverein is home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. [Details]

Walt Disney Concert Hall Los Angeles

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

Pretty much only one thing makes a great concert hall, and that’s the acoustics. The most fabulous looking hall in the world won’t be worth the paper it was drawn on if it sounds like the first notes from your daughter’s violin. The Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall not only looks good, it sounds like a Ferrari after its first orgasm. When it opened in 2003 it was described by the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as “one of the most successful grand openings of a concert hall in American history. During rehearsals beforehand, wrong notes were discovered in the score sheets. These were scores the orchestra had owned for decades, but no one had heard the piece in such detail before to notice. You’d expect something named after Disney to have ears and a big grin, but thanks to Gehry, who laid down the designs back in 1991, what you have is artful and very special. He also designed the organ, which looks like a meteor shower. [Details]

Royal Albert Hal  London

Royal Albert Hall, London

Opened on March 29, 1871 by Queen Victoria, the Royal Albert Hall seats up to 5,272 people. It was named after her husband, Bobby Hall. But seriously, if his name had been Fred, what then? The Royal Fred Hall? The Kensington Gardens venue is perhaps best known for the Proms, the world’s biggest classical music concerts featuring the best artists in the world performing some of the most amazing music in the world for some of the most reasonable, some might even say cheapest, prices in the world. The Proms were founded in 1895 but have been held here since 1941. Henry Wood conducted them for more than 50 years, and after his death they became the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, which is a mouthful so we still refer to them as the Proms. Over the last 150 years or so the Royal Albert Hall has featured some of the greatest names in musical, science, and political history, a list of names too numerous and diverse to mention here. Still, we’ll give it a shot: Einstein, Elton John, The Dalai Lama, Stephen Hawking, Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald, a Harry Potter book launch. Really, we could go on forever. On the 24th of May 1912 the Titanic Band Memorial Concert was performed to honor the musicians who died on the Titanic. The performance featured musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, Queens Hall Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Opera Orchestra. In May of 1877 Wagner conducted excerpts from his own operas and marches. Then there was Yehudi Menuhin in 1929 aged 10. Alfred Hitchcock and The Beatles. Bill Clinton. [Details]

Madison Square Garden New York City

Madison Square Garden, New York City

In terms of ticket sales, which let’s face it is what counts in America, Madison Square Garden is the third busiest arena in the world. You may well question its presence among a list of concert halls. It is, after all, a multi-purpose event with more than a hint of sporting arena than a concert hall. But this is our list and we’re including it for good reason. It’s a New York icon, the Knicks’ home turf, staged Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali’s Fight of The Century in 1971, and hosted rock legends Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead fifty two times, The Who and The Rolling Stones, sold out performances by Elvis Presley, featured Michael Jackson in its greatest concert ever, and housed Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour, to name just a few. [Details]

Concertgebouw Amsterdam

Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

A reverberation time of 2.2 seconds with audience intact make the Concertgebouw – literal translation: “concert building” – one of the world’s great concert halls. Without going into any detail here, because it’s a dull subject – 2.2 seconds is a very good number if you’re a concert hall, right up there with the Boston Symphony and Vienna’s Musikverein. With 900 concerts and other events performed in front of some 700,000 people every year, this is also one of the most visited halls in the world. During the 1980s someone noticed that it was sinking into the ground, and extensive fund-raising was needed for renovations. The inaugural concert in 1888 featured a 120-musician orchestra, along with a chorus of 500 singers performing Wagner, Handel, Beethoven, and a bunch of other minor composers. The resident orchestra is the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. [Details]

Boston Symphony Hall Boston

Boston Symphony Hall, Boston

Built for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1900, Boston’s Symphony Hall was designated a US National Historic Landmark in 1999. Acoustically, it is considered the finest in the US, and among the top handful of concert halls in the world, one of the first to be designed according to the science of acoustics. Up to this point auditoriums were built on what was little more than a sense of what might work acoustically, rather than any real understanding of how sound bounces around the inside of a building. When the stage floor was replaced in 2006, in order to preserve the same quality of sound, the same methods and materials as the original were used, right down to the hand-cut nails hammered into place by hand, though presumably the hand did have a hammer in it.  The Symphony Hall is also home to the Boston Pops, the BSO’s more popular younger brother, founded in 1885. [Details]

The Helix Dublin

The Helix, Dublin

The Dublin Helix opened in 2002 at a cost of €36.5 million, which when compared with the cost of Beijing’s performance center makes it look like it might have been picked up at the dollar store. The venue is made up of three different auditoriums: The Space, The Mahony Hall, and The Theatre, and there’s also an exhibition area and conference room called The Gallery. The seating layouts in each of the three venues are changeable, depending what you want to use it for. It’s used for a lot. Everything from opera to rock concerts to ice shows. Sinead O’Connor has played here, along with Van Morrison and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, although none of them, so far as we know, at the same time. Roddy Doyle’s “The Woman Who Walked Into Doors” was also performed at the Helix, and the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra and The St. Petersburg Ballet have also performed at the venue. In 2003 it was awarded the Opus Building of the Year Award. [Details]


Vienna State Opera, Vienna

The Vienna State Opera is excellent bang for your buck in that it is both an opera house and an opera company. More than that, the members of the Vienna Philharmonic are recruited from its orchestra. This is definitely something to tweet home about, as The Vienna Philharmonic is widely recognized as the top of the orchestral world, possibly the tippy top depending who you’re talking to. In short, the musicians are top notch, the peak of their trade. Meanwhile, back at the building which, incidentally, was completed in 1869, it was originally called the Vienna Court Opera, but then in 1920 when the Hapsburg Monarchy was put back it was renamed the Vienna State Opera. When it first opened it wasn’t popular, apparently not matching the standard set by the nearby Heinrichshof. It was referred to as “the Konnigratz” of architecture, a reference to the military disaster at Konnigratz in 1866. The reviews were so bad, in fact, that one of the architects, Eduard van der Null, killed himself over it. His partner died of tuberculosis a few weeks later. The Emperor was apparently so upset by all this that from then on he responded enthusiastically to all new art that was ever put in front of him. [Details]

1999 Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, New York City

Radio City is described as an entertainment center, but as home to the world famous Rockettes, venue for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, nicknamed Showplace of the Nation and a declared New York City landmark since 1978, how could we not include it in a list of the world’s best concert halls? Heck, in a list of rare vegetables we’d put it in. It’s Radio City for pete’s sake, where the best performers in the rock and pop world have been performing for thirty years or more. At some point it was New York’s main tourist attraction. [Details]

Philharmonie Berlin

Philharmonie, Berlin

The home of the Berlin Philharmonic is acclaimed both for its acoustics and architecture. It was completed in 1963, and has two venues, the main hall which seats 2,440, and a chamber music hall seating 1,180 that was added later. It was built to replace the old Philharmonie which the British bombed into rubble during the Second World War. In 2008 the roof was damaged during a fire, but the venue was open for performances again within a month.  The Berlin Philharmonic is widely viewed one of the top orchestras in the world. [Details].

National Centre For The Performing Arts Beijing

National Centre For The Performing Arts, Beijing

The Center For The Performing Arts held its inaugural concert in 2007. It’s a modernist look caught up in the triangle of Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of The People, and the Forbidden City. The youthful appearance mixed in with places and architecture of such historical significance caused some controversy at the time. The building is a glass dome with titanium accents, the sort of look your hairdresser might go for after a bad trip. It looks like a beached whale, or as others have said like an egg floating on water, which if that’s the case better keep an eye open for whatever laid it. The three performance halls seat a total of 5,452 people. Situated in the center of a lake, the main entrance is through a hallway under the water. Construction costs greatly exceeded estimates, which means that at least sixty percent of operational costs will need to be government-subsidized for the life of the Center. [Details]

Konzerthaus Berlin

Konzerthaus, Berlin

In 1776 when America was focused on the small matter of independence, Berlin was readying itself for comedy night with the French Comedy Theater, or if you prefer, the Franzosische Komedie Haus, which sounds a bit more grown up. In 1786 the same building became the National Theater, or the Schauspielhaus Berlin. After this it burned down and the redesign by Schinkel was inaugurated in 1821. The theater was later damaged during the Second World War, and only reopened in 1984, which is when it became a concert hall. Today it is considered one of the world’s great concert halls, on an acoustic par with Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In 1994 the name changed from Schauspielhaus Berlin to Konzerthaus Berlin. [Details]

Sydney Opera House Sydney

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, the SOH is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. The first thing is to forget Sydney and Opera, and simply refer to this world icon as “The House”. This sort of behavior lets people know that you’ve crossed a threshold they haven’t. You’re in now, and the idea that you may know something they don’t unsettles them. But be careful, this type of thing can also make you sound like a dick. The House is designed with seven performance venues of varying sizes, the largest being the Concert Hall, which holds about 2,500 people. According to John Malkovich, the acoustics at The House make it impossible to stage anything except a circus. Given its more than forty years of performance history, John may be in the minority on this one, and responding to some pretty naff reviews of The Giacomo Variations. [Details]

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