4th April 2012
Taking my colleague's advice to heart, I went to concerts in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in January and February, after a long absence since its refurbishment in 2009. I was up in the "nose-bleed" seats, which now have the addition of padding over the wood, but only a very thin layer at this ticket price.
I was sat centrally and listening to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Beethoven and Haydn. The orchestra comprised around fifty players, with the addition of a piano at times. It was good to refresh my audio memory of real sounds, as there was no artificial amplification. In fact amplification wasn't needed at all: the circular hall and my proximity to the ceiling seemed to concentrate the sound on my position. The loudness was very good and I was able to hear all the instruments clearly, but, because of the hall shape and my distance from the orchestra, I was unable to hear directionality very well and so position the instruments. The piano came across particularly well, because, with its lid opened at an angle, it seemed to beam the sound right at me. I also noticed the extra echo from the horns as their sound went backwards and reflected off the rear wall. As the concerts progressed, the violins became mellower; the high frequencies were less pronounced. This could have been because of increasing air humidity, due to the presence of the audience, causing attenuation of the high frequencies.
All this reminded me that sitting at home in the ideal position in front of stereo speakers can only approximate some of the live atmosphere, but does remarkably well. Some of the 5.1 surround-sound recordings I have provide more ambience, but the quality is often not so good. It also showed how some instruments are difficult to reproduce accurately, such as piano or the violins. They often sound bright and harsh on recordings.
But in both cases, a good orchestra performing well gets my foot tapping along and a wave of relaxation flowing over me. I love live performances and particularly enjoy recordings of live performances for their raw edge. (I remember the tension of real performances adding something extra to the music when I played double bass years ago.) Despite all the technicalities along the way, ultimately music is there to enjoy.
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