Russian Master Vladimir Spivakov played a Stradivari violin this past Saturday evening in the Taper Auditorium of Benaroya Hall. Olga Kern played piano. The pure, varnished sound of a Stradivarius lofting into that room was a pairing of instrument and acoustics that made for an absolute audible delicacy. A near perfect combination. The finest, rarest, cleanest, time traveled sashimi possible for the ear. It was also nice to hear just the two instruments together. Winding, diving into each other’s lines, capping each other’s notes and runs with connected lobes (Roche lobes.) Igor Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne” was beyond. Kern scattered celestial webs which Spivakov raised out of in gilded beams. Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” was a slower, stoic folding and unfolding. On triangular axes, Spivakov and Kern rotated and converged through certain notes and scales. Matching and hitting on certain notes, then drifting away into sustained fifths and sevenths on others. It was immeasurable.
Spivakov is a true Don. The Stradivari has been on permanent loan to him since 1997. The sound visibly floated out into the wood lined acoustics of the room. The wood tiling of Taper Auditorium is laser cut, as thick as a credit card, and was made completely from a single fallen tree (that fell from natural causes) in South Africa. Because the wood comes from the same tree, the acoustics have a consistency. The wood isn’t absorbent, it’s the opposite. Sound bounces back into the room with a latency of 1.8 seconds, which is considered ideal for symphonic music representation.
The entire Taper Auditorium is insulated and floating on rubber pads which insulate it from the outer shell of the building. It’s an independent structure, separated by an empty space of about half a meter.
The hall's traditional shape, defined by massive wood and plaster surfaces, is faceted and coffered to provide excellent acoustics and diffuse sound effectively. Orchestral performances require long reverberation times, which require surfaces that are heavy and dense to reflect sound and absorb as little as possible. The wood paneling on the walls is subdivided into smaller panels, each one a different size so that each one resonates with a different frequency of sound. The arrangement of how those panels are put together, the subdivisions of those panels and the fasteners of those subdivisions are all expressed in the way the wood paneling is detailed. The result is that the physics of the acoustical design becomes an important part of the architectural design. In addition, distractions in the form of airborne sounds or earthly rumbles from surrounding streets, the transit tunnel, or the railroad tunnel below the site have been eliminated by building the hall as a box within a box, with the inner concrete box completely supported on rubber pads.