Formally known as the Grosse Saal der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien, the concert hall,
home to the Vienna Philharmonic, opened in 1870. It is essentially a rectangular box, and by today'
standards, a fairly intimate hall, seating only 1680 people. Among the factors that contribute to its
acoustic signature is irregularity of the side walls, which contain over forty high windows, twenty
doors above the balcony and 32 gilded statues of buxom females. Most of the solid surfaces are plaster
over brick; the only wood is found in the doors, some stage paneling and trim.
The famed conductor Bruno Walter said of the Musikverein: "This is certainly the finest hall in the
world. It has beauty of sound and power. The first time I conducted here was an unforgettable experience.
I had not realized that music could be so beautiful."
In the Spring of 2006, Dave and Sheryl Lee Wilson were fortunate enough to attend a rehearsal of the Mahler
Symphony #2, "The Resurrection". In the second movement there's a passage dominated by massed
pizzicato strings, and Dave was suddenly struck by what he was hearing. The music was not fortissimo, but it
seemed to leap from the stage with holographic alacrity. All the dynamic shadings of attack and decay were
palpable. He could hear the resonant fullness of the wood of the cellos and double basses. As it did for
Bruno Walter, the moment proffered him a revelation of how beautiful music could be. He turned to Sheryl Lee
and said, "That's what the new Alexandria needs to sound like."
Dave learned that what he was hearing in the Musikverein comprised two distinct elements in the time domain:
(1) Early Sound. This is the direct sound from the instrument, followed by an initial time delay gap of
approximately 20 milliseconds, followed by the first reflected sound arriving within the first 80 milliseconds.
(2) Reverberant Sound. The last remaining reflections arrive and decay over the next 1.5 to 2 seconds. It's
the reverberant reflections which generally impart the "sound" of the hall, but the makeup of the
Early Sound (direct + initial time gap + earliest reflections) determines the beauty, the richness, and the
clarity of the music itself.
Just as it seems remarkable that a seasoned (and, one might even suppose, jaded) conductor could find something
revelatory about music offered to him by a particular concert hall, so it might seem surprising to learn that
Dave Wilson himself concluded an instrument as revealing and musical as the original Alexandria was obscuring
some vital part of the music.
Nevertheless, that's what he realized, and at the same time, recognized he knew—in theory at
least—what to do about it.