Jazz aficionados won't believe their ears when they hear what's going on in the multiple performance venues at Frederick P. Rose Hall, the new home for Jazz At Lincoln Center that opened in midtown Manhattan in October 2004. This multi-venue complex was designed by architect Raphael Viñoly, in conjunction with a design team dubbed the “Sound of Jazz,” combining theatre consultants and acousticians from Artec Consultants, Inc. with recording studio design experts from Walters-Storyk Design Group. Jazz great Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director.

The complex includes the 1,200-seat Rose Theatre, the less formal 600-seat Allen Room, that has a 50' × 90' glass wall overlooking Central Park, an intimate 140-seat jazz club called Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, and the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. The large lobby, that also has sweeping park views, can be used for events as well, with rigging points in the ceiling that allow temporary truss to be installed. The complex is reached via escalators and elevators from the atrium of the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle.

Rose Theatre is the equivalent of a lyric concert hall with a full stage house, and acoustics fine-tuned for jazz. A fixed forestage reflector, or eyebrow, has a built-in lighting position or slot. “The second section, behind the lighting slot, has three motorized hatches for left/right/center speaker clusters to poke through upstage of the retractable proscenium wall,” says Christopher S. Darland, a senior consultant at Artec, who served as project manager.

There is also a retractable ceiling with two units, and a total of four folding panels that can close off the fly tower, creating what Darland calls “a horizontal seal in a vertical space.” The ceiling unit is also by JR Clancy, one of the three theatre equipment contractors involved on the project, and installed by by Pook Diemont Ohl (PDO). The third company is Scenic Technologies New York/PRG (STNY)

Eleven moveable concert towers, 36' tall, designed by Artec and built by STNY, create various room settings. Each of these seven-ton towers sits on a 10' square base and moves on air casters. They have additional seating units and curves that match the warm, honey-blond wood of the balcony fronts, so that when the towers are in place there is a seamlessness to the round look of the room which is virtually a circle-in-a-square. The towers also rotate to serve as a simple reflective surface, and use of the area upstage of the towers adds additional acoustics volume. The towers store in a niche on the upstage wall when not in use.

Artec principal Russell Johnson and managing director Damian Doria led the acoustics team to provide a virtually soundproof room that is acoustically isolated from the rest of the building and sits on rubber pads. “The problem with the site is that Columbus Circle sits on top of a main subway hub and there is a lot of vibration from trains and from the traffic circle itself,” says Darland. “The room has to be isolated to avoid low level frequency.”

The room is conceived as a smaller shoebox sitting on rubber isolation pads (like seismic pads) on the bottom in a larger shoebox. “On the other five sides of the box, as well as the bottom, any penetration from HVAC or pipes is isolated from vibration as well, with rubber or neoprene pad or washer or hung from the ceiling with a flexible connection,” Darland adds. “With a box-in-a-box you also have to worry about airborne noise. The outer wall prevents outside noise from getting in. In the field of performance acoustics there are ratings. We shoot for preferred noise criteria PMC-15, looking at high, low, and middle frequency and how to best isolate them and not get noise into your room. We also shoot for N-1, a level of supreme quietness in the room, no HVAC noise, no mechanical noise, do everything you can to avoid noise in the performance venue, even the lamp filaments are short to avoid hum and slow rise-time dimmers (800 microsecond rise time) to reduce hum.”

The orchestra pit uses Gala Spiralift technology installed by PDO, with JR Clancy working on stage machinery engineering. The manual, single-purchase rigging is also by JR Clancy and installed by PDO, with 67 linesets and truss battens rather than pipes. Darland explains the use of a subway-grating style grid as “a choice that provides a better overall view of the stage below you. You can also reach your hand through.” The grid has rigging blocks so that chain hoists and motors could be used to rig large scenic pieces.

A catwalk provides an additional front-of-house lighting position at the same level as the followspot booth, located above the last row of balcony seats. “There was just enough room to get the right angle for the followspots,” notes Darland. There are three Robert Juliat Aramis followspots, provided by Barbizon Lighting Company. The overall theatrical lighting system is by ETC, including the network, dimmers, control, and fixtures (including ETC's new automated Revolution luminaires, with Obsession® consoles as well as a Unison architectural control system. Josephine Marquez of ETC served as lighting consultant.

Scenic Technologies provided motorized acoustic banners that retract into the ceiling, while false brown walls made of loudspeaker grille fabric hide acoustic panels and cable passes. I. Weiss and Rose Brand provided some of the soft goods, while JR Clancy provided the brown velour grand drape, with separate header and legs, that is used with the adjustable proscenium. There is also a deluge system at the proscenium line. The fixed seating in the room is by Theatre Solutions, Inc. The in-house sound mixing position is on a lift in the center of the room and houses a SoundCraft MH4 console.

It was very difficult to make the sound system unobtrusive to the performers in the Rose Theatre due to the hall's intimate environment and the high-powered JBL loudspeaker system required to cover the 1,200 seats. The seats on all three levels of the towers require varying degrees of amplification from Crown CTS series amps in order to provide a balanced picture of the onstage aural activity. JBL AM4212 and AM6212 fill loudspeakers are rigged to the rear and sides of the left, center, and right JBL Vertec 4888 loudspeaker arrays that provide the sound to the towers. There are also ceiling-mounted JBL Control loudspeakers in the towers themselves, which are delayed so that their sound arrives at the audience members' ears simultaneously with the sound from the main loudspeakers. Since audience members in this area are much closer to the performers, only those performers who play at a low volume — vocalists, pianists, and acoustic guitarists — are reinforced.

The smaller Allen Room was originally part of the lobby space but redesigned as a second performance venue. A pipe grid is painted gold as an architectural detail with a series of catwalks for lighting positions (the ETC Obsession console and stage manager positions are up there as well) and supplemental steel for rigging and sound equipment. STNY built five tiers of seating platforms with mechanical scissor-lifts by Handling Specialty. The lifts rise 25” in 30 seconds with a lifting capacity of 5.000 pounds.

The amphitheater-shaped Allen Room has a shallow depth and a relatively large width. Seating is laid out at a steep angle, and can be configured in various ways; either as traditional raked seating, or terraced to accommodate dancing and dining. The ceiling is quite high for the room's area, which also features a 60' tall window as the wall behind the stage, which, although a striking backdrop, proved to be a challenge to the sound design team. Nobody wanted the sound from the rear loudspeakers to reflect off the window and back into the audience area or the performers' (AKG and Shure) microphones. Heavy reflections have a negative impact on the sound intelligibility and would also cause serious electro-acoustic feedback. The acousticians chose to angle the wall, allowing the sound to travel upwards to the ceiling where absorptive material is installed. This material is comprised of fabric and fiberglass specified by the Walters-Storyk Design Group. JBL Vertec 4888 left and right line arrays were chosen because of the steep seating rake, and because they are highly directional, serving to keep the sound off of the glass and walls. A Soundcraft MH4 console is used.

All audio equipment was donated by Harman Kardon and Shure.

Blond wood and steel are the main design elements in the Allen Room, with wooden slats encasing the seats to help with the room acoustics. Open at the back to a lobby area, the room can be closed off via a large air wall to help isolate it. A motorized blackout curtain can cover the entire wall of glass that sits behind the stage, protecting pianos and performers from strong sun during the day. Fortunately, it is usually open at night to provide a fabulous New York City backdrop for jazz.

Artec's Erik Larson contributed to this story.