Boston Symphony, emphatic orchestra with the lightest of touches
There’s no substitute for the investment of time, least of all when the building concerned is over a hundred years old and one of the most revered concert halls in North America. Boston Symphony Hall (BSH) is also home to an orchestra of reputation equal to the halls’ honeyed tones and warm resonance; mess with those at your peril. The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has arguably made more strides in refreshing the popular appeal of orchestral music than any other; The Boston Pops and the encumbent attention to the full gamut of contemporary presentation being a case in point. So it was that when Steve Colby, sound consultant at BSH was presented with a dilemma that would compel him to consider changing the hall’s sound reinforcement system he took the well considered route.
“For a period of time we had been very happy with a centre cluster. But along the way the Orchestra decided they wanted to integrate a projection system to enhance some of their programming. What we ended up with is pretty extensive: three segments of projection screen right across the back wall, completely covering the organ pipe array. Visually a centre cluster was no longer acceptable as it intruded into the projected image, so we had to reappraise. The final purchase decision was for a stereo rigged d&b audiotechnik Q-Series system. This PA had a lot going for it. In simple terms the d&b Q-Series was without a shadow of doubt the best sounding product we evaluated, but arriving at that conclusion required exhaustive testing.”
The Q-Series system was supplied by Scorpio Sound, with Kevin Delaney managing the project right through the extensive trials phase. “We rented a system to the BSO for a couple of seasons of the Boston Pops, so Q-Series had been in and out a couple of times, and each time for several weeks. That gave us the opportunity to tweak the angles of the system a few times, just by the finest degree. Steve and I worked closely together on this, so when we came to draw up the final spec we knew precisely how to achieve the smoothest coverage. The hall is not easy, it is relatively narrow and at almost one hundred and forty feet from front edge of stage to the back wall those reflections need to be avoided over a long throw. The seventy five degree horizontal dispersion of the Q-Series fits wonderfully. But that’s not enough, this is BSH. The main reason the Q-Series suits so well is that the fidelity is awesome and the constant directivity characteristics adhere absolutely to the published technical specification, making it ideal in getting energy just where we want it in a long narrow venue.”
Colby saw several other virtues that made the d&b system an attractive purchase for the orchestra, not all of them the first thoughts that springs to mind when you consider a sound reinforcement system for a revered concert hall. “For one of the premier venues in the United States the issue of size and appearance is a major consideration for our patrons, and the Q-Series is very small and therefore low profile: to turn a cliché on its head, there’s no substitute for size. You cannot overestimate just how important that is. Weight was another factor. Symphony Hall is one hundred and thirteen years old this year and although a lot of work has been done on the structure over the years, weight is still an important consideration. A passive two-way line array, the Q cabinets are as light as they come. We also wanted a system that could be rigged and de-rigged quickly and painlessly, and again low weight contributes to being able to take it in and out in a hurry. We chose the touring version of Q-Series rather than the dedicated installation version because we wanted the flexibility to upgrade down the road, and prospective buyers of our existing speakers would most likely be touring users. Another factor in choosing the touring hardware is that we do all kinds of presentations at Symphony Hall. Having the touring version of the product will allow us to move the location of the PA if called for due to camera angle or scenic issues. The touring version makes it ideal for that kind of compromise; it’s quick and easy to reset the angles between cabinets for the higher trim. In terms of the total de-rig we’ve built ourselves three custom dollies, one for the SUBs, and one for each side. The crew can completely strike the system in less than twenty minutes.”
The system has been in use for over a year now and Colby has no reservations he made the right choice for provider and equipment. “Scorpio has supported us on the BSO’s touring productions and that’s where we first encountered the Q-Series. They’ve consistently given us great service and support; that’s why we brought them onboard as partners to supply the system. There has been no compromise in terms of the backup service they are able to provide; Scorpio has an extensive inventory of d&b so if we need anything extra they’re never more than forty five minutes away from delivering. In terms of performance, we have been very happy with the system. It delivers under all circumstances. Q-Series is certainly not the biggest or most powerful system in the d&b product range, but it is completely transparent supporting a ninety piece orchestra, while having the amount of push and focus to get a vocal above it in musical fashion, and it achieves that comfortably.”
External photograph courtesy of Erin Glennon.