Provocative, timely, and compellingly readable: this is an even more valuable survey than Victoria Newhouse’s 1998 study, Towards a New Museum (updated in 2007). There, she explored the relationship of art and architecture with a keen critical eye; now she adds the sense of hearing, examining the design and performance of new halls, as experienced by players and audience, and as they respond to (or ignore) their surroundings. It’s timely because, for better and worse, grandiose music venues have begun to supplant museums as must-have trophy buildings, even in China where they have no relevance to traditional culture and are often mis-used. It’s provocative, because Newhouse is unflinching in her criticisms, and it’s readable because she distills a mass of information and observation in lively prose.
There’s a historical survey of the musical theater, from ancient Greece to the 19th-century landmarks in Vienna, Amsterdam and Boston that provide a standard of excellence to which every new hall is compared. Then come chapters on the transformation of Lincoln Center, the eclecticism of recent work, the hubris of the Chinese authorities, and prestige projects in the making. Thirty new and upcoming projects are analyzed in detail, with input from musicians who have performed in these spaces, and the acousticians who worked on them. Newhouse questions the disconnect between boldly expressive architecture and conventional theater plans, and asks whether good design can rejuvenate the audience (as it clearly has in Gehry’s New World Center in Miami, and Walt Disney Hall). Her book will be an invaluable resource for architects, acousticians, clients, and music-lovers, and inspire everyone to look and listen with the passion she summons.