Two-part Harmony

The Stoller Hall provides a fitting coda to Stephenson Studio’s Chetham’s School of Music

Buildings.

Words
Susan Warlow

Photos
Daniel Hopkinson 

In reviewing Stephenson Studio’s new building for Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester for Architecture Today in 2012, Tim Ronalds observed that the “400-seat concert hall is as yet a great blockwork and concrete void awaiting £5m of funding”. Five years later, the £8.7m, 482-seat Stoller Hall has opened, thanks largely to the Stoller Charitable Trust, whose founder invented the tubular bandage.

Both to celebrate the opening of the hall and to demonstrate the versatility of its acoustic provision, a range of performances were held over a weekend. These culminated in a concert on St George’s Day featuring Chetham’s Chamber Orchestra, drawn from the school’s students, Manchester Chamber Choir, and guest players including alumni mezzo soprano Kitty Whateley and pianist Paul Lewis, and conductor Mark Elder.

Ampetheatre

The Stoller Hall forms the second phase of Chetham’s School of Music’s new building. Stephenson Studio’s first phase, completed in 2012, incorporated a void into which the concert hall would be retrofitted. The form of the concert hall is expressed externally as a prominent extrusion from the main body of the music school, as if carved from stone.

The hall is approached from the building’s entrance facing Victoria Station. Happily for last-minute concertgoers, access to the both the stalls and the balcony is just inside the foyer: the former along a short corridor then via the lift or stairs down to the upper basement level; the latter directly from the foyer, immediately before it opens out into the first-phase triangular atrium, now completed with a bar. Public and educational spaces within the school are necessarily separate to allow flexibility in schedules.

Subtly lozenge-shaped in plan, the hall opens out from its rear entrance wall and gently gathers in again around the stage. Some concertgoers seemed surprised at the effectiveness of the acoustic design, despite the evident hard surfaces of timber flooring and wall panelling, and painted plasterboard walls and ceiling.

Ampetheatre

Stephenson Studio’s brief was to create a world-class symphonic space that would also accommodate speech and amplified music. Arup Acoustics’ requirement that the wall surfaces be not too regular has been effectively interpreted in the architectural detail. Roger Stephenson says that as acoustic design has become more sophisticated and prescriptive, it is increasingly challenging to make a convivial space for the audience. 

Here, all the surfaces do a different job. The walls have to be solid with no voids behind, while the plasterboard ceiling hides a large void to absorb low frequencies and prevent booming. Timber wall linings also help decay the sound. The profiles of the oiled white oak panels to the side of the stage are narrower than those around the auditorium. The irregularity in the profiles carries a pleasing suggestion of the ribbed boards of linenfold panelling, appropriate to a school whose original buildings date from the fifteenth century. Profiled plaster finishes, from ribs to pilaster forms and coving, complement the Art Moderne curves of the building’s exterior.

The hall is a complex, acoustically isolated ‘box within a box’ to preclude noise from classrooms above,  and the nearby busy road and train station. It incorporates 354 stalls seats, with 45 on the balcony and 83 on the gallery.

At the back of the stage a series of vertical slats incorporate a sliding device that opens to expose black absorbent material between the timbers. Automated acoustic roller blinds high up on the walls can be lowered to moderate the reverberance, and can also be used for projected imagery.

Acoustic isolation is achieved by the ‘box within a box’ construction. A steel structure supports the concert hall, technical lofts and basement floor, itself sitting on tuned acoustic mounts. Flexibility of use is enhanced by a two-stage riser and the stalls’ forestage riser which incorporates a 90-seat wagon that can be stowed in the lower basement.

The St George’s Day concert included excerpts from William Walton’s score for Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V. The accompanying speeches, performed by actor Samuel West, commenced with the play’s prologue that aptly includes the line ‘Turning th’accomplishment of many years into an hour glass.’ The Stoller Hall played its role perfectly, supplying each instrumental and spoken part with aural clarity.

Additional Images

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Credits

Architect
stephenson STUDIO
Acoustic consultant
Arup Acoustics
M&E consultant
Max Fordham
Costs
Arcadis
Structural engineer
Price & Myers
Theatre consultant
Theatre Projects
Main contractor
Sir Robert McAlpine
Client
Chetham’s School of Music

Joinery
Gariff Construction
Stall and choir seating
Auditoria Services
Theatre lighting, sound installation
Northern Light
Stage riser, seating wagon, equipment
Centre Stage Engineering
Acoustic bearings
Farrat
Loudspeaker systems
EM Acoustics

2017-06-01T11:53:08+00:00

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