Personal Space: Ioan Holender on Spatial Acoustics / Sound Environments

Interview Music Living Space

Born in Timisoara, Romania, in 1935, Ioan Holender, Director of the Vienna State Opera House, has been in charge there since 1988.
His long tenure marks an important chapter in a biography of ups and downs in the life of a mechanical engineering student who had to give up his studies for political reasons. In 1959, he left Timisoara heading for Austria, where he studied voice and as such was subsequently hired as a singer. Building on his previous job experience at a talent agency, his job today still proves his good hand for choosing young, gifted artists.

While the quality of a performance is not exclusively due to its artists, quality definitely depends also on the physical environment, the acoustic conditions in particular.

Holender talks about the "mystification of acoustics" as he dwells on a visit to Epidaurus at the same time. Barcelona’s Palau de la Música is equally dear to him as the Grand Hall of the Vienna Musikverein; he appreciates Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw for its excellent acoustics that can be tailored to individual requirements.

On a more discordant note, he refers to a totally different subject: "Concert halls and opera houses have preserved their typical characteristics, quite in contrast to the orchestras, which have increasingly fallen prey to a sound globalisation. There’s perfection, say, in American orchestras, but there’s no individuality".

In his opinion, research on sound environments has only been moderately successful, adding that no findings exist on the reasons why certain environments sound much better than others; in addition, there are no ways of calculating or planning acoustical impact. "Newly built environments always produce acoustical deviations, which are subsequently made up for by a variety of additional improvements."


Lilli Hollein