Russell Johnson, master acoustician and theatre
planner, and the mind and inspiration behind many of the worlds
most celebrated modern performing arts venues, passed away peacefully
in his sleep on Tuesday, August 7, 2007, in New York. Johnson, 83, continued to be active as chairman of Artec Consultants
Inc, the firm that he founded, until the day he died.
Working in collaboration with architects all over the world, Johnson
and his team were instrumental in shaping contemporary approaches
to the design of concert halls, opera houses, theatres and recital
halls worldwide. Performance spaces designed by Artec under his
leadership have been acclaimed not only for their impact on individual
communities but also on the performing arts world as a whole.
Johnsons work won tributes from such international artists
as Emmanuel Ax, Daniel Barenboim, Cecilia Bartoli, Kyung Wha Chung,
Edo de Waart, Christoph Eschenbach, Mariss Jansons, Lang Lang, Wynton
Marsalis, Kurt Masur, Riccardo Muti, Franz Welser-Möst, John
Neschling, Sir Simon Rattle, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Carl St. Clair,
and many others. The many orchestras he has worked with around the
world include the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival
Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony
Orchestra, Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lahti
Symphony, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra,
the Minnesota Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre
de Paris, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the New York
Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra,
the São Paolo State Symphony, Singapore Symphony Orchestra,
and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Russell Johnson was perhaps best known as the acoustics genius behind
a family of new and renovated concert halls in cities around the
world including: Dallas, Texas (USA); Birmingham (England); Edmonton,
Alberta (Canada); Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada); Lucerne
(Switzerland); São Paulo (Brazil); Lahti (Finland); Nottingham
(England); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA); Toronto, Ontario (Canada);
Singapore (Republic of Singapore); Budapest (Hungary); Miami, Florida
(USA); Paris (France); and Costa Mesa, California (USA).
The conductor, Trevor Pinnock, said of the acclaimed Culture and
Congress Centre in Lucerne, Switzerland:
a great concert hall
A hundred years from
now musicians will still be thankful for the wonderful acoustics
of this group of Artec concert halls.
Johnson himself was a perfectionist in the pursuit of the optimum
in concert hall acoustics. In his own words, the sound must
have strength, impact, punch and fullness. Sound with
lows that are not too weak; highs that are not too powerful. The
clarity and the reverberance must be in a natural balance with each
other. Musicians and the conductor can hear, or sense, what the
audience is hearing. There must be no distancing effect between
the orchestra and the public, no harshness of sound, no echoes,
no frequency imbalances. There must be air around the music, as
if the music is floating.
Johnson was a dynamic proponent of adjustable acoustics systems
designed to effectively accommodate the widest possible range of
performance types, without losing the quality associated with designing
for a specific art form. In concert halls, these included signature
adjustable acoustics features such as large motorized reflectors,
motorized cloth systems and secondary acoustics chambers, as well
as elements that shape the performance area such as adjustable seating
and staging systems.
An innovative force also in the development of multi-purpose halls
(or concert theatres as he called them), Johnson pioneered unique
design elements that resulted in facilities acclaimed for
their first class acoustics for music performance, as well as the
efficiency of the design and planning of their theatre spaces and
equipment. In these facilities, Artec developed signature
design features that provide the musicians with a high quality performance
environment suited to their needs. Among the best known are: Jazz
at Lincoln Center, New York, New York (USA);
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ (USA); Centre-in-the-Square,
Kitchener- Waterloo, Ontario (Canada); Pikes Peak Center, Pikes
Peak, Colorado (USA); and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts,
West Palm Beach, Florida (USA).
Early acclaimed facilities which Johnson worked on include the Orchestra
Shell Renovation at Tanglewood (USA), Derngate Centre, Northampton
(UK); Grand Theatre de Quebec, Quebec
City (Canada); Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada);
Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater, Syracuse, New York; Hamilton Place,
Hamilton, Ontario (Canada); David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa,
Florida (USA); and Place des Arts, Montréal (Canada).
Trained as an architect, Johnson took particular pride and pleasure
in his work in collaboration with some of great architects of the
world. These have included Cesar Pelli, Jean Nouvel, I.M. Pei, Moshe
Safdie, Barton Myers, Bing Thom, Sir Michael Wilford, Eb Zeidler,
Fred Lebensold, Sir James Stirling, Robert Venturi, and Rafael Viñoly.
More recently, he has continued to work behind the scenes with his
Artec team as they work with such architects as Wolf Prix (Coop
Himmelb(l)au), Zaha Hadid, Herzog de Meuron, Erick van Egeraat,
Winy Maas (MVRDV), Peer Jeppesen (Henning Larsen Architecture),
Andrew Bromberg (AEDAS), David Schwarz, Kevin Roche, Bernardo Fort-Brescia
(Arquitectonica), and Alessandro Zaera (Foreign Office Architects).
Beyond the enormity of his physical legacy, Johnson has also left
behind a body of knowledge, education and experience embodied in
his team at Artec Consultants Inc; the firm he founded in 1970 under
the name of Russell Johnson Associates and renamed in 1971. Unique
then, and still today, he firmly believed that the best halls would
result when undertaken by an architect working in partnership with
a single cohesive specialist consultant team; a team where each
member, individually proficient in their own areas, would work in
close harmony to produce a coherent single recommendation.
In Johnsons own words
Artec is unique. We are the only company in the world
with a group of highly motivated specialists providing comprehensive
services every technical aspect of world class performing arts spaces
for opera, theater, concerts and recitals. Our specialists cover
a broad range of disciplines: designers, acousticians, musicians,
architects and experts in theatrical lighting, machinery, rigging
and sound reinforcement equipment. Artecs basic philosophy
of opera house and concert hall design can be neatly summed up in
one word: versatile. Our concert halls provide excellent acoustics
not just for large symphony orchestras, but excellent acoustics
for almost countless forms of music performance - string quartets,
choral groups, voice recitals, piano, chamber orchestra, tiny orchestras
using period instruments and so forth.
A new generation of Artec halls carrying on this philosophy put
in place by Russell Johnson, and building on his legacy of halls
and commitment to innovation, will open in coming years in such
cities as Carmel, Indiana (USA), Wroclaw (Poland), Reykjavik (Iceland),
Aalborg and Aarhus (Denmark), Zarautz (Spain), Singapore (Republic
of Singapore), and Montreal (Canada), among others.
Born in Berwick, Pennsylvania, on September 14, 1923, Johnson entered
the fi eld of acoustics and theatre planning after studying architecture
at Carnegie-Mellon and Yale Universities. Between 1954 and 1970,
he worked for Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Cambridge, Massachussetts,
as founder and principal consultant of the Theatre Consulting Division,
and as technical coordinator for concert hall and opera house design,
Over the last decade Johnson was the recipient of several prestigious
honours, including the United States Institute of Theater Technology
Award (for life-long commitment to excellence in architectural acoustics
and theatre planning for performing arts spaces), 1996; the Wallace
Clement Sabine Medal from the Acoustical Society of America in recognition
of his lifetime contribution to advancing the knowledge of architectural
acoustics, 1997; and the International Citation of Merit from the
International Society of Performing Arts, 1998; and an Honorary
Doctorate of Laws from Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario
(Canada), 2003. Johnson was also a fellow of the United States Institute
of Theater Technology, and the Acoustical Society of America.
Johnsons lifetime achievements will be remembered alongside
his dedication and strong artistic personality. Johnson embodied
a philosophy of relentless self-improvement and constant reflection,
as well as an attention to detail that has been an inspiration for
an entire generation of designers and consultants.
He is survived by a sister, Barbara Johnson Mansfield, and her children
John F., David R. and Suzanne Mansfield, of Vienna, VA.
A funeral service was held in Berwick, Pennsylvania on August 18th.
A Memorial service was held in The
Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of
Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City on November 7, 2007.