The Concert Hall is the Sydney Opera House’s beating heart, home to a uniquely eclectic mix, from talks and ideas to Australian and international orchestras, jazz, electronica and all the genres contemporary music loves to defy.
"This is the greatest indoor performing space on earth."
– Singer-songwriter Ben Harper
The Concert Hall sits beneath the largest of Sydney Opera House’s roof sails, A2, filling the upper levels of the west side of the building.
With an audience capacity of up to 2679 in the round, it is the largest interior venue in the Opera House.
The stage area consists of a plain-walled platform, accessed via a double door on each side.
Home to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Concert Hall is heavily used by symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, solo classical performers and choral groups for which its acoustics are particularly suited.
The Concert Hall is also regularly used for contemporary music concerts, jazz, variety shows, dance, films, seminars and conferences requiring amplification.
More than 300 performances are staged in the Concert Hall every year.
The walls, stage and auditorium floor are made of Australian brush box timber. The seats consist of a shell of Australian white birch timber veneer, upholstered in magenta wool. The ceiling is also lined with white birch timber veneer.
Above the stage is what is believed to be the world’s largest mechanical action grand organ, itself a distinctive architectural feature of the hall.
The Concert Hall was designed by Peter Hall, who took over as principal architect of the interior spaces of Sydney Opera House after Jørn Utzon's withdrawal from the project in 1966.
At the time of its opening in 1973, the Concert Hall was celebrated for its world-class acoustics, and in 2004 again attained a high ranking in acoustic specialist Leo Beranek's index of 58 Concert Halls across the world.
A set of 21 acoustic clouds hangs above the stage to provide a basic acoustic foldback to the stage.
The foyers of the Concert Hall completely encircle the hall, offering unsurpassed views across Sydney Harbour and the Harbour Bridge to the north and west, and the city to the south.
The Concert Hall in cross-section.
Cross section on Peter Hall's Concert Hall.
Note when viewing the next image, Hall’s very different approach from Utzon's original intentions for what was then a dual-purpose auditorium, designed to cater to both concerts and grand operas.
One of the most significant differences, aside from the design of the ceiling and seating arrangements, is the complete absence of the previously fitted stage machinery that reaches up into the largest of the roof shells, A2.
The principal director of engineering on the project, Ove Arup, said that scrapping the stage machinery was a waste of the shell structure.
In a letter to the Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, on 28 March 1967, Arup wrote: "I understand that your Government has now finally decided to abandon the idea of using the Major Hall for opera. It is a very dramatic – almost, one might say, tragic – decision because it makes a nonsense of the whole form of the shells, which were meant to house the stage tower."
Utzon's design for the Major Hall was a dual-purpose auditorium in response to the original brief for Sydney Opera House which called for the hosting of concerts and grand operas in the Major Hall.
Great efforts went into the design of this style of auditorium, particularly because the acoustic reverberation times between the two types of productions differ.
However, by the time Hall came to design the space, it was internationally recognised that dual-purpose halls performed poorly, and the brief changed to support the design of a hall for the sole purpose of staging concerts.
Despite the success of Hall's Concert Hall, Utzon's unrealised interior designs endure as a fascinating reminder of the building’s troubled history.
Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team
Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation as part of The Scottish Ten
State Library of New South Wales