There's a tale about a woman who wanted a divorce from her husband. To all of the questions of whether she was interested in a younger, better-looking, smarter or richer husband, she answered "no." What do you want, she was asked. "A different husband," she replied. That, more or less, is the "depth structure" behind the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's aspiration to completely change/renovate its concert hall, the Mann Auditorium.
A forum to save the Mann Auditorium was formed, and Haaretz, whose articles by Esther Zandberg exposed the sweeping renovation plan, waged and continues to wage a vigorous and worthy public campaign against the refurbishment program. This week, the plenum of the Tel Aviv Municipality's urban construction committee, having weighed the objections (which take on an international aspect, as the auditorium is one of the iconic representatives of Tel Aviv as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), decided to approve the renovation program.
It may be assumed that petitions will be filed on this matter with the High Court of Justice. I believe that even if the court does not withhold its criticism for the municipality's decision-making procedure, it will avoid interfering in the actions of an authority that acted within the realm of its own jurisdiction.
Therefore, with all due regrets, one must prepare for and assess the implications of execution of the refurbishment program, and what will happen to the Mann Auditorium itself. The approved plan includes refurbishment of the auditorium at a cost of $45 million, one-quarter of which will be financed by the municipality, with the remainder coming from friends of the IPO and from philanthropic foundations.
Anyone who has renovated an apartment knows that the actual cost is going to be at least 50 percent higher than the projected cost. And since most of the sum depends on contributions, and you don't stop a renovation in the middle - even when you are short of contributions on which you can never rely - the already high cost to the public will be much higher than the planned expenditure. When the refurbishment process is complete - a process that is supposed to shut down the auditorium for two years (and one may assume that there will be overruns of time, not only of money), there is no certainty that the result will be satisfactory, even not to the liking of the planners and refurbishers. They curtailed and obscured the external changes, but I care about the auditorium, and not necessarily the building around it. It is possible to plan acoustics, vibration, color and sound by computer, but nevertheless, until the new auditorium is filled with a human audience, neither Zubin Mehta, Ron Huldai or even the renovation's opponents will be able to prove that the refurbished auditorium's acoustics will be better or worse than those of the old hall. They will be different, no more and no less.
Other features that will be different: altering the unique fan-shaped auditorium into a "shoebox" shape, a reduction in the number of seats, a shift in the location of the stage, with the seats to be arranged around it, the addition of side balconies and relocation of the air-conditioning from above the ceiling to below the floor. I know we will lose what once was, and was good, along with the unique character of the auditorium and the history that is enfolded in it. I assume that like most of the audience, I will accustom myself to the new hall. If the orchestra plays well, the auditorium will be good.
The Mann Auditorium is, by all means, in need of massive renovation, because it was neglected for years by the IPO and by the Tel Aviv Municipality. Essential changes were never made over the years; it was rented out to irresponsible users that damaged it; the obligatory improvements (wheelchair access, adaptation of the inadequate stage) were carried out too hastily; and maintenance was neglected deplorably (see the condition of the current floor).
But if the current level of maintenance continues, within 10 years at most an additional renovation will be needed, unrelated to the host of acoustic and other improvements that would be required, given the nature of the new auditorium's use by the IPO and by the public.
Last but not least, there is no essential or compulsory connection between the quality of the auditorium and the Israel Philharmonic's ability to retain its audience. Symphony orchestras that play classical music are struggling worldwide against the loss of audiences. Most of them contend with the challenge through educational activity, innovative artistic programs and improved quality of execution. A young and not wealthy audience that has not been raised on classical music will not run to the refurbished Mann Auditorium to hear the Israel Philharmonic merely for supposedly better acoustics.
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