When Sir Simon Rattle suggested London lacked a truly world-class concert hall, music-lovers may have been forgiven a patriotic bristle in support of its venues.
But it appears he was right all along, as a scientific study showed music played in concert halls on the continent evoked more emotional reactions than the capital’s star venues.
The best classical concert halls are shaped like a shoebox, according to a study, ruling out the likes of the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican.
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America reports those with the rectangular design, such as Vienna Musikverein or Berlin Konzerthaus, are most likely to produce sounds that make the hairs on the back of the audience’s neck stand up.
Dr Jukka Patynen, of Aalto University, Finland, said: “Some interpretations of the same music piece can evoke stronger emotions than others.
“Similarly, our study has succeeded in demonstrating the hall’s acoustics plays an important part in the overall emotional impact.
“After all, emotional experiences are a key factor in music to many listeners.”
Earlier research had shown the most moving pieces of music elicit shivers or goosebumps in the listener, and these reactions may even be detected from the variations in the electrical conductance of the skin.
Researchers presented 28 test subjects, whose ages ranged from 22 to 64, with an excerpt of Beethoven’s Symphony No 7.
The actual experiment was carried out using a surround loudspeaker system in a listening room reproduced to mimic rectangular, or non-rectangular, concert halls of six European venues including Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Berlin Konzerhaus and Philharmonie, Cologne Philharmonie and Helsinki Music Centre.
During listening, the skin was measured with sensors attached in the listeners’ fingers in order to record the magnitude of the emotional reactions to different acoustic conditions.
The results revealed an identical performance of the music evoked stronger impact when presented in the acoustics of shoebox type concert halls, such as Vienna Musikverein or Berlin Konzerthaus.
In a second, more conventional experiment, the participants were asked to choose the the halls that produced a higher overall impact on them, with Vienna Musikverein easily coming out ahead followed by Berlin Konzerthaus.
The results could bode well for a new concert hall proposed for London, which is currently in development.
Destined for the current site of the Museum of London, architects are already being consulted about a possible design, with a feasibility study confirming a hybrid of the “shoebox” and alternative “vineyard” styles is likely to be favoured.