The Jay Pritzker Pavillion
Millennium Park
Chicago, IL

"The Jay Pritzker Music Pavilion Sounds as Good as it Looks."
Wynne Delacoma (Classical Music Critic - Chicago Sun Times).

On July 16, 2004, Chicago's Mayor Daley presided over the official opening of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion; the "Most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind in the United States", to a capacity audience exceeding 12,000 people. Located in downtown Chicago, The Pritzker Pavilion is the centerpiece of the 24-acre Millennium Park, which features an eclectic collection of architectural and artistic elements unlike any other in the world. The Pavilion, which The New York Times' Fred Bernstein reported as offering "acoustical innovations", is also the new home for the Grant Park Symphony and Chorus.

What makes the Pritzker Pavilion unique is the LARES system, the "acoustical innovation" cited by Mr. Bernstein. LARES generates the reflected and reverberant energy that surrounds and envelops the listener in an indoor performance venue. This enables all audience members throughout the Pavilion to experience that same warm, enveloping sound.

LARES has received critical acclaim for its use in many halls, opera houses, and performing arts venues worldwide. It has also been used with great success for numerous outdoor festivals and permanent outdoor installations abroad.

The Pritzker Pavilion is the first outdoor LARES system permanently installed in the US, and its implementation is magnificent. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Pavilion employs a trellis for the primary purpose of suspending loudspeakers, both for LARES as well as sound reinforcement. The trellis enables these devices to be precisely placed and carefully oriented with no visual obstructions. In addition, it creates a visual canopy that unifies the fixed seating area with the lawn - "a virtual indoor theatre, for 4,000 listeners sitting in the pavilions fixed seats and the lawn crowd of up to 7,000 stretching more that a city block behind them," reported Wynne Delacoma (Classical Music Critic - Chicago Sun Times).

Nearly six years in the making, Millennium Park transformed what was an unsightly parking structure and rail yard into a showplace for music, art, architecture, and landscape. But the original rendition and scope was not nearly as spectacular as the final result. In the Park's early planning stages, Steve Barbar of LARES Associates was contacted by Jonathan Laney of the Talaske Group. Having had previous experience installing LARES in performing arts centers, Laney inquired about the feasibility of using LARES outdoors. Based on LARES' past success with outdoor venues, a demonstration was arranged with the Grant Park Symphony at the Petrillo Bandshell, the longtime home for the Grant Park Music Festival. Initially skeptical, the Orchestra was so enamored with LARES that they insisted that it be incorporated in the new system.

Early concepts of the new pavilion included a more modest architectural design. It featured a smaller shell structure, with loudspeakers placed on poles throughout the seating area. Fortunately, John Bryan (retired CEO of Sara Lee Corp.), formed a corporation that raised significant revenues which changed the scope of the project.

The music pavilion was to be named for Jay Pritzker, whose family foundation was one of the park's largest benefactors. Jay's wife Cindy was not impressed with the original plans for the pavilion, and mandated that Frank Gehry be involved in its re-design.

Gehry's participation took the project to a new level. His design utilized huge stainless steel ribbons that seemingly haphazardly framed the stage. The steel ribbons connect to the ingenious trellis that eliminated the poles required to suspend the loudspeakers in the original design.

Rick Talaske of The Talaske Group was charged with the acoustical design of the shell, which utilizes both motorized draping, as well as a dedicated LARES system, to adjust stage acoustics. "It is the first time in 27 years that I've heard the cellos and basses" exclaimed Charlene Zimmerman, clarinetist for the Grant Park Symphony. "You can really hear across the orchestra - acoustically, it is warm and beautiful".

But the real challenge faced by Jonathan Laney and Steve Barbar was to faithfully deliver this warm and beautiful sound everywhere, including the far reaches of the lawn. To achieve this, articulating rings of sound reinforcement speakers are arranged under the trellis, each critically time-aligned to maintain impact and clarity of the direct sound. Level and timbre of these rings are carefully manipulated to maintain directivity to the sound source.

Adjacent to the sound reinforcement speakers are devices of a different type. LARES LCF-599 loudspeakers are both aimed down at the audience and aimed in from the sides of the trellis. These loudspeakers radiate LARES signals that emulate the surface boundaries of an indoor space. Early reflected energy from LARES is timed to strengthen and support the direct sound. It also maintains clarity and provides spaciousness. In addition, LARES adds lateral reflections and reverberation that envelop the audience and enrich the sound. Together these systems provide a consistent and enjoyable listening experience throughout the venue. "I have never in my life heard sound projected so faithfully and beautifully over such a great distance," said Steve Robinson, Senior V.P. of WFMT Radio. "It was an ethereal experience", Robinson noted.

David McNutt and James Wicker of dB Integrated Systems provided project management, integration, engineering, and installation of both the sound reinforcement and the LARES system utilizing the labor force of Continental Electrical Construction Company. The size and scope of the venue presented unique challenges in all of these areas. The loudspeakers were suspended by cables and specially engineered brackets, to achieve the precise positioning required by the design. Further, the system had to be weatherproof which required specialized paint and truck bed liner treatment. Given Chicago's summer weather fluctuations and frequent thunderstorms, stable power was a concern. The equipment racks are located in three independent machine rooms, separated by several hundred feet. Each location has a dedicated power conditioner - 150kvA for the primary room, and 75kvA for each of the other two rooms. Audio interconnections between the rooms and the mix position are all digital using CobraNet, eliminating hum and noise. "In some instances the installation was quite simple ," says Wicker. "Racks, amps, and electronics look like most other installations. It's the fact that everything is a network that makes the infrastructure unique. We had a blast with this big computer network." "For me," said McNutt, "the challenge was tuning and aligning three separate audio systems that used hundreds of concert loudspeakers. The payoff was sitting in the lawn listening to the response from the audience".

The Gala Opening Concert of the Grant Park Symphony and Chorus challenged Pritzker Pavilion's LARES and sound reinforcement systems with an eclectic and disparate concert repertoire. The performances ranged from a Bach harpsichord concerto, to a brass fanfare, to a cappella choral pieces, to a vibrant Romantic concerto. The following week, the systems showed their dexterity by accommodating an equally eclectic concert. Featured were performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, followed by Broadway selections from Kristin Chenoweth, and tenor trio Victor Trent Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young. This seguewayed to a "Sky Ballet" performance with program material fed to the LARES array, which was timed from the lawn. The finale moved back to the CSO on the stage, which accompanied a spectacular fireworks display, emanating from rooftops of the surrounding skyscrapers.

Reviews say it all:

Chicago Sun-Times - Wynne Delacoma - "The system has already achieved some of its most important goals........The orchestra sounded vibrant and natural. Its presence as vivid for listeners far back on the lawn as it was for those closer to the stage."

John von Rhein, Music Critic for The Chicago Tribune reported: "For the first time, delighted orchestra members can hear each other,"

Jim Palermo, Grant Park Music Festival Artistic Director praised "The sound that's produced naturally on the stage, the orchestra is in seventh heaven. They can hear each other. It's a warm, lush sound."

Rockford Register's Chuck Sweeny - "I took in a concert by the Grant Park Symphony........I walked to every corner in the lawn. The system works."

Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein wrote on August 14: "The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus presented William Walton's "Belshazzar's Feast," a giddy, brazen oratorio that invariably raises temperatures on both sides of the footlights. Its noisy extravagance gave the new sound system a demanding workout, but one that it passed with flying Technicolors."

LARES Associates' Steve Barbar sums it up: "It's a good start. As the orchestra becomes more accustomed to its new home, it will enable us to further refine the system. We have taken the Music Festival to a new level. 2005's season will be something to really look forward to."