Is the New York Philharmonic dangerously loud?

Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One usually associates loud music with rock concerts and not classical music played by one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, but that has changed. This report by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a New York Times music critic, says the New York Philharmonic is playing too loudly. Her concern is the effect loud playing has on the quality of the music, not preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

When I attend a concert, my concerns are about both.

I have hyperacusis, a condition where sound levels not bothersome to others cause discomfort and pain for me. And I know that noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.

When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, the Philharmonic’s sound levels weren’t a problem. But under his successor, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dudamel’s conducting, and most of the time the orchestra’s sound is exquisite. But he plays some pieces about 10 decibels louder than Maestro Salonen did, e.g., Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Now I make sure to bring a pair of earplugs with me when we go.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

And with louder symphony orchestras, hearing loss and other auditory problems aren’t just a worry for the musicians. They might be problems for the audience, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

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