Constitution Hall

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Editorial Review

If you want to mix history with your musical experience, enjoy a concert at the 3,700-seat DAR Constitution Hall. For several generations, this dark, cavernous old relic of an auditorium was used only for classical music and operas; now you can catch a diverse range of acts there at any given time. Tori Amos, the Isley Brothers, Bruce Springsteen and the artist formerly known as Prince have played Constitution Hall, as well as chamber groups and orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and (during the remodeling of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall) the National Symphony Orchestra.

The hall is one of three buildings housed in the D Street National Society of the DAR complex designed by John Russell Pope, adjoining the Beaux-Arts Memorial Continental Hall and Administration Building.

Although the NSO has called the Kennedy Center home since 1971, Constitution Hall was its prime venue for four decades before that, and the auditorium was the mainstay concert hall for national acts traveling through Washington. Located a block off the Ellipse, the hall smacks of all that is Old Washington with its ornate facades and vastness; but it still retains an elegant charm. Its acoustics, however, are infamous.

The late Antal Dorati, the third music director of the NSO, once complained that the auditorium's parallelogram shape helped make "acoustics to take one's shirt off...It is elementary that music cannot flourish in a place where it cannot be heard. Would anyone think of trying to display a painting in a room that is completely dark?"

Nonetheless, major acts still occasionally play at Constitution (Immature recently filmed a video there, too), and it looks like the hall will remain a fixture on the Washington music circuit. The Washington Opera also tentatively made a home for itself here while awaiting the completion of renovations at the Kennedy Center.

-- Shayla Thiel, with update by Jen Chaney (9/12/03)