With Geffen Hall, NY Phil gets a better-sounding new home

NEW YORK (AP) — Forced out of their offices at the start of the pandemic, top executives from the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center met in July 2020 under the trees of the venue’s Capital Grove patio to try to finally resolve a problem of several decades.

Could they speed up the schedule to tackle their albatross: the much maligned and sonically contested home of the orchestra?

“It was a group moment, like wow, the room is going to be closed,” recalled Philharmonie president Deborah Borda. “Well, let’s start.”

After a $550 million renovation that took two years, the 180-year-old orchestra returns to David Geffen Hall for a series of openings beginning with a dedication ceremony on Thursday evening, a performance on Friday for the workers of the building and community concerts on Saturday with the world premiere. from “San Juan Hill: A History of New York” by Etienne Charles.

The orchestra celebrates its return with a pair of official opening galas, October 26 with Renée Fleming, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams, and two days later with the world premiere of “You Are” by Angélica Negrón. the Prelude” and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

“We are no longer in a shoebox,” said music director Jaap van Zweden. “It’s not nice to say that the front acoustics were really bad, but it wasn’t great either, let’s put it that way. I am very proud to say that the acoustics are now excellent.

The Philharmonic Hall has been the prominent site of films and television concerts, but has been avoided by many traveling orchestras.

“For Lincoln Center, this had been such a cloud for so long that we had to fix it first,” said Henry Timms, who became president of Lincoln Center in 2019. “It was important when I started this work that this makes a statement about what Lincoln Center wants to be, and that was pre-COVID and pre-George Floyd murder.

Capacity was reduced from 2,738 to 2,200, orchestra rows reduced from 43 to 33, and two-thirds of the third tier eliminated. Among the changes: the stage was moved forward 25 feet and seven rows of wraparound seats were installed behind the performers and the side bleachers were curved reminiscent of the original plans.

“It’s like building a ship in a bottle,” said Gary McCluskie, who led the project for Diamond Schmitt Architects. “We completely dug out the old room.”

Based in Carnegie Hall since 1891, the orchestra moved about half a mile north in 1962 to Philharmonic Hall, the first building to open at Lincoln Center. Designed by Max Abramovitz with acoustics by Leo Beranek, the auditorium was largely swept away due to poor bass resonance.

The tinkering began with renovations in 1964, 1965, and 1969, followed by a major rebuild in 1976. Renamed Avery Fisher Hall, the building reopened with improved sound but was still criticized as too bright. The musicians did not get along well. In another modest upgrade, sound reflectors were placed on the sides of the stage in 1992.

The misfortune escalated. The orchestra announced in June 2003 that it would return to Carnegie, then called off the move four months later. A 2005 redesign was announced and went nowhere.

Momentum built in 2015 with the $100 million gift from entertainment industry executive David Geffen. Borda returned two years later to the Philharmonic Orchestra, which she had led from 1991 to 1999, and abandoned plans to lower the auditorium.

A renovation was eventually announced in late 2019 which was to run from May 2022 to February 2024, requiring the orchestra to relocate for much of its 2023-24 season.

“It was two organizations: us and Phil. This particular duo hasn’t played as well over the years as they should,” Timms said. “You have two complicated organizations with powerful boards and keeping the train on track is a real challenge.”

About $360 million had been raised at the start of the pandemic. The organizations raised the figure to more than $400 million by the end of the year, secured bridge funding, and announced the new schedule in April 2021.

Diamond Schmitt Architects designed and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects planned public spaces. Fisher Dachs Associates recreated the theater and Paul Scarbrough of Akustiks led the sound design.

The acoustic science has improved but is inaccurate. While Borda opened Disney Hall in Los Angeles to raves, Verizon Hall in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center was plagued with thin sound.

Scarbrough aimed to reduce the distance between the seats furthest from the stage and to provide acoustic breathing around the musicians. Sixteen fiberglass acoustic panels hang from the ceiling to allow for adjustment, and a lattice ceiling is above the audience. Fabric wall banners can cover walls for amplified performance.

“The main thing that didn’t work was that the ceiling above the stage was way too low, which was sending too much sound energy back to the musicians too quickly, making it very difficult for them to hear what was going on. was happening,” Scarbrough said. “The third lateral level redirected too much sound energy to the orchestra floor, where the audience would absorb it.”

Walls and bleachers were redone with corrugated beech wood paneling to improve reverberation, replacing the beige plaster from the 1976 renovation and mahogany-colored timber. There are 20 motorized elevators in the white oak stage, a Walker Technical digital organ, a retractable cinema booth, an integrated cinema screen and rear projection capability. Dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces have been added as well as a passage to cross from right to left in the wings.

What was initially gold-colored velor seats in 1976 had become a mustard tawdry. They’ve been replaced with a blue and red rose petal pattern on custom Maharam fabric, and the average width has increased by an inch.

Richard Lippold’s sculpture Orpheus and Apollo, which hung in the atrium until 2014, is moved to the central concourse of LaGuardia Airport.

The travertine exteriors remain unchanged, though new colorful artwork hangs on the north side.

The staircase walls are covered with 35,500 handmade Italian Orsoni tiles with yellow gold leaf and antique white gold, and other walls with 520 meters of custom felt with a petal pattern from pink to blue, red, orange and fuschia. The staircase ceilings are Admiral Blue and the grand promenade has terrazzo flooring with bronze bands.

“There is a look at Lincoln Center. People used to say he was an American Fascist, an American Imperial, but now it’s getting better with time,” Borda said.

Lobby space has more than doubled to 12,500 square feet, and a 52 x 8 foot, 42 million pixel digital screen is where the box office used to be. A 1,680 square foot visitor center was built, a sidewalk studio facing the northeast corner replaced the offices, and a restaurant called Tatiana, with a menu by chef Kwame Onwuachi, featuring Afro-Caribbean dishes, faces the Metropolitan Opera House.

Retractable chandeliers called fireflies and inspired by the Met’s famous touchstone will rise before each performance, adjustable to four levels of brightness.

Nothing was certain until the afternoon of August 15, when the orchestra rehearsed in the hall for the first time, playing Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony over and over again.

“The first rehearsal we were a little worried because it was very, very dry, but then they moved things around and it’s wonderful,” said Judith LeClair, principal bassoon since 1981. were doing. It’s no longer scary to do soft attacks. It’s no longer a shiny, brittle sound. It’s just a warmer, woodier sound instead of being bright and ugly.

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