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Opportunity for a pandemic: Geffen Hall’s overhaul accelerated

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to performing arts institutions across the country. They closed theaters and robbed them of their ticket revenue. But for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Lincoln Center, it also offers a glimmer of hope: an opportunity to accelerate the long-delayed renovation of David Geffen Hall.

Since March 2020, concerts held in the hall have been cancelled, and serious construction has begun in the past few months. The orchestra and the center announced on Monday that work is expected to take place in the next year and a half, and plans to reopen in the fall of 2022.

It was one and a half years earlier than the original plan. Although it was considered that the Philharmonic Orchestra would not participate in the triumphant cultural homecoming wave that was set off across the country this fall in Gefen, the premise was that the pandemic should be receded.

Nevertheless, the orchestra will still spend most of the next season at Lincoln Center, and most of its performances will be held at the Alice Tully Hall or Rose Theater, and will also go to Carnegie Hall and other venues. . Although Deborah Borda, the chief executive of the Philharmonic Orchestra, plans to announce all of its plans in early June, in video interviews with other orchestras and center leaders, she said at least that she would at least expect a smaller scale. And uninterrupted concerts.

Boda said this is already “the most challenging season I have set.” However, she added: “I think there will be a surge in demand from the suppressed audience. How many other Zoom concerts can we play? “

Lincoln Center President Henry Timms said in an interview that the renovation of Geffen Hall is expected to cost US$550 million, of which US$500 million has been raised. He added that he has promised a “large” personal donation, but he is not ready to announce other named gifts other than the $100 million that entertainment mogul David Geffen launched the project in 2015.

Timms said: “Before 2020, people’s ideas are completely right, and we as an organization face many other challenges.” “But once the end of the year comes, the opportunity becomes clear: can we do this earlier? In that period Many people stepped up to support the project because they saw it as a story of recovery, a way to invest in the city’s economic and human recovery.”

The old plan called for a phased approach to limit interference with the Philharmonic, and the Philharmonic would never lose an entire season in the hall. Katherine Farley, chairman of the board of directors of Lincoln Center, said that the new timetable will not narrow the scope of the renovation, and its purpose is to make the boring hall more aesthetically and acoustically attractive. The seats will surround the stage, pulling the stage forward 25 feet to the current J row, thereby bringing greater intimacy to people who feel like a sponge shoebox. The new seats will be reduced from 2,738 to 2,200.

The walls will be resurfaced to improve the resonance of the hall, especially the bass frequencies. The crowded halls and other public spaces will be expanded and improved by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, who joined a team in 2019 that also includes Diamond Schmitt Architects, who is working on the interior of the auditorium; acoustic design firm Akustiks; and theater design Company Fisher Dachs Associates.

During the pandemic, the Philharmonic Orchestra did not completely disappear. At the end of last summer and the beginning of the fall of last year, it took a small group of musicians with a rented pickup truck to tour around the city, and said it would be on the road again this spring. Its NYPhil+ subscription streaming service was launched in February, which includes archive concerts and some fresh content. From April 14th to 15th, under the leadership of commander Esa-Pekka Salonen, a group of spectators will appear in front of small audiences in Shed, 30 blocks south of Lincoln Center. (Jaap van Zweden, the music director of the Philharmonic Orchestra, was unable to contact him due to his overseas commitment, although he recently recorded two shows for NYPhil+ in New York.)

But its loss is shocking. The band expects that the cancellation of its 2020-21 season will result in a loss of $21 million in box office revenue, compared with a loss of $10 million in the final months of the season last spring. (Some of them have been alleviated through emergency fundraising.) Even if live performances resume, despite Borda’s optimistic forecast, the box office may not rebound immediately.

The orchestra and its musicians reflected the need for savings in a new four-year contract concluded in December, which is beyond the scope of the pandemic. The contract includes a cut in the player’s basic salary by August 2023. 25%. Until the contract ends in September 2024, prices will increase, although musicians will still be paid less than before the pandemic.

The renovation of the Geffen Hall was opened in 1962 as the Philharmonic Hall, and it became known as the Avery Fisher Hall in 1976. The renovation project has been put on hold for many years and has been carried out in plans and architects. At some point in the early 2000s, the angry Philharmonic wanted to return to its former home, Carnegie Hall. The plan failed and further damaged the relationship between the orchestra and its landlord, Lincoln Center, which also used the hall for its own musical performances and company leases. At the end of 2012, the center’s $1.2 billion reconstruction work continued to improve, but did not include the expensive hall overhaul.

Then, in 2015, Gefen restarted the project under the name of donating the church. The project was originally scheduled to start in 2019, but it has stalled until then due to logistical problems and loss of management staff at the Philharmonic Orchestra and Lincoln Center. The plan requires that the race be completed in time before the 2021-22 season. This is a timetable, and the orchestra and the center doubt it is feasible, but if they can stick to it, the refurbished hall will be ready to open, just as the city hopes to recover from the long-term pandemic closure.

Borda was hired in 2017, mostly to get the renovation back on track; in her previous work leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, she brought the construction of the Walt Disney Concert Hall to the finish line. In New York, the plan she pushed for was flashier and easier to implement than some proposed plans—a plan that was less likely to overspend the budget and proceeded in stages, thus limiting the scope of exile for the Philharmonic Orchestra.

Leaving the conference hall for many years is considered an existential threat to the loyalty of the audience. The irony is that if Geffen (Geffen) reopens on the current schedule, the orchestra will leave their homes for two and a half consecutive years, which is exactly what the management is worried about.

As for David Geffen, he was frustrated with some early setbacks since the gift was given. Farley said in an interview that she only spoke to him earlier in the day.

She said: “He is a very efficient person, and he likes the idea of ​​us building it all at once.”

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