Lincoln Center is the home of New York City's most famous performing arts institutions: ballet, opera, theater, and music.
But from the day it opened in 1962, its reputation was haunted by two aspects of its creation: First, as the 2021 remake of "West Side Story" reminded us, building Lincoln Center required demolishing a vibrant Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood; second, something was wrong with the acoustics of Philharmonic Hall.
Deborah Borda, the CEO of the New York Philharmonic, said, "The orchestra couldn't hear each other on the stage; that was a little problem. The audience couldn't hear the orchestra."
Correspondent David Pogue said, "That could be considered a drawback in a concert hall!"
"It was, it was!"
Henry Timms, Lincoln Center's CEO, said, "This is a project with a long and winding history – there's no question of that."
Over the years, Lincoln Center has spent millions on renovations, trying to fix the sound. Nothing worked completely.
Finally, in 2015, media mogul David Geffen contributed $100 million to lift the acoustic curse.
When "Sunday Morning" visited in May, the auditorium was already gently rounded, instead of sharp and boxy, and 500 seats smaller.
Pogue said, "So far, as a critic, I would say the first thing it's gonna need is more chairs?"
"On the way!" laughed Timms.
Borda said, "There's a sweet spot, and that is anything at about 2,200 seats or less. And that's proven acoustical science."
The stage has moved 25 feet closer to the audience, and some of the audience can sit behind the stage, facing the conductor. Timms said, "Those seats will give you some of the most dynamic views in the house."
The formerly flat floor is now sloped, for better sightlines. Sections of the stage can now rise or fall to accommodate different ensemble sizes.
"We can actually take out half the stage, drop it into the ground, and bring up an additional 100 seats that are right at the edge of the stage," Borda said.
The hall's shape, size and materials are all intended to address the acoustics problem.
But what about the historical problem? "Part of our job at Lincoln Center is to recognize the injustice that was a part of our foundation's story," said Timms.
The new hall is designed to open up the building to the neighborhoods it once shut out. You can stop to enjoy a performance from the new sidewalk studio, or visit the new restaurant and bar, or drop into the new lobby café. That's also where you can watch the Philharmonic's concerts, live, on a 50-foot video wall. Every Philharmonic concert, for free.
David Geffen Hall opened yesterday, within its $550 million budget and two years ahead of schedule.
So, how are the acoustics?
The ultimate judge is Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic's music director.
Pogue asked, "You've rehearsed now with the orchestra here. Honestly, truthfully, what do they think of the sound?"
"Oh, they are completely excited," van Zweden replied. Absolutely. One by one. There's nobody, really nobody who is not happy. And this hall is going to be world famous. I know it."
Pogue said to Timms, "You guys stuck your fists into a problem that decades of people have tried to solve, and it seems like you did it."
He replied, "Everyone should take so much pride in the fact that this really was a job done against all the odds, at a time the city really needed it."
For more info:
- Upcoming events at David Geffen Hall, New York City
- New York Philharmonic
- Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Story produced by Amy Wall. Editor: Emanuele Secci.
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