Ambitious renovation plan announced to solve NY Philharmonic’s hall woes by 2024

Mon Dec 02, 2019 at 1:36 pm
An artist rendering of the renovated David Geffen Hall, with all work to be completed by March 2024.

The New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center announced a major renovation plan for David Geffen Hall, the orchestra’s home Monday morning. The plan, will include substantial changes, not only to the concert hall, but to the lobby and promenade level—finally fulfilling what Philharmonic patrons have long yearned for: better sound, better views, more comfort, and greater intimacy between musicians and audience.

At the center of the plan is, of course, the stage, which will be moved forward 25 feet. With this the audience seating will surround the orchestra, with a substantial seating area behind the stage where one can enjoy the same view the musicians have, a unique and exciting experience so far unavailable to Philharmonic audiences.

The stage alteration means the hall will lose over 500 seats, reducing capacity to 2,200. The remaining seats will not only be closer, but will have improved sight lines. The orchestra seating section will be raised back to the original, steeper rake that existed prior to 1976, while seats on the sides will be angled toward the stage rather than at the current 90 degrees. The balconies will be gently curved away from their current perpendicular set.

The acoustic features of the plan—designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, with Gary McCluskie leading the concert hall design, and the acoustic design firm Akustiks, led by Paul Scarborough—are tied into the new stage location and the reduced seating (which will lead to an as- yet-to-be-determined ticket cost rise, as outlined by Philharmonic president Deborah Borda). 

Rebuilding the side tiers will involve replacing the current wall paneling with material that should improve reverberation in general and the reach of the low strings specifically. Overhead, the ceiling will be raised, and an adjustable canopy will be installed over the musicians, enabling fine tuning of both the sound the audience hears and that the musicians hear. Motorized risers will also improve interior communications between musicians and orchestra sections. Improved stage flexibility and infrastructure is also a goal, so that the hall will have greater functionality for films and staged performances.

There’s more in the plan for patrons. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners have redesigned the public spaces. The major element will be doubling the current lobby size and making it possible to open the walls on three sides. There is a planned Welcome Center on the Broadway side of the hall, meant as a hub for tickets and information for the whole Lincoln Center campus. For late arrivals, the lobby will have a media streaming wall, with live performance feeds; for intermission there will be a larger Grand Promenade space with more seating and food and bar service, and for all there will be “significantly more restrooms.”

The Philharmonic and Lincoln Center, represented by president and CEO Henry Timms, have already made substantial progress in raising 65% of the budgeted $550 million cost. There is also a specific project timeline in place, far different than what had been developed in the previous desultory, on again, off again impetus to renovate David Geffen Hall. Where the previous concept had the Philharmonic tossing around ideas about a peripatetic concert existence for at least one whole season, the new vision is to effect the work in stages.

With a scheduled grand reopening date of March 2024, the hall will undergo two closings that are promised to be short. The first, from May 2022 through October 2022, will allow the installation of the initial pre-fabricated framework. That will be followed by what the Philharmonic calls a “surge season”: a shortened schedule from November 2022 through April 2023; the orchestra will test and fine tune the new stage possibilities during this period.

The hall will close again from May 2023 through February 2024 for the lobby reconfiguration. The Philharmonic will play at Carnegie Hall, New York City Center, and other venues in the city during that final renovation period. For the two summers of construction, 2022 and 2023, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival will be distributed throughout the Lincoln Center campus.

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