Geffen Hall's $550 million makeover is fully funded

Gone are the mustard-colored seats and shoebox interior of David Geffen Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. When...


Gone are the mustard-colored seats and shoebox interior of David Geffen Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. When the hall reopens this fall, corrugated beech wood will wrap around the stage – and so will the audience, in seats covered in richly colored patterns reminiscent of moving flower petals.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, crippling the performing arts, orchestra and center seized on the long stop to accelerate a planned renovation of Geffen Hall, tearing down its main theater and reimagining its public spaces.

Now, the long-delayed review is nearly complete. Project officials said Wednesday they had raised their target to $550 million to cover the cost of the renovation, and the hall will reopen to the public in October, a year and a half earlier than planned.

“It’s not just a simple renovation where we repainted the walls and put in new rugs and chairs,” Deborah Borda, president and CEO of the Philharmonic Orchestra, said in an interview. “All space is transformed. It’s an entirely new room and an entirely new feel.

With 2,200 seats (compared to 2,738 in the old hall), Geffen will have a more intimate atmosphere and, if all goes as planned, improved acoustics. Project officials hope the renovated venue will help galvanize New York’s performing arts scene during a difficult time as cultural institutions struggle to recover from the coronavirus and win back audiences.

The pandemic cost the Philharmonic more than $27 million in projected ticket revenue; at the start of the crisis, it was forced to cut its workforce of 135 people by 40%, although many have since been rehired. The orchestra is currently in the midst of a traveling season during construction, shuttling primarily between Alice Tully Hall and the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center; it is also looking for a replacement for its musical director, Jaap van Zweden, who announced in September that he would resign in 2024.

The coronavirus has prompted the Philharmonie and the center to think more urgently about attracting new audiences, a challenge orchestras have grappled with for decades. The hall will include a variety of spaces designed to draw people in. In the lobby, there will be a 50-foot digital screen showing live concerts. A new studio facing Broadway, with floor-to-ceiling windows, will give passers-by a glimpse of performances, rehearsals and other events.

“We’re opening up to New York so we don’t feel like a fortress,” Borda said. “It’s welcoming, inviting and vibrant.”

Renovation of the hall – which opened in 1962 as Philharmonic Hall and was called Avery Fisher Hall from 1976 – has been underway for decades, repeatedly blocked by management misfortunes and fears of losing subscribers if the orchestra was exiled from its home for an extended period.

A $100 million donation entertainment mogul David Geffen relaunched the project in 2015. Since then, the orchestra and center have raised an additional $450 million, though further naming giveaways have yet to be announced.

The pandemic, which forced the hall to close in March 2020, offered a silver lining, giving the orchestra and center a chance to ramp up construction. They worked at breakneck speed, emptying the interior of the main theater, removing the box office and moving the escalators.

Turbulence in the global supply chain has made it more difficult to obtain certain building materials. The outbreaks of coronavirus cases have also presented safety concerns at the construction site. But the project moved forward, even as live shows in the city came to a halt.

“It’s become a true celebration of our great city’s resilience, creativity, and diversity,” Lincoln Center president Henry Timms said in an interview.

Timms added that there was still work to be done, including bringing the seats into the lobby and painting the interior. The orchestra will begin playing in the space in August as part of an acoustic tuning process that is expected to take several weeks.

“No one is declaring it a triumph yet,” Timms said. “We’re not done yet.”

The acoustics of the room, long ridiculed by musicians and critics, have been a priority. The renovated space features beech wood walls molded into grooves to help improve resonance. Seats will wrap around the stage, which has been moved forward 25 feet, providing a greater sense of privacy.

The Hall’s notoriously cluttered lobbies and other public spaces were redesigned by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, who in 2019 joined a team that already included Diamond Schmitt Architects, who are working on the auditorium’s interior; Akustiks, an acoustic design firm; and Fisher Dachs Associates, a theater design firm.

The lobby has almost doubled in size and will include a lounge, bar and restaurant.

Project officials said the renovation brought substantial benefits to the city’s economy, which has lagged the rest of the United States in its recovery. More than 6,000 jobs have been created, according to the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center; many went to businesses run by women or members of racial or ethnic minorities.

“We got through the pandemic because we knew New Yorkers needed jobs as much as they needed culture,” Katherine Farley, chair of the Lincoln Center board of trustees, said in a statement.

Philharmonic and Lincoln Center leaders announced funding for the hall at a press conference Wednesday, joined by Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams. Adams said the project was a symbol of New York coming back amid the pandemic, drawing comparisons to the construction of the Empire State Building during the Great Depression.

“We’re going to come back bigger and better than ever,” he said.

Border — who was hired as President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017, having led it in the 1990s, largely because of her success in completing the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s Walt Disney Concert Hall Angeles in 2003 – said the renovation was long overdue. She added that the project had given Philharmonie staff and players a sense of hope during the difficult times of the pandemic, when dozens of concerts were canceled and pay cuts were imposed.

“It’s iconic New York: real resilience and a hook,” she said. “That’s why I came back. I have always believed in this project.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Geffen Hall's $550 million makeover is fully funded
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