Avery Fisher Hall Rehab Project to Begin in 2017

Thursday, November 29, 2012 - 11:00 AM

Avery Fisher Hall is to going look – and possibly sound – a whole lot different.

Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic said Thursday they plan to radically overhaul the 50-year-old concert hall. The building – which has been criticized for its poor acoustics and increasingly outdated facilities – will be nearly gutted, forcing the Philharmonic to relocate for two seasons while construction takes place.

The remodeling is not expected to get underway before 2017.

The plans, which were revealed to the New York Times, are said to respond to a challenging economic climate for orchestras and shifting audience habits. The Philharmonic told the newspaper it wants Avery Fisher to be more flexible and bring audiences closer to the musicians on stage.

The orchestra declined to comment further on the plans.

Drew McManus, a Chicago-based orchestra consultant and blogger, said a rehab is sorely needed. "Of all the large orchestra primary venues in the country, it really is toward the bottom," he said. "From that standpoint it's a welcome project."

"I think they are hyping up the whole aspect of what else it can be for the organization," he continued. "Most of what they're referencing – about it being more in tune with today's audiences and a post-recession mentality – that's just simply putting enough bathrooms in, making the lobby facilities usable and a place you want to be, and comfortable seats."

The exterior of the building is not expected to be altered during the renovation.

Many questions remain unanswered. The Philharmonic doesn’t yet know where it will play during construction. Options floated include the Park Avenue Armory and the David H. Koch Theater. There is the issue of who leads the fundraising: Lincoln Center, the Philharmonic, or a combination of the two. And the flexibility within the current footprint remains a question.

"The Philharmonic has been needing a fine concert hall for a very, very long time," said Lawrence Kirkegaard, the president of Kirkegaard Associates, an acoustics consulting firm. "I think the flexibility and stature that is being sought are absolutely appropriate for where we are in music today.

"The challenge will be that you have an iconic campus and a volume set aside for the concert hall that was pretty much predicated on a shoebox. It's going to challenge the designers a lot to achieve the kind of flexibility that they're looking for within the constraints of the building."

Here is Drew McManus on Avery Fisher Hall. And please tell us: What do you think is most needed for Avery Fisher Hall?

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Comments [35]

steve berens from Inwood

Throw in the towel. While some conductors do a good job compensating for the hall's imbalances - not Gilbert however - unless a great soloist or conductor is performing I won't go. You can't make a linebacker into a ballet dancer. Let it stand for amplified use and build another but more accessible Carnegie Hall.

Dec. 03 2012 10:19 AM
Freddy Snyders from Riverdale, New York

It needs a massive pipe organ. I can not believe that it does not have one. I have lived in this city for 22 years and have always hoped that the Avery Fisher Hall would get a pipe organ. Whenever a large scale work calls for an organ the performance is a total disaster - Mahler's Symphonies # 2 and 8, Saens Saens Organ Symphony, The Manfred Symphony, etc. We could never have the Poulenc Organ Concerto performed here or have some great organist give an organ recital.

Maybe we will be lucky this time around.

Dec. 03 2012 07:14 AM
Ray from Oradell, NJ

The acoustics must come first, but certainly a pipe organ is needed. It was a sin that the Skinner pipe organ was discarded (it went to the Crystal Cathederal in LA I believe) and New York is the only major city that does not have a concert hall with a pipe organ.

Dec. 03 2012 05:46 AM
Jerry from Brooklyn

I ended my subscription to the New York Philharmonic.I fond Avery Fischer Hall somewhat depressing. I also find the seats uncomfortable. The renovation should focus on making more comfortable seats, and brightening it up. I
feel much better when I go into the David Koch theater.

Dec. 02 2012 04:39 PM
David from Flushing

I never considered Lincoln Center to have been built in the best period of American architecture. When one thinks of New York City, Art Deco comes to mind and the Radio City Music Hall is far more beloved than anything in Lincoln Center.

The Center has always been a showcase of poor choices of building materials. There was the constantly fracturing pavement of the plaza and dangerously slick terrazzo in front of Avery Fisher that must be covered with rubber mats. The travertine cladding of the building has billions of gaping mouths just waiting for the next freeze-thaw cycle not to mention its vulnerability to acid rain.

Lincoln Center is addicted to badly designed steps. The flight that former separated the opera house from the plaza proper had to be replaced with a ramp after many accidents. I see this error was recently repeated at the front of the plaza, this time with built-in distracting flashing lights. There are ramps under the canopies on either side of this, but these are partially blocked by supports oddly placed in the middle rather than the side of the walkway.

Building acoustics remain as much an art as a science. Professor Wallace Sabine of Harvard is considered the father of its modern scientific study. He was the consultant for Boston's Symphony Hall. In the intervening century, there seems to have been little progress. None of the halls in in Lincoln Center are deemed excellent with the notable exception of the Metropolitan Opera. Verizon Hall in Philadelphia and those elsewhere have also proved disappointing.

Part of the problems of Lincoln Center are due to management decisions to use lobby space for revenue producing eateries, etc. This reminds me of the sad period when the concourse of Grand Central Terminal was given over to commercial booths. Open spaces do serve a purpose.

I have lived through too many renovations of Avery Fisher Hall, starting with the adjustment of the plastic "clouds," to get too excited over over the current announcement and will take a wait and see position.

Dec. 02 2012 07:26 AM
BRUCE B. from Forest Hills

Once upon a time, there was was a REAL pipe organ in what was then Philharmonic Hall - I spent a very pleasant afternoon there listening to E. Power Biggs playing it. I believe that it was removed during the "re-do" financed by Avery Fisher (of Fisher audio/stereo equipment fame) to improve the original (terrible)acoustics of the hall. [The overhead golden "clouds" also went.] The organ was to have been reinstalled in another venue some distance from New York, but I can no longer recall where it was or if that was actually accomplished.

Dec. 01 2012 10:59 PM
David from New York

There are bigger problems to solve before throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at Avery Fisher Hall to improve the acoustics and the outdated patron facilities. Attracting young audiences to classical music as the older generation dwindles and ultimately disappears, is probably the most critical problem facing any of our great musical institutions. That will not happen any time soon, if ever unless we re-think where the money and effort go. For years, we have been in the throes of a rebellion against the aesthetic values of music. The pop/rock culture, with its attendant behaviors, wins out almost everywhere. Thousands gather at Rockefeller Plaza for the Today Show's "concerts", where performers without any serious training are lionized for huge sales of their CD's. Only occasionally do we get reports of pioneering young orchestras,choruses or chamber groups on some highbrow TV special. Yet, our great orchestras, made up of highly accomplished, trained musicians, are struggling to stay alive. New generations of parents and their young offspring need educational programs to help them find the joys of listening to and participating in, well, something else. That takes vision, ideas and steadfast dedication-and money.

Dec. 01 2012 04:28 PM
Wendy Baker

Aside from the physical issues like more Ladies'Rooms with lighter doors that don't require all your strength to open and better elevators for us "walking wounded" with walkers, canes nan wheelchairs, As someone who sits in the rear quarter of the Orchestra, I would love to be able to see the brasses, percussion, etc who are all in the rear. I remember the Hall in the 1960's with all the floating clouds. It has improved since then, but still needs to grow up to reach the maturity of the sound at Carnegie, where I usually sit on a chair in the rear of the Parquet and hear beautifully(still not seeing enough of the brasses-just hearing them:-)

I love what Alan Gilbert has done with the sound of the orchestra, but would like to hear it fuller and better than the Hall permits.

I hope to live to see the renovations. They better be excellent, as I will never manage to survive until yet another after this one in 2017!

Wendy Baker

Dec. 01 2012 02:51 PM
Caroline Schimmel from Greenwich, CT

It would be wonderful to sit in the orchestra seats and finally see the kettledrummer, tuba tooters, and all the other players in the back.

Dec. 01 2012 01:31 PM
WQXR

Thanks all for the great comments. We hope to devote an upcoming episode of our music-industry discussion show Conducting Business to the question of Avery Fisher Hall's future. We'll be drawing on your comments as we prepare.

Dec. 01 2012 10:48 AM
Irina Bereznaya from Jersey City, NJ

Acoustics is the main problem: The New York Philharmonic can't reveal all its sounding palette and power in the present Hall because of bad acoustics.

Dec. 01 2012 01:26 AM
C. Reynolds from California

There are concert halls all over the world that have enough seats and also have intimacy. The new Disney Hall in LA is a good example. In all the years I lived in Manhattan and attended Philharmonic Concerts, I looked for the seat where the sound engineer might have sat to tune the hall. Never found it. In the process of acoustic revamping, consult musicians this time.

Nov. 30 2012 11:09 PM
Edward from Morris Co., NJ

Lincoln Center is the musical epicenter of the US and maybe the world! It boasts the finest ensembles and venues...except Avery Fisher! It has non-acoustics and uncomfortable seats too close together. Our school auditorium has superb acoustics and very comfortable seating. Any renovation must be comprehensive wth everythign on the table. The NY Phil deserves a world-class hall. The recent redevelopments of LC are superb and improve the slightly dated exteriors. AFH has a fine facade, but everything beyond that needs to a total remake. LC must continue to be the best. So let's finish the job! Patrons deserve to hear the varied timbres and textures of the musical literature, with Maestro Gilbert's youthful and fresh leadership!

Nov. 30 2012 09:38 PM
Albert Eisler from Peekskill, NY

When I attended concerts at Avery Fisher Hall in past years I was never impressed with the acoustics and many others have stated dissatisfaction as well. I believe it might be desirable to engage a group of acoustic engineers and consultants to evaluate the space from an acoustic standpoint and compare their findings relative to an ultimate solution.

Nov. 30 2012 09:03 PM
harrygrimes from Middlebush NJ

Better acoustics will bring me back. And I fully agree with others who suggest a genuine pipe organ is called for. Tearing it down and starting fresh brings a host of issues; all it takes is money, right? But if you're going to do it, then do it properly....buy cheap, buy twice, my mother used to say.

Nov. 30 2012 08:56 PM
Ralh Di Benedetto from Blauvelt, New York

Mr Armstrong from Florida is correct. A major reconstuction project in 1974 was undertaken that completely changed the auditorium space from basically a rounded greek theather seating arrangement to the current retangular space, resulting in the most improvment in sound since the hall's inception. I have first hand knowlege of this since I was the electrical design engineer for the project at that time. I also agree with the comment regarding the side balcony seating, it is a literal pain in the neck. In my opinion attending a concert is also a visual experience as well as sound.

Nov. 30 2012 08:33 PM
Karen Davidowitz from Flushing, NY

And while they are at it...how about alot more rest room facilities, especially, as it I need to tell you, ladies rooms. Anyone who said the place needs to be gutted completely has the right idea! It never was the "be all & end all" of modern concert halls. So maybe THIS time they'll get it right??? Good luck!

Nov. 30 2012 08:01 PM

The best thing that has happened in Avery Fisher Hall in recent memory was my HS graduation in 1980 (okay, I am being a bit dramatic). I agree with comment from Robert Sholiton, there needs to be some serious planning to bring this hall up to a decent standard. Comparisons and "peer reviews" with other highly regarded halls throughout the world need to be conducted as NYC's concert hall (no disrespect to Carnegie Hall of course) needs to be world renowned for accoustics and facilities (e.g., restrooms, breakrooms, party facilities).

And, I started voting up the comments regarding a pipe organ having just returned from Thanksgiving in VA, close to DC, where I read an article in the Washington Post about the "organ voicers" (not tuners) installing the new pipe organ being installed in the Kennedy Center and was (1) dying to go and watch them work and (2) amazingly jealous. Not sure if Avery Fisher is the place or not. But all this would require a great deal of demolition, PR, and fundraising, which is difficult at this time.

Nov. 30 2012 07:24 PM
Bob-Georgia from Atlanta Suburb

Original construction ignored the acoustic engineer's design and advice just to add more seats. Will it be different this time?

Nov. 30 2012 06:05 PM
I. Diaz-Reyes from New York, NY

How many times does this make that the Philharmonic hall has been closed for rehab. The problem is that they have never solved the problem of acoustics to the liking of the public. For a perfect example of what good acoustical design is just take a look at the new Alice Tully Hall.

Nov. 30 2012 05:41 PM
Louise Weiss from New York

Tear it down. It's been awful from the beginning.

Nov. 30 2012 05:36 PM
Bernard Lieberman from New York City

The dimensions are all wrong, as I remember from an old professor of mine who did a study of great halls. This is why those renovations did not amount to much.

Nov. 30 2012 05:20 PM
Heather Walters from New York City

We need a decent pipe organ. There are many fine works for organ and orchestra that are never programmed here because of the lack of a good instrument in a large enough hall.

Also, bring the audience closer to the performers. Helzberg Hall in Kansas City is an example of how this could be done.

Nov. 30 2012 05:04 PM
james Jagiello from Forest Hills NY

I don't think they will use the Koch theatre because the New York City Ballet uses it as well as other dance companies.

Nov. 30 2012 05:00 PM
NYC24 from NYC

I totally agree that acoustics is the top priority, but I think NY needs a pipe organ again.
The electric one looks kinda tacky, and does not have the same sound as a real pipe organ. Other great concert halls have them.
Bring back the pipe organ to NYC!

Nov. 30 2012 04:57 PM
BelowGrand from NYC

Acoustics first and foremost. All those other things are just frills.

It would be a good idea to install escalators all the way up. For people who have difficulty with stairs, the wait for an elevator is excruciating.

Nov. 30 2012 04:53 PM
Jessica Marlow

Tear the thing down and start all over.

Nov. 30 2012 04:52 PM
Robert Delmond from New York, New York

Its time for New York City to have a pipe organ in a concert hall once again. The Kennedy Center just installed a new Casavant. Most major cities have a grand organ in a concert space. Lets go New York!!!!!

Nov. 30 2012 04:49 PM
Mary Fran from New York CIty

Tear it down and start over. It's always been awful and no fix has ever worked. Furthermore, it's really ugly.

Nov. 30 2012 04:47 PM
Robert Sholiton from Manhattan

WIth no architectural plans, no fundraising plan and no plan for a location during construction, this is not exactly an announcement that inspires confidence.

Nov. 30 2012 12:04 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

We'll keep doing this until we get it right!!!!

Nov. 30 2012 12:00 PM
TK from NYC

One request. They need to re-orient the side balconies so that you are facing the stage. I'm a subscriber and for years I had seats in a side balcony on the right side as you face the stage. My neck still hurts from having to turn my head to the right to see anything. And of course you had a bunch of heads in front of you that you constantly had to peer around. I finally moved down into orchestra seating. Oh, and tell them to change the carpeting as well. Very old and worn. Okay, I'm done complaining.

Nov. 30 2012 11:39 AM

Mr. Armstrong, you are quite correct. In fact, this concert hall has been 'improved' several times since it's opening in the 1960's. The most extensive was the one that came after Avery Fisher donated funds in the 1970s and for which the name of the hall was changed from Philharmonic Hall to Avery Fisher Hall. Additional alterations were done in the 1980s and most recently during Kurt Masur's tenure as music director.

Nov. 30 2012 10:58 AM
Claude Armstrong from Florida

Funny, I seem to recall a somewhat significant overhaul in the 80's. Your article implies the hall has been untouched since 1962. Fact check, anyone?

Nov. 29 2012 10:46 PM

The track record for this project is not good.

I remember reading in the NY Times and hearing on WQXR that a renovation was planned and scheduled to be completed by the far off date of 2011. We can see how well that's worked out. I have little hope or confidence this will be done by the date they imply it will be done by nor do I expect the architects and/or acoustic engineers to improve the sound. I think they should simply update the patron facilities and amenities, clean the hall, add a very large pipe organ to the interior of the auditorium and then declare victory and go home.

Nov. 29 2012 12:40 PM

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