The Park Avenue Armory unveiled its Board of Officers room this week after an 18-month, $15 million renovation, and in doing so, introduced a new recital venue to New York’s classical music ecosystem.
One of the grandest of 18 period rooms in the block-large, Gilded-Age Armory, the Board of Officers room has been given a full makeover by the architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron. Mahogany wainscoting has been meticulously restored; walls and ceilings have been cleaned and repaired; an epic fireplace has been rid of layers of grime and dust.
To show off its design features, the room will now host art installations and salon-style performances, including a classical recital series that begins on Sept. 29 with the baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber. At a press preview on Thursday, the soprano Lauren Flanigan, one of the Armory's artists in residence, gave a short performance of songs by Kurt Weill and Ricky Ian Gordon. Covering a wide dynamic range, Flanigan demonstrated the bright acoustics of the room, which has been retrofitted with double-pane windows to muffle outside traffic noise and air conditioning that operates at a whisper.
The recital series continues with the Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang (Oct. 21-23) and the Russian pianist Anton Batagov (Oct. 25-27). Eventually the Armory plans to expand to four programs in the fall and four in the spring, and add more contemporary music and mixed-media work to the mix, said Rebecca Robertson, president and CEO of Park Avenue Armory in an interview.
Tickets are $75, at the upper echelon of recital prices in New York City, but necessary because the space is limited to 110 to 120 seats, said Robertson.
Designed as a meeting space for the colonel of the Seventh Regiment and his officers, the Board of Officers room is one of five in the Armory designed by the Herter Brothers, one of the leading cabinet makers of the American Aesthetic Movement. When it opened in 1880, the New York Times described it as a “royal apartment,” praising its high-grade mahogany and ceiling stenciled with cream panels and blue borders.
But the room’s opulence faded during the 20th century. A poorly-executed renovation in 1932 brought a mismatched paint job. By the 1990s, its plaster ceiling was crumbling, walls were leaking and a Times editorial called it "a splendid crumble." The new renovation straddles historical faithfulness and contemporary design features, which include new glass globe chandeliers and industrial-style curtains.
The room's refurbishment is part of a $200 million renovation that is expected to transform the entire Armory by 2018.