|Grandeur of the old Met: the final performance|
The Metropolitan Opera, the last of the buildings to be completed, is a behemoth of a theater, with nearly 4,000 seats. It replaced the "old Met" and its famous "Golden Circle. Upon moving to Lincoln Center, the Met organization convinced the historical commission to deny the building any landmark status, this despite the plea from Leopold Stokowski, “I beg you to help save this magnificent house.” Even the protestations of luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein, Mayor John Lindsay, and even the governor, failed to save "the house that Caruso built." The old Met was demolished in 1967 to avoid any competing company taking over the facility.
The "new" Met, probably the iconic symbol of Lincoln Center, has little of the status of the former house and itself is plagued by the lack of sufficient storage space, one of the qualms of the older house. These days the new house is best known for having barely survived a major work stoppage in the Spring and Summer of 1914.
|City Center, outside and in.|
|David H. Koch Theater, interior|
The Philharmonic's founding dates from 1842. Performing first in the Apollo Rooms (seating 600), the ensemble would move to Castle Garden, a former fort and eventually immigration center (predating Ellis Island).
|Castle Garden Theater|
|The simple--yet stunning--interior of Carnegie Hall|
Avery Fisher: the hall that keeps on taking...
|Avery Fisher Hall....look familiar?|
Thus, a much more ambitious plan was hatched. Philanthropist Avery Fisher donate $15 million to help defray the cost for further acoustical improvements. The actual work would take place in the summer of 1976 when the hall was mostly "dark." Cyril M. Harris, a professor at Columbia University, was called upon for the acoustical design. Some of his thoughts on the hall include:
He discussed the hall one part at a time, beginning with the ceiling. Actually it had two ceilings, for, in the course of the 1969 remodelling, a new ceiling had been installed below the original one. But Harris was discussing the new ceiling only. Its shape was not good, Harris said, because it was essentially flat-a series of smooth plywood surfaces-and it was also too light in weight. It was not a good sound diffuser, for it absorbed some of the low frequencies. Harris thought it would have to come down. Then, the basic shape of the hall was strange -- not rectangular but curved, like a Coca-Cola bottle -- and the faces of the very long side balconies presented a pair of large concave surfaces. Such surfaces either cause echoes or concentrate sound in one area at the expense of other areas and so create dead spots. Some large concave surfaces can be rescued by putting bumps all over them, but the side-balcony faces needed bumps far bigger than they could accommodate. The side balconies, Harris believed, would have to be removed. As for the side walls, he did not approve of the way they were constructed, and he regarded their shape as wrong like the ceiling, they were not diffusing sound properly. The best thing to do with the side walls, Harris thought, would be to get rid of them. The rear wall, which was also curved, was creating a concave surface set of problems of its own. The rear wall would also have to be eliminated. The profile of the concrete floor, as it was shown in the drawings, was "far from optimal," as Harris put it. Part of it needed to be chopped away. Part of it needed to be raised by the addition of more concrete. But even then, Harris said, the floor would still be concrete, and in his opinion a wooden floor was essential to a good concert hall. The concrete floor, with its profile corrected, could serve as a foundation for a wooden floor, with an air space between the concrete and the wood. Though not much, Harris's verdict on the floor was the nicest thing he had to say about the hall.
Having demolished the ceiling, the side balconies, the side walls, the rear wall, and all but part of the floor, Harris had only the stage left. The shape of the stage, he explained to Ames, was acoustically undesirable; it was constructed in such a way that it absorbed a lot of the orchestra's low-frequency bass tones. The stage, Harris thought, would best be done away with, too.
This plan necessitated a great deal of work in a very short time. This included demolition of the entire interior and a total rebuild--in less than five months.
|Avery Fisher amidst the construction|
The hall was completed by the planned gala reopening on October 19. Still, the results were less than favorable and it has been determined that a major problem included the decision to add some 400 seats to the original design. When the entire Lincoln Center complex was renovated around 2010 (for some $1.5 billion), the Philharmonic Hall was excluded, due to necessary work and excessive costs. On November 13, 2014, Lincoln Center officials announced their intention to remove Avery Fisher's name from the Hall and sell its naming rights to the highest bidder as part of a $500 million (significantly more than the cost of the original hall) fund-raising campaign for its refurbishment. Said Lincoln Center chairwoman Katherine Farley,"It will be an opportunity for a major name on a great New York jewel." Fisher's three children agreed to the deal for $15 million. Not bad--get an extra $5 million for doing nothing!
Beginning in 2019 (or so), the building will close for two years and all that will remain of the original will be its exterior shell. One only has to hope this will improve this boondoggle of boondoggles.
Acoustician Christopher Blair offers a ray of hope:
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Thus, Philharmonic/Avery Fisher/whatever they're going to call it Hall, remains imperfect after millions of dollars of alterations. Now it's said that $500 million is needed; one has to wonder why they just don't tear the whole thing down. Either way, the Philharmonic is going to experience its own two-year nomadic existence and Carnegie--with its own busy schedule--probably will not be an option. One can only hope that a great orchestra ends up with a great hall: that or move to Boston!