With fanfare, ribbon-cutting and jazz, the new Geffen Hall opens

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With fanfare, ribbon-cutting and jazz, the new Geffen Hall opens
A musician prepares for a performance at the grand re-opening event for David Geffen Hall in New York on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. The New York Philharmonic’s home at Lincoln Center was gutted and rebuilt as part of a $550 million renovation that aimed to fix its notoriously poor acoustics. Christopher Lee/The New York Times.

NEW YORK, NY.- With fanfare, ribbon-cutting and jazz, the new Geffen Hall opens

After years of missteps and false starts, David Geffen Hall, the Lincoln Center home of the New York Philharmonic, finally reopened Saturday after a $550 million renovation designed to fix long-standing acoustic woes and to create a world-class hall that could entice new generations of concertgoers. It was a festive occasion, with speeches by cultural leaders and elected officials, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the premiere of “San Juan Hill,” a multimedia work by jazz trumpeter and composer Etienne Charles.

The revamped hall sparkled as visitors inspected its beechwood walls, richly upholstered seats and hanging lights meant to evoke fireflies. The early reviews were largely positive, with musicians and members of the public praising the hall’s appearance and, more crucially, its sound. Here’s a look at the day gathered by Javier C. Hernández, Adam Nagourney and Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times.

‘You Could Hear Everything’

Is the acoustical curse that plagued Geffen Hall finally broken? One of the most important judges, the New York Philharmonic’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, said he was optimistic but would let audiences decide.

“It is not only on me and on the orchestra members to decide if this is going to be one of the great halls in the world; that is up to the public,” he said in an interview in his office shortly before taking the podium Saturday. “But for my feeling, it comes close.”

Van Zweden said it would take time for the orchestra to adjust to the new space. The musicians are still getting used to sound traveling not only in front of them but behind them, now that the seats wrap around the stage. And after rehearsing in a largely empty hall, they are learning to adjust to the space with the presence of 2,000 audience members.

For decades, the Philharmonic’s players have complained about the hall’s acoustics, saying they were unable to hear one another clearly onstage. But Saturday, many rejoiced.

“It’s a huge step forward,” said Rebecca Young, associate principal viola, who joined the orchestra in 1985. “Nobody will tell you that it’s not better than the old hall.”

Anthony McGill, who plays principal clarinet, said he was impressed by the resonance of the hall at the orchestra’s first performance before a large audience Friday, a private concert for construction workers.

“I was thrilled,” he said. “You could hear everything. I felt a jolt of caffeine.”

Ryan Roberts, who plays English horn and joined in 2019, said the renovation was “100% worth it.”

“People don’t know how good this orchestra is because they’ve never had an opportunity to hear us in a real hall and in a real space that’s flattering,” he said. “For the first time, we feel like we are actually getting a fair shot, and audiences can really get an idea of what our orchestra is made of.”

Unlike most pieces that the Philharmonic plays, composer and bandleader Etienne Charles’ “San Juan Hill: A New York Story,” the first public concert in the new hall, uses amplification in places, making it an imperfect test of the new hall’s acoustics. But several audience members said they liked what they heard and saw.

“Amazing,” said Rick Wertheimer, a longtime concertgoer from Manhattan, as he left the Saturday afternoon concert. “What a joy to have the acoustics so crisp. After all these years.”

Another concertgoer, Luke Lee, said he was struck by the multimedia presentation: “I’ve never seen this style of performance before.”

And a third, Angelo Chan, called it “very vibrant and very alive.” — HERNANDEZ and NAGOURNEY

A Critic’s First Impressions

The renovated hall opened in a musical vein you could call vibrant grimness, with the premiere of “San Juan Hill,” Charles’ account of the history of the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood that was cleared to build Lincoln Center. “Drink in its erasure,” the audience was somberly instructed, and the music had a solemn, sometimes brutal, sometimes sly swing.

Charles’ ensemble, Creole Soul, grooved alone onstage for the first half-hour of the roughly 80-minute piece; then the New York Philharmonic entered, acting almost as interlopers in an already thriving culture. Narration, archival images, poetic filmed reconstructions of street life early in the 20th century, oral history, notation, improvisation, an upbeat melting-pot finale — all came together in the piece. With acoustic dampening panels unfurled along the walls throughout the hall, the amplification of Creole Soul sounded clean and clear, and the sound became just a bit murkier with the full forces playing. — WOOLFE

City Officials Weigh In

As the city recovers from the pandemic — with tourism yet to fully rebound, the return of workers to their offices going slower than expected and many businesses still struggling to bounce back — several elected officials seized on the reopening of David Geffen Hall as a hopeful sign.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Brooklyn Democrat who is the U.S. Senate majority leader, presented the ahead-of-schedule opening of the hall as a turning point for New York, and noted all the challenges the city has faced and surmounted in recent decades.

“New York has faced multiple crises,” he said. “9/11. The Wall Street Crash. Superstorm Sandy. The Trump presidency.” Schumer glanced across the plaza, his face lit up by the sun on the cool fall day. “And we’re still standing,” he added. “Not only standing but stronger than before.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who is running for a full term this year, predicted that people for decades would look back at this moment as more than just the opening of a major new concert hall: “They will say you got it done in the middle of a pandemic.”

“You don’t bet against New Yorkers,” she said. “They get the job done.” — NAGOURNEY

A Hopeful Sign With Bathrooms

David Geffen Hall has many innovations, including a new welcome center, a 50-foot-wide digital screen and, most important, a revamped auditorium. But for some concertgoers, the most important change may be more practical: the bathrooms.

Before the renovation, finding a restroom could be difficult, especially for women. At intermission, lines snaked through the lobby and jams formed near sinks and paper-towel dispensers.

In the new hall, the number of toilets and urinals has risen by more than 50%, to 138 from 91. There are now 75 toilets for women, compared with 47 before the renovation.

“Bathrooms too often are simply done to meet codes,” architect Billie Tsien, who worked on the public spaces, said on the eve of the reopening. “But if you have a bad experience, it colors your entire experience. This is especially true when at a theater.”

Because the new hall has about 500 fewer seats than the old one, fewer people are expected to be using the facilities at any given time, further helping reduce congestion.

So, there will now be one toilet or urinal for every 15 audience members, according to Lincoln Center, compared with one for every 35 before the renovation. — HERNANDEZ

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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