How the Philharmonic's new home sounds, from any seat

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How the Philharmonic's new home sounds, from any seat
A photo provided by Chris Lee of conductor Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic stand for applause at the new David Geffen Hall, a space the orchestra is audibly settling into, in New York on Oct. 20, 2022. The new Geffen seems to have achieved a rare distinction in its engineering for sound: consistency. Chris Lee via The New York Times.

by Zachary Woolfe

NEW YORK, NY.- Over the past week at David Geffen Hall, the New York Philharmonic’s overhauled home, I’ve listened from the new block of seating behind the orchestra — so close to the players that I could almost read the percussionist’s music. I’ve sat in the last row of the third tier, as far from the stage as you can get. And I’ve been in the critic’s usual spot on the main level.

It was striking how acoustically similar these three experiences were. The new Geffen seems to have achieved a rare distinction in its engineering for sound: consistency. No seat in the hall — at least the vastly different ones I’ve had in numerous visits so far — is appreciably better or worse than any other.

Last week, after a handful of opening events, I wrote that the hall — an acoustical and aesthetic problem since its opening in 1962 — had a mightily improved sound. And I maintain that things have gotten better. But as I’ve spent more time there, and as the Philharmonic has audibly begun to settle into it, my feelings about that “mightily” have become more complicated.

Simply being in the new Geffen is more immediate and intimate than it was before this long-awaited, long-delayed transformation. The blond-wood hall now has 2,200 seats, 500 fewer than it did, and the stage has been pulled forward into the auditorium to allow for seating to be wrapped around it. The general impact on what used to be an enormous, dreary barn is a flood of warmth, even conviviality. Substantially expanded public spaces (and more bathroom stalls) haven’t hurt.

This all has an effect on our perception of the acoustics, but with each successive concert, I’ve begun to detect some subtle gaps between the more inviting visuals and the elusive sound of the hall.

Geffen sounds clear, clean and straightforward; there’s nothing distorted or echoing, no weird balances or flabby resonances. But that cleanness can sometimes seem like coolness: an objective, almost clinical feeling, matched by the hard white light glaring on the orchestra. (Compare it with Carnegie Hall, in every respect a golden bubble bath.)

This quality can make soft passages beautifully lucid at Geffen, and solos come off with precision, as if the hall were pointing an index finger at the players, one by one. In the first subscription program in the new space — a brassy set of pieces that made Christopher Martin, the principal trumpet, the performances’ assured star — the no-fat sound brought the audience to its feet at the superloud ending of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The lack of sonic plumpness also helps make Geffen superb with amplification.

But the Philharmonic’s second subscription program — led Thursday by its music director, Jaap van Zweden — was mellower and more strings focused, featuring Debussy’s silky “Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune”; an American premiere by Caroline Shaw, featuring her vocal octet Roomful of Teeth; and Florence Price’s hearty, recently rediscovered Fourth Symphony.

Here, a certain lack of warmth and richness of blend — perhaps partly the Philharmonic’s sometimes blunt playing, and partly the room — detracted more from the music. Unlike in the first program, when the strings and woodwinds were occasionally swamped at full volume and density, they were plainly audible Thursday. But those instruments — the violins and violas, for example, especially higher in their ranges — didn’t have ideal presence and color. Unlike in some halls, their sound doesn’t bloom even up in the third tier.

So the Debussy was taut, but not sensual. Price’s Fourth was rhythmically agile and spirited, but lacked the robustness, the lushness — the sense of sonic, and thus spiritual, abundance — that the Philadelphia Orchestra brought to her First Symphony at Carnegie in February.

At least these opening programs have been a fresh vision of what a major orchestra can and should play, with women and composers of color, past and present, looming just as large — if not more so — than the grand old masters. Even if that chestnut “Pines of Rome” provided the rousing finale of the first program, living composers dominated it. Marcos Balter’s new “Oyá” paired the Philharmonic with live-produced electronics (by Levy Lorenzo) and flashing lights (by Nicholas Houfek) to turn the hall into a heaving, pounding belly of a beast, darkly — and, over 15 minutes, tediously — evoking the Yoruba goddess of storms, death and rebirth.

And the orchestra brought back Tania León’s “Stride,” which premiered at Geffen in 2020 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize last year. Progressing with somber uncertainty but unfailing nobility, it’s a strong piece. And it’s good general practice to revive successful contemporary works, gradually folding them into the repertory rather than just generating premiere after premiere.

Best was the first Philharmonic performances of an underrated 2003 masterpiece by John Adams, “My Father Knew Charles Ives,” which weaves Ivesian controlled chaos into autobiographical musical depictions of sublime mountain vistas on both the East and West coasts, along with tender suggestions of the scratchy radio foxtrots Adams’ parents might have heard as they were courting.

On this week’s program, the Debussy standard is just 10 minutes long; the remaining hour of music consists of Shaw’s premiere and the Price symphony, which was written about 80 years ago but had its belated first performances in 2018.

The Philharmonic hasn’t played Price’s music on a subscription program before. Although her Fourth Symphony lacks the stirring hymn of her First’s slow movement and the inspired slyness of the Juba dance in her Third, it does have a sprawling yet stylishly developing first movement, a sensitive Andante, its own swinging Juba and a feisty finale. Shaw’s “Microfictions,” Vol. 3, is — like her contemporary classic “Partita for Eight Voices” — a combination of the angelic and quotidian, of singing, speech, breathing, pitch bending and wailing, although the piece lacks the inspired variety of “Partita.” The orchestral accompaniment is both playful, with lots of drizzly irregular pizzicato, and ominous.

After the concert Thursday, Roomful of Teeth moved to the hall’s new Sidewalk Studio — visible from the street at the corner of 65th and Broadway — for the first Nightcap program of the season: a set of six pieces, including several world and New York premieres, that showed off the group’s talent for dreamy floating harmonies and uncanny, even otherworldly, effects.

The Sidewalk Studio is also being used for daytime chamber music performances under the rubric NY Phil @ Noon; last week, a shaky rendition of Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio was outweighed by a polished, graceful take on Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. The small space’s acoustics are lively, regardless of whether the music is amplified.

Geffen still prompts some raised eyebrows when it comes to tastefulness. A David Smith sculpture has been shoved into a corner of the lobby and blocked by protective wire. Clearly wanting to echo the “sputnik” chandeliers that elegantly rise as the lights dim before performances at the Metropolitan Opera, the hall’s designers devised “fireflies”: flickering polyhedrons that do a tacky little up-and-down show before the orchestra tunes. The public spaces have grown in size, but are also now strewn awkwardly with furniture and stanchions.

But some questionable décor hasn’t kept the space from being inviting. With a few minutes left until the concert Thursday, laptops had been opened; wine was being sipped; newspapers were being read; friends were sitting, chatting, laughing. It was bustling but not even close to unpleasantly packed, like in the old days. It was a space that was, in the best sense, being used.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

October 23, 2022

After a COVID contraction, museums are expanding again

Picasso and Ingres face to face at the Norton Simon Museum

Two new curators join Honolulu Museum of Art

Wally Schirra's 18k Gold Omega Speedmaster Professional Watch sold for $1.9 million at auction

Philip Guston Now, first retrospective in nearly 20 years, opens at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Roberts Projects announces move to expansive new location

New exhibition by Corrado Veneziano opens at the Italian Cultural Institute in Brussels

Solo exhibition by Baltimore-based artist Stephen Towns opens at De Buck Gallery

Julie Kent, renowned former ballerina, will lead Houston Ballet

Crescent City announces highlights included in November Major Estates Auction

Collectors can score this newly unearthed cache of golden age video game rarities in November sale

Stephen L. Starkman's diagnosis of cancer revealed in new book

East African banknote brings record $96,000 to lead Heritage World Paper Money Auction above $1.9 million

Peter Schjeldahl, New York art critic with a poet's voice, dies at 80

How the Philharmonic's new home sounds, from any seat

In a musical about penicillin's inventor, superbugs take center stage

Local collectors loan works by iconic African American artists to the Columbia Museum of Art

Only known specimen presentation set of Zanzibar Notes leads sale

S.M.A.K. opens the first major retrospective dedicated to the work of Belgian artist Philippe Van Snick

Catskill Art Society relaunches as Catskill Art Space

Amon Carter acquires key works by Luis Jimenez, Norman Lewis, Kara Walker, and others

Khady Kamara named first executive director of the Perelman Performing Arts Center

Lucy Simon, singer and Broadway composer, dies at 82

How long does spray paint take to dry on wood?

Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

The Art of Capturing, Storing, and Disseminating Documents - Select the Document Management System Apt for You

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful