I haven’t been back to Zankel Hall since the media preview concert–unlike the music critics, I have other things to do–but I’ve been keeping a close eye on what’s been written about New York City’s newest concert hall since it opened a couple of weeks ago. Generally speaking, the reviews accord pretty well with what I said about the hall here and on NPR’s Performance Today. In brief, most critics like the design but are variously skeptical about the acoustics. Beyond that, the consensus is all over the place, sort of like a drunken ballerina.
Unlike certain well-known bloggers, I’m disinclined to trash my print-media colleagues (I have to live with them, after all), but I do want to make a few, ahem, general observations about what’s been written up to now:
(1) Most critics have discussed the appearance of the hall without attempting to evaluate its functionality. Were the seats comfortable? Are the aisles wide enough? How hard is it to get in and out of the place? Will the interior design wear well–and does it seem to have any effect on the perceived acoustics? These folk are henceforth on Double Secret Probation, and will be watched closely for further signs of shortsightedness.
(2) A few critics had nothing whatsoever to say about the acoustics, or commented on them without drawing any distinction between the differing responses of the hall to amplified and unamplified sound. These clowns get the Lifetime Booby Prize–a dunce hat, nailed on their heads–and are permanently disqualified from any further discussion of Zankel Hall.
(3) Most critics (but not all!) at least mentioned the subway noise that leaks into the hall during performances, and one, Barbara Jepson in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (go here to read her piece), singled it out for extensive and unfavorable comment, suggesting that until the noise can be lessened significantly, the success of the hall must remain in doubt. Good for her. (In fact, I fear the noise problem will become more obtrusive over time, not less.)
I might add that at least one Carnegie Hall head, and probably several, should be gently lowered to the chopping block at the earliest opportunity. Anybody who didn’t think noise wouldn’t be a huge problem in a hall that is nine feet from the nearest subway tunnel is a quarterwit.
(4) Nearly everybody has praised Zankel Hall’s multicultural programming to the skies. In my opinion, it’s sucker bait for the print media. I’m not saying the programs aren’t good–some are, some aren’t–but come on, folks, this is New York City, where every imaginable kind of music can already be heard all over town. Not only are performing arts centers soooooo Seventies, but Manhattan was the biggest and best performing arts center in the world long before Zankel Hall switched on its escalators. In any case, presenting a lot of different kinds of art in one place doesn’t make any of them any better. Does Emmylou Harris need a Good Housekeeping seal of approval from Carnegie Hall to be considered the greatest country singer of her generation? Puh-leeze. And just because the (mostly classical) critics who’ve been writing about Zankel Hall don’t get out much doesn’t mean the rest of us have to bow and scrape before them.
So one mild cheer to the management of Carnegie Hall for having discovered something the rest of us already knew about, and another when they figure out how to make amplified music sound halfway decent in a hall that so far doesn’t appear to be very well suited to it.