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Alice Tully’s Extreme Makeover (Part One): “Wow” Building Disappoints as Concert Hall

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The new Alice Tully Hall

[Part Two is here.]

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s transformation of Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall is an enticing architectural eyeful to passersby on the outside and a bit of a letdown to concertgoers on the inside. Its deficiencies are basic—comfort, safety, and to my ears, acoustics (although the ears that count most, those of NY Times‘ chief music critic Anthony Tommasini, thus far were pleased).

To me, the sound was too often brittle, not resonant. It’s easiest to gauge the quality of a performance and its sound on very familiar pieces. The two warhorses on yesterday’s inaugural program were Beethoven‘s “Grosse Fuge,” for which the sound seemed dry; and Stravinsky‘s “Pulcinella Suite,” which lacked the requisite sparkle. They were played, respectively, by the Brentano String Quartet and the Juilliard Orchestra with members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, conducted by David Robertson (with whom I spoke later).

Having purchased my ticket quite late, I laid claim to what could well have been the worst seat in the house—last row orchestra, under an overhang, with a bright light shining directly down upon me at all times. This made note-taking and program-reading very easy, but absorption in the music more challenging. The overhang and my distance from the musicians could well have made my aural experience significantly less satisfying than Tommasini’s.

I did admire the suave cafe…

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…loved the lustrous, warm moabi wood that encases the shapely concert hall…

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…and was wowed by the ingenious special lighting effect that, at times, imparts a flamelike glow to the walls. This aura emanates from LED lights behind a very thin wood veneer at certain portions of the hall, and heightens the anticipatory excitement when the house lights dim (except for those persistent bulbs above Row Z):

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So what didn’t I like about the new Tully? I’ve got a little list…COMING SOON.

an ArtsJournal blog