Last week Michael Cooper made a plea in the NYT to the New York Philharmonic for some upgrades to the concert amenity experience when the orchestra overhauls Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher) in 2019. His list of excellent suggestions includes comfier seats (why should movie theatres be more comfortable?) more legroom, more bathrooms, real glasses for the bar instead of plastic, more seamless security, risers for the stage, and a more glamorous experience all around. And of course, great acoustics above all.
I’d like to second his suggestions and add a few:
- A more flexible stage, sure, but why stop with risers? I’ve never understood why stages have to be elevated like they are. If you’re in the audience on the main floor then you’re looking at musicians’ feet. And you certainly can’t see musicians in the back row. Sure we’re there for the music, but it would be good to see who’s playing. So a raked stage. An audience vantage that looks into the orchestra rather than up to it.
- One of the best things about Disney Hall is the theatre of the audience. Disney has good sound, but it was also designed as a theatrical space. One of the reasons we go to live concerts is to be part of a live community experience. Disney magnifies the collective experience, drawing the audience into the show and making a sense of occasion.
- Assisted reality is going to change everything. Virtual reality, augmented reality… technology is going to change the ways we interact with the spaces around us. It’s also going to change the expectations we have for live experiences. You think our obsessions with our smartphones is all-consuming now? The merging of virtual and real spaces is going to become the norm. So here’s an opportunity for Geffen Hall to bridge new technology. This will be more transformative than supertitles were for opera, so the new hall should anticipate it.
- Speaking of technology: There’s the live audience. Then there’s the virtual audience, which is potentially much bigger. Shooting an orchestra concert a la Live from Lincoln Center isn’t so interesting, but conceiving a new hall as a virtual studio streaming to the world could cultivate fans the Philharmonic never knew it had.
- Speaking of concert halls: Why do most concert halls look the same (more or less)? We live in a visual age. And we don’t want generic experiences. One of the biggest trends in the arts right now is getting out of the traditional performing spaces in search of unique experiences. But [clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]why shouldn’t a concert space be versatile and configurable?[/clickandtweet] Geffen as black box. Specific to the experience. London’s National Theatre recently built a temporary theatre in its front yard. It was a huge huge hit. Why? It created an experience unique to the productions there. So how might a new Geffen give a sense of unique experience? There are plenty of examples out there to draw from.
The Geffen reboot is an opportunity to redefine the orchestra experience and for the New York Philharmonic to lead the way.
After many many many concerts in EVERY ITERATION of that hall, I’m convinced the best way to improve it is to dismantle it brick-by-brick, saving all the seats, signs, lights, etc., and REBUILD wider and less long, and with FEWER seats. They’ll never do it, as Allah is my witness!
They can’t do it. I believe the exterior has landmark status, and that the ensemble of the main plaza and the three buildings facing it is considered an important piece of architectural history.
There are any number of ways they could transform the interior of that building, but they’re stuck with the shell.
(My guess, based on experience with the Mostly Mozart concerts where the orchestra is mid-hall and there are audience members on the stage – the only time I’ve heard the acoustics sound reasonably good – is that they will choose some sort of vineyard-style configuration.)