David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center Renovation, by Nicholas Buccalo – NY Times

New York Times: David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic announced the final details yesterday of their collaborative plan to renovate the stage of Avery Fisher Hall (now David Geffen Hall). The renovation is to take place from Aug. 23 to Sept. 12. It is to cost $3 million, and will involve no alterations to the hall itself.

The announcement was made at a news conference by Nathan Leventhal, the president of Lincoln Center, and Deborah Borda, the general manager of the Philharmonic. Also present were Kurt Masur, the orchestra’s music director; Russell Johnson, the chairman of Artec Consultants and the project’s acoustician, and John Burgee, the Architect who oversaw the hall’s last renovation, in 1976, and who is overseeing the visual aspects of the current renovation.

The goal of the renovation, which was first announced in November, is to improve the musicians’ ability to hear on another onstage. To that end, Mr. Johnson’s plan provides for 2 large adjustable reflectors over the stage floor, and 20 curved reflectors – 2 rows of 5 on each of the stage’s side walls – which are meant to reflect the sound back to the players. The reflectors are to be made of maple, and will bave vertical fins of frosted glass, which will also help reflect the sound. The plan includes new stage lighting, and individual risers for the string players.

The impact of the Changes

When the renovations are complete, Mr. Masur said, the orchestra will be reseated so that the basses – which were placed along the back wall this season – will return to their original positions behind the cellos.

What effect these changes will have in the hall remains to be seen. Mr. Masur has repeatedly said he likes the sound in Avery Fisher Hall. He restated that yesterday, adding that he believed the improved stage acoustics would mean tighter, more secure ensemble playing, which in turn would give the impression of better sound in the hall. “The hall itself I have never complained about,” he said. “But the musicians found the sound onstage irritating.”

Mr. Johnson seemed less sure that improving the stage would cure the stridency and poor bass projection long troubling the hall. He expected “a slight change’ in the hall’s sound. “We are going to see what the degree of change is,” he said. “We believe it will be adequate.”

The cost for the renovation is to be drawn from the Lincoln Center and Philharmonic endowment funds. Lincoln Center, which presents 80 concerts a year in the hall as part of its Great Performers and Mostly Mozart series, is to pay about two-thirds of the costs, Mr. Leventhal said.

Mr. Leventhal and Ms. Borda said they did not expect any further alterations. But Mr. Leventhal did not preclude the eventual installation of a pipe organ, something for which Mr. Masur has been campaigning for the last two years.


Description of Design by Nicholas Buccalo

Mr. Johnson, the acoustician, provided parameters for us to follow, like need elements here, here and here to reflect sound down … components should have a variety of spacing … use right angles at different sizes to create reflection of sound. The existing stage consisted of flat walls and a sloped ceiling allowing only the corners to reflect sound properly. My task was to not only solve the problems as put by Mr. Johnson but to visually integrate these elements into the context of Avery Fisher Hall.

Features: The ‘pillows,’ as we called them, mounted on the side walls, looked curved, but they are actually flat pieces of maple, carefully sized and positioned to create the curvature effect. Only the end pillows facing the audience have spherically shaped curves which blend at the wall. At the center of each of the 10 ‘pillows’ are distributed 30,000 ‘julienne cut’ (cut at an angle) 1 inch diameter pegs to further reflect the sound. Above the lower ‘pillows’ are horizontal frosted glass fins which can be pneumatically adjusted (in or out) and the upper pillows have vertical fins.

Glass was introduced to reflect the sound and to add a contrasting color/texture to the structures. Between each pillow is a light fixture to neutralize the effects of shadow casting from the existing stage lights. The lower pillows are horizontal while the upper pillows step down to echo the interior of Avery Fisher Hall. Each structure is filled with 4″ of Fiberglass to kill the effects of resonance within the structures. The maple was hand selected to insure low or no grain effect and the finishes we carefully chose. Because the structures were so complicated, 2 companies were hired to build them, in order to meet our tight deadline. The main suspended reflectors is terraced with suspended oval glass reflectors. Each suspended reflector can be lowered to the floor for maintenance. The sub-structures for all elements is steel connected to the steel structure of the building.

Nick Buccalo: Project Architect, Designer, Construction Documents, Administration [collaboration w/ John Burgee, Partner in Charge, and, Russell Johnson (Artec Consultants)], developer of concept, design, contractor coordination. Computer: Zbig Obrenbowski.

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