By the 1950s Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side of Manhattan had fallen on hard times. As part of an urban renewal project in the early to mid-1960s, more than 16 acres between 60th and 66th Streets were razed and, with funds provided largely through the efforts of John D. Rockefeller III, were refashioned into Lincoln Center. Anchored by three main venues—Avery Fisher Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Koch Theatre—the performing arts complex now comprises 29 indoor and outdoor facilities. Tours of the Lincoln Center plaza are available daily on the half-hour between 10:30 and 4:30. Tickets can be purchased for fifteen dollars across the street at the David Rubenstein Atrium on West 62nd Street.
At the north end of the plaza sits Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic since 1962 when it relocated from Carnegie Hall. The hall was renamed in the 70s in honor of a benefactor, inventor, and audio specialist who loved classical music. Our guide, Tom, explained that the hall can be rented and that any type of music can be played here. However, tinkering with the design of the building when it was originally constructed to increase seating capacity has caused repeated problems with the acoustics. This led to a substantial renovation by acoustical engineer Cyril Harris and architect Philip Johnson. Plexiglas and baffling have been added in recent years to try and correct the sound quality.
The Juilliard School, a performing arts conservatory for about 800 students, is also found at Lincoln Center. In 2009 major renovations were completed at Alice Tully Hall. Not only was the entrance enlarged, but the interior of Starr Theater was completely redone. The walls were turned sideways, a fly space was allowed for, a pipe organ was installed in the wall, and sonic cones were added to disperse sounds. The outer stage, now outfitted with cutting-edge technology, can be lowered to create an orchestra pit.
Unfortunately for us, because of a rehearsal taking place at the time of our tour, we were unable to see much of the Met other than the exterior and the lobby. Russian-French artist Marc Chagall, who apparently wanted to create stained glass for the lobby windows, had to settle for gigantic murals of La Triomphe... and La Source de la Musique. Our group was able to see the Grand Tier Staircase, which was quite an architectural feat in the early 60s since it required four stories of poured concrete and had to be built before the building’s exterior.
The pièce de résistance at Lincoln Center in terms of interior design is the David H. Koch Theatre, formerly known as the New York State Theatre. Home to the New York City Opera until 2011, it still houses the New York City Ballet. Created by Philip Johnson, the theater, which opened in 1964, is often referred to as the “jewelry box.” Indeed, its bronze filigree balcony railing, its gold-leaf ceiling, its lovely color-scheme, and gleaming round lights make it a charming place.
One of the first things we learned during out tour was that “day-of” tickets for concerts are available for a reduced price at the Atrium. That would be well worth remembering in the future!