Breaking: New York Phil loses 500 seats in revamped Geffen Hall

Breaking: New York Phil loses 500 seats in revamped Geffen Hall


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2019

NY Philharmonic’s Deborah Borda and Lincoln Center’s Henry Timms are just walking on stage to lay out the long-delayed revamp of David Geffen Hall. It’s going to cost – wait for it – $550 million. Apparently, two-thirds of the amount has already been raised.

Key points:

– The new hall has a ‘single-room’ concept, shedding the proscenium and moving the stage forward by 25 feet, with audience seating around.

– Seating capacity is cut by 500 seats to 2,200.

– A steeper rake is designed to improve acoustics and sightlines.

The creative team are:
Diamond Schmitt Architects, led by Gary McCluskie, who will design the concert hall.
– Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects │ Partners, winners of the 2019 Praemium Imperiale, will design the public spaces.
– The acoustician is Paul Scarbrough of Akustiks, together with theatre designer Joshua Dachs of Fisher Dachs Associates.



  • Karl says:

    Are they going to change the name again? How about Daenerys Targaryen Hall?

  • P Shi says:

    550 million and still without an organ?

    • Monsoon says:

      I bet the original budget was over $600 million and the organ was one of the first things to go.

      I can certainly appreciate not wanting to use an electric organ, but you can probably count on one hand the number of pieces in the repertoire that have large parts for organ. (I’m sure every time a new concert hall is built and there are debates about whether or not to add a pipe organ, there are always promises to program more music that includes an organ as well as have an organ recital series; neither ever end up happening.)

  • “Seating capacity is cut by 500 seats to 2,200.”

    Anyone know what a typical audience count in the current hall is? They probably were not getting to 2200 anyway.

    Does the NYP ever sell out an entire 2700 seats anymore?

    • Classical music whisperer says:

      Yes they do it all the time. I’m there every week

    • John Kelly says:

      Oh yes, it’s often completely full. This means the prices will go up. Having said that I’d pay double to hear this orchestra at Carnegie Hall………they sound wonderful in there………

    • Anon says:

      I don’t know how often they sell out, but it’s VERY full most times I’ve been there.

    • drummerman says:

      The last I heard was that the Philharmonic was averaging about 88% attendance, which translates to 2,400 sold per concert.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A regular, normal concert hall size auditorium is around 1500 seats, 2000 at the utmost. If bigger, the sound does not work well.

      • MacroV says:

        That’s sort of belied by the capacities of many North American halls, two of which are on most shortlists of greatest halls:

        Carnegie – about 2,800

        Symphony Hall – about 2,600

        Benaroya Hall – about 2,500

        Disney Hall – about 2,300

        Orpheum (Vancouver) – 2,800

        Powell (St. Louis) – 2,600

        The Berlin Philharmonie seats 2,400. I like it.

        Yes, I’ll admit the Vienna Musikverein and the Concertgebouw (both around 1,600) are without peer.

      • Joel Alan says:

        Boston Symphony Hall: 2, 623 seats

      • Karl says:

        Boston has 2600 seats, but 200 of them are not good because they are too far under the balcony. It’s still impressive to have 2400 seats with great acoustics.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Bore-slap: Actually, 2000 seats is the minimum to make it financially viable if you want ticket sales to cover a reasonable proportion of the costs of running the concert. Concert halls should aim for 2000-2500 seats.

    • George says:

      It’s fairly rare that they sell out. Often they’re sending me desperate marketing e-mails with steep ticket discounts a week ahead of the concerts. The audience for orchestras is graying and slowly dying off. That’s the reality.

  • Acoustician says:

    $550 million? It would be cheaper if they just took George Szell’s advice “Tear down the hall and start over.”

    • NYMike says:

      Not feasible in today’s climate. The NYPO would lose its subscriber base altogether. That’s why the previous plan was scuttled.

    • John Kelly says:

      Agreed but that option has been discounted because the orchestra’s attempt to find a second home has been unsuccessful – Carnegie Hall is booked for years to come and where else can they go?

    • Shimi says:

      The problem is the hall cannot be touched from the outside as it is considered historical landmark therefore they can only work within the confines of the space itself.

      • Monsoon says:

        I’m pretty sure that none of the buildings on the campus are historically protected, which is how they were able to make substantial alterations to the campus a decade ago, including lopping off the facade of Julliard, removing the 65th St bridge, and replacing the iconic fountain.

    • Fliszt says:

      You left out the best part: In reference to Philharmonic Hall’s horrendous color-scheme (brown…), Szell said “Tear it all down, starting with the s**t-colored seats!”

  • phf655 says:

    A renovation designed for those who go to ‘see a concert’. There is an emphasis on sight lines. The images of the new hall on the website (link below) indicate that the acoustically best (or least bad) seats in the house, the third tier boxes closest to the stage, are being curtailed in number, probably because the view of the stage from there is problematic. Overall, I do not see such significant changes in the layout of the ‘new’ hall that would make me confident of a significant improvement in the hall’s current awful acoustics. In a perfect world, the present building would be demolished and a new team would begin anew. But there is the problem about where the Philharmonic would go in the interim, and Lincoln Center is probably not confident of being able to raise the money for that sort of project.

    • NYMike says:

      In the drawing, wood has replaced plaster – a good start. The Tully Hall renovation improved sightlines while adding wood and improving acoustics.

    • John Kelly says:

      Those third tier boxes actually have pretty bad sound at least the side ones, the overbrightness of the Hall is at it’s worst up there. I don’t agree that this is just about sightlines, though that’s clearly a part of it

  • Monsoon says:

    Looks like a smart plan — and good that they are not trying to reinvent the layout of concert halls.

    But for $550 million, maybe they should have raised more money, left Lincoln Center, and built their own concert hall elsewhere in the city — one where they could earn revenue from facility rentals.

    • Bill says:

      They’d then be competing against the abandoned hall plus Carnegie, They’d never be able to make up that kind of deficit with rentals, plus it would cost way more than that to acquire land in Manhattan, of which there is very little of the size needed for a project like this, and then build from scratch. It’s New York, $550 million is chump change for any kind of large scale construction.

      • Monsoon says:

        The cost of real-estate is actually an opportunity for the NYPO. As already demonstrated, it can raise huge sums and it has the ability to issue bonds. The orchestra should get into commercial real-estate — build a high-rise condo tower or hotel with the concert hall on the street level. Maybe that would cost a billion or two, but that’s what bonds are for. The condo sales/hotel would then become a source of taxable revenue. This is not so different than what Playhouse Square did in Cleveland.

        The biggest mistakes they made with Lincoln Center was not buying up all of the surrounding property when they condemned the entire neighborhood and turning it into a revenue source.

  • carlos2bass says:

    Hope Akustiks get acoustics right and is worth the downsize to 2200 seats!

  • James says:

    David Geffen said said in an email. “New York deserves a great concert hall.”

    Carnegie Hall says, “Hold my beer.”

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Just tear the abomination down and build a new hall modeling it after Boston Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall or the Musikverein. Or go on the cheap and figure out why the bare-bones Walk Hall at the Grand Teton Festival has such superb acoustics (of course it doesn’t seat 2,200). $550 million? That’s crazy, but then, it is New York.

    • Joel A Stein says:

      Carnegie Hall has expensive box seats that offer obstructed view, a crazy balcony and terrible common areas. Symphony Hall has a very large floor area the last 25 percent or so is overhung by the balconies. If you were going to start over, go with Disney hall-terrific acoustics, great sight lines, open hallways and a store that actually has scores, cds and music books.

      • Tamino says:

        Disney hall in LA? Not good acoustics. Bit dry, dull, no strength.
        Good sightlines, sure, but who cares if it means compromised acoustics and too many seats in weird sideward or backward positions?
        Their store is nice, too crowded though often.

      • Rgiarola says:

        Plus they got the creature….ohohohoho

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Both Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Musikverein have great acoustics, and some seats with obstructed views. I don’t understand why the latter should matter. They perform concerts, not opera.

    • Jon H says:

      That’s the problem. Whatever you do, it will be different, and therefore considered inferior than those 3 halls. It’s like Strads, or York tubas. And even those who have copied those halls, certainly don’t replace their models. But it’s interesting that many of the successful halls of late, have been made by organizations that didn’t have crazy budgets and expectations – they’ve just ended up with something halfway decent.

      • Jon H says:

        Concertgebouw is usually in that short list. As for Carnegie, I think I’ve heard so many bad halls, that Carnegie is in my “good” list.

    • Fliszt says:

      It WAS modeled after Boston’s Symphony Hall! But the trouble started when they added 400 more seats…

      • Bruce says:

        I was going to say that 2700 is simply too big for a concert hall, but I looked up information on Symphony Hall and it seats 2625… Granted, some of the seats at the back of the orchestra level, under the balcony, don’t have great sound, but it’s a great hall as everybody knows.

  • barry guerrero says:

    Good. Less seats, better sound.

  • Jack says:

    Losing a few seats is not necessarily a bad thing, especially since the size of audiences is shrinking. It should also make for a more intimate space, which is usually a good thing for music appreciation.

    Now, if only they could do a much needed renovation of the Metropolitan Opera.

  • john kelly says:

    Let’s see, but I’m not holding my breath for better sound. The idea of moving the orchestra further into the auditorium is good though, because on the odd occasion when this has been done (Mostly Mozart for example) it’s been much better, but again, they’ve given up the seats nearest the orchestra at the front (mind you those are the absolute worst seats in the house, it’s deafening at climaxes and you can’t hear the woodwinds at all if the strings are playing).

    • Bruce says:

      Plus, as a friend of mine said when explaining why he doesn’t like to sit down front: “All I can see is crotches!”

      • Karl says:

        I’ve done that and noticed some of the players in Montreal have really nice shoes. I overheard one player telling someone that his were Italian.

  • Larry says:

    Did they really have the press conference outside this morning in NYC, where it’s about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or is this picture from something else?

    The new design looks a lot like Davies Hall in San Francisco.

    • Josh Williams says:

      I had the same thought regarding Davies Hall. I question whether that would be a hall they would want to emulate…

  • MacroV says:

    $550 million sounds like a lot even for New York. One wonders whether it might be cheaper to knock it down and start over. But the design itself looks nice.

    Now, I’ll be interested to see what the orchestra does when it has to play elsewhere in the city. I was always hoping it would make use of some other venue and be the NEW YORK (rather than the West Side) Philharmonic; play BAM, at the United Palace Theatre, maybe do some semi-staged opera somewhere. They understandably need to get their audience to follow, but it’s also an opportunity to reach out to a new audience.

    Reducing to 2,200 seats will make the space more intimate, but they’ll also have to increase ticket prices to earn the same revenue, which isn’t going to help bring in a young audience.

    • Monsoon says:

      I could see razing the building costing more because of the time needed to remove all off the marble. They couldn’t implode the building — they’d have to take it apart piece by piece.

      As for playing in other parts of the city, the problem is that there are only several 2,000+ seat concert halls in the entire city: BAM, Geffen, State Theater, City Center, Met, Carnegie, and Radio City.

      They’d be leaving money on the table if they played in 1,000 seat halls (and those stages probably couldn’t hold more than 60 players).

  • Stephanie Patterson says:

    Raked stage???? Improved sightlines???? First, while seeing an orchestra is exciting, most of us attend a concert to HEAR live music. Second, does “management” understand the concept of a raked stage? Is management aware of the increased number of injuries resulting from a raked stage? This is pure folly and has NOTHING to do with music.

    • Monsoon says:

      I’m sure the data shows that seats with poor sight lines are hard to sell.

    • Bruce says:

      Depends on the angle of the rake. Usually you can barely even tell unless you look at the line where the floor joins the wall. And it can help (a little) to project the sound out into the auditorium rather than up toward the ceiling. Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall, both in Boston, have raked stages and wonderful acoustics, and I’ve never heard of either stage being accident- or injury-prone. (Levine’s fall at Symphony Hall was famous, but it’s also the only one I’ve heard of.)

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    2,200 seats is just about right size for a concert hall.

  • Cantantelirico. says:

    They won’t be able to fill the house even if they ripped out 1000 seats.

  • BOB says:

    Really , it’s New York City and they can’t find a suitable hall outside of Carnegie? Crazy.

    • Monsoon says:

      I believe New York City Center and the New York State Theater are the only other halls in Manhattan that seat between 2,000 and 3,000. Town Hall is only about 1,500.

  • Orchestral Musician says:

    Placing the stage where the musicians perform in the same room as where the audience is seated will be an enormous improvement.
    I’m optimistic!

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    I have been to two NY Phil concerts where they closed the third tier and moved those with tickets there down to the floor.

  • Charles says:

    I think it is cute how the NYPO revamps their concert hall every generation.

  • Musician says:

    Maybe the low brass will be able to back off a bit now with the new acoustics.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    They need to look to the L.A. Philharmonic as a model for how to build a GREAT concert hall. Walt Disney hall is the best I’ve ever been to, what a great, audience-friendly experience. (And it’s looks beautiful inside AND outside!)

  • Jack says:

    Fingers crossed for a spectacular outcome!

  • Probably one of the greatest ever fallacies in concert hall acoustics is that improved sightlines give better acoustics.

    Concert hall acoustics is all about _reflected_ sound not direct sound.

    This fallacy has caused enormous damage to the basic concert hall designs in Paris, Hamburg, and LA and will do so soon in Munich, London and now New York.

    Great concert halls such as the Musikvereinssaal, Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw are not designed with steeply sloped main audience levels.

    • Tamino says:

      Very true. Reflected sound from the right directions with the right timing is the key. For as many seats as possible.
      Steeply raked auditoriums increase the absorption by the audience.
      Even one who knows nothing about acoustics, but heard a Bruckner Symphony in both Concertgebouw and Hamburg Elbphilharmonie will understand immediately.

  • Suspicious and not impressed says:

    OK, so now we have the new New York Philharmonic Hall. But what happens if it turns out to be as bad or worse than the current Philharmonic/Avery Fisher/David Geffen Hall?