November 27, 2022

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David Geffen Hall, better known as Jinxed, was born again

David Geffen Hall, better known as Jinxed, was born again

Harrison’s vision of the Cold War included the Acropolis of the Performing Arts, which, for Moses, Rockefeller and their social circles, meant Western classical music, musical theatre, opera, and ballet. The campus was resting on a pedestal above the neighborhood. She turned her back on public housing projects along Amsterdam Boulevard.

At the time, classical music in America was still a growing and ambitious brand of middle-class entertainment. Cities across the country were not able to build concert halls large and fast enough. Lincoln Center proclaimed itself as a cultural model for post-war urban redevelopment. When it was announced that Abramowitz Hall would hold fewer people than Carnegie, critics cried elite. Lincoln Center ordered Abramowitz to squeeze 180 seats in place of boxes, and to reconfigure auditorium balconies, among other things — “fatal decisions,” Scarbrough told me that day, because the changes exacerbated the auditorium’s acoustic problems.

I went not long ago to visit Scarborough and his colleague, Christopher Blair, Akustiks chief scientist, at their offices in Norwalk, Connecticut, where they built a scale model of a Geffen large enough to walk in. Imagine a hinged box divided vertically down the middle. You mention the word ‘coffin’ and Blair indulges in humor around the hall as ‘the reputation of the sound experts and architects is gone to die’.

Both men recounted how Leo Beranek, the acoustician of Abramowitz in the Philharmonic Hall, who had ensured his new scientific approach would create the perfect hall, ended up being sidelined by the decision to enlarge the hall. “Acoustics were expected to sign plans for an architect, and in fact the example of the Philharmonic Hall became a clue as to why that would change,” Scarbrough said.

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Go to the turn of the century. The San Juan Hill exterminator has faded from the memories of many New Yorkers. Lincoln Center has come to be seen with more affection, as part of civic furniture, an oasis in the city’s grid, and its facilities in need of an upgrade. A plan to modernize the campus emerged, which was to begin with Avery Fisher. Then, in 2003, the Philharmonic suddenly notified Lincoln Center of its intention to return to Carnegie. After a few months, the move was stopped, but the damage was done. Lincoln Center pushed Avery Fisher to the back of the classroom for renovations and allowed the dire auditorium to deteriorate further while the rest of the campus was rebuilt.