David Geffen Hall- Here we go again.


Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
United States
Today, Lincoln Center announced it's long awaited plan to renovate and remodel David Geffen Hall, the home of the NY Philharmonic. As many may know, this venue has had a tortured past which is detailed below. However, the current plans and some images are as follows:

Construction at David Geffen Hall will begin May 2022. There will be two brief closures while the work is completed:
  • May 2022 through October 2022, after which the hall will reopen for a concert season, running from November 2022 through April 2023
  • May 2023 through February 2024, during which the Orchestra will perform in New York City venues, most often at Carnegie Hall and New York City Center.
According to the announcement, the new David Geffen Hall "will now sound and feel intimate and connected. We are moving the stage forward, wrapping the audience around the orchestra, reducing the number of seats, and improving sightlines in every part of the hall. The environment will be vibrant, warm, and welcoming — with terrific acoustics."

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The acoustic history of the hall is interesting. The following is excerpted from Wikipedia:

"The facility, designed by Max Abramovitz, was originally named Philharmonic Hall and was renamed Avery Fisher Hall in honor of philanthropist Avery Fisher, who donated $10.5 million ($59 million today) to the orchestra in 1973. In November 2014, Lincoln Center officials announced Fisher's name would be removed from the Hall so that naming rights could be sold to the highest bidder as part of a $500 million fund-raising campaign to refurbish the Hall. In 2015, the hall was renamed David Geffen Hall after Geffen donated $100 million to the Lincoln Center.

The hall underwent renovations in 1976 to address acoustical problems that had existed since it opened. Another smaller renovation attempted to address unresolved problems in 1992. Both projects achieved limited success.

In May 2004, the orchestra announced that the building would undergo renovations in 2009, but in June 2006, The New York Times reported that the construction had been delayed until the summer of 2010. By 2012, it became clear that construction would not start before 2017. The shell of the building was to be left intact and work was to focus on improving the hall's acoustics, modernizing patron amenities and reconfiguring the auditorium. On October 3, 2017, it was announced that existing renovation plans for the Hall had been scrapped.

Architects hired the acoustical consulting division of Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) to design the original interior acoustics for the hall. Their acousticians recommended a 2,400 seat "shoebox" design with narrowly spaced parallel sides (similar in shape to the acoustically acclaimed Symphony Hall, Boston). Lincoln Center officials initially agreed with the recommendation, and BBN provided a series of design specifications and recommendations. However, the New York Herald Tribune began a campaign to increase the seating capacity of the new hall and late in the design stage it was expanded to accommodate the critics' desires, invalidating much of BBN's acoustical work. BBN engineers told Lincoln Center management the hall would sound different from their initial intent, but they could not predict what the changes would do.

The first of Lincoln Center's buildings to be completed, Philharmonic Hall opened September 23, 1962, to mixed reviews. Several reporters panned the hall, while at least two conductors praised the acoustics. While the initial intention had been that Philharmonic Hall would replace Carnegie Hall, which could then be demolished, that scenario did not take place.

Management made several attempts to remedy the induced acoustical problems, with little success, leading to a substantial 1970s renovation designed by acoustician Cyril Harris in conjunction with project architect Philip Johnson. It included demolishing the hall's interior, selling its pipe organ to California's Crystal Cathedral, and rebuilding a new auditorium within the outer framework and facade. While initial reaction to the improvements was favorable and some advocates remained steadfast, overall feelings about the new hall's sound soured and acoustics there continued to be problematic. One assessment by Robert C. Ehle stated:

The seating capacity is large (around 2,600 seats) and the sidewalls are too far apart to provide early reflections to the center seats. The ceiling is high to increase reverberation time but the clouds are too high to reinforce early reflections adequately. The bass is weak because the very large stage does not adequately reinforce the low string instruments."

Will the extensive renovations be successful? Who knows? But it is interesting that Leo Beranek, the godfather of concert hall acoustics said in his famous survey of great halls written shortly before his death a number of years ago, that the hall's exterior shell of cinder block construction would almost assure that any future rehabilitation efforts would not be met with great success. I guess we shall see. What's annoying is that after many years, I finally found the only two rows in the center orchestra seating where the sound is decent. Now, I'll have to start over again! Still, it's exciting and I'm looking forward to hearing the results of this latest effort.
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Well-Known Member
Sep 22, 2019
Marty, thanks for posting this with a historical perspective of the concert hall. Followed by realistic expectations dashing the PR office's approach to shards. I'm as pessimistic as any New Yorker (nowhere near being a New Yorker) about the outcome. Acoustics is nowhere near the topping the list of issues this building has. It gets all the press though.

For reference, the current state of David Geffen Hall.



Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
This is a perfect example how the "Science" of sound failed and the follow up tweaking made it even worse. Philharmonic Hall was partially designed in defiance of Carneige Hall's warm intimate sound and setting and partially by the board's executive fiat deciding to mimic qualities of some other revered Hall's as part of this new hall's configuration. This hall triggered critics like Schonberg to write about the failure's of this hall and alert musicians, conductors and the public that there's more to listening to classical music than just the orchestra. He first wrote about concept of presence, transparency, envelopment, space, etc. that were missing in this new hall in his articles, did he create the first "audiophile" :D?

Looks like this $500m is burning a hole in someone's pocket, weren't they going to spend the same amount a few years ago and then scrapped it?

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Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
Pleasanton, CA
Gives the swells an excuse to bash each other with big bags of money for a while, with dollar bills fluttering all over. It sounds like fun to have the egotistical arbiters of taste consuming these budgets.

Can't they just implement the well known 2 second hall delay ideal and emphasize early delays from the sound stage with the baffles that allow a bit of adjustment? There is no acoustic that suits all music types and all tempos, so I would predict that no matter how much they spend or how many cooks determine the recipe, that somebody, either conductors, musicians, critics, patrons, hall scalded ensembles or particular seats/ticket holders will wind up bitterly disappointed (as usual).

Why does cinder block matter if it is covered with plasters and battings? Gollee, I'm getting into the brawl, too!


New Member
Dec 4, 2019
Besides the delays and difficulties of redesigning the hall, the board of directors jumped at the money offered by David Geffen. They even took down the Avery Fischer Hall sign and replaced it with a larger David Geffen Hall plaque during a major press conference; then announced construction would begin two years later. And of course it didn't.
Meanwhile, David Geffen bought his way into the NY society and arts community. And the deal states that his name remains on this venue in perpetuity.
So the crown jewel of Lincoln Center remains with a new name and no concrete construction plan. I wonder how much of that $100 million donation will be available when it's time to go to work.

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