The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to performing arts institutions nationwide, closing their theaters and robbing them of ticket revenue. But for the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center, it has also offered a silver lining: the opportunity to accelerate the long-delayed renovation of David Geffen Hall.
With concerts in the hall canceled since March 2020, construction began in earnest over the past few months. Work is expected to continue for the next year and a half, with a reopening planned for fall 2022, the orchestra and center announced on Monday.
That is a year and a half ahead of schedule, though it comes with the trade-off that the Philharmonic will not be at Geffen for the wave of triumphant cultural homecomings expected around the country this fall, assuming the pandemic ebbs.
The orchestra will nevertheless still spend much of its coming season at Lincoln Center, with the majority of its performances at Alice Tully Hall or the Rose Theater. Though it plans to announce its full program in early June, Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s chief executive, said in a video interview with other orchestra and center leaders that she anticipated smaller-scale and intermissionless concerts, at least at first.
that jump-started the project in 2015.
“Through 2020, quite rightly, people’s minds were elsewhere, and we had lots of other challenges as organizations,” Timms said. “But once we got to the end of the year, the opportunity became clear: Could we do this sooner? That became a period in which a lot of people stepped up to support the project, because they saw it as a recovery story, a way to invest in the economic and human recovery of the city.”
The old plan had called for progression in stages to limit disruption to the Philharmonic, which would never have lost a full season in the hall. Katherine Farley, the chairwoman of Lincoln Center’s board, said the new timeline would not diminish the scope of the renovation, which aims to render the lackluster hall more aesthetically and acoustically appealing. Seating will wrap around the stage, which will be pulled forward 25 feet to what is currently Row J, bringing a greater sense of intimacy to what can feel like a cavernous shoe box. The new space will have about 2,200 seats, down from 2,738.
in a rented pickup truck for pop-up performances, and has said it will be back on the road this spring. Its NYPhil+ subscription streaming service was unveiled in February, featuring archival concerts and some fresh content. On April 14 and 15, a contingent of players will appear in front of small audiences at the Shed, 30 blocks south of Lincoln Center, with the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. (Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic’s music director, was not available because of commitments overseas, though he was in New York recently to tape two programs for NYPhil+.)
But its losses have been crushing. The orchestra has projected that the cancellation of its 2020-21 season resulted in $21 million in lost ticket revenue, on top of $10 million lost in the final months of its season last spring. (Some of that has been mitigated by emergency fund-raising.) Even when live performances resume, despite Borda’s rosy predictions, the box office may not bounce back immediately.
The need for savings that will extend beyond the pandemic was reflected in a new four-year contract agreed to by the orchestra and its musicians in December, which includes a 25 percent cut to the players’ base pay through August 2023. Pay will then gradually increase until the contract ends in September 2024, though at that point the musicians will still be paid less than they were before the pandemic.