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November 15, 2010

Avery Fisher Hall Revisited

In this morning's Times, Anthony Tommasini points out that the New York Philharmonic sounds much better at Carnegie than at Avery Fisher, its home base in Lincoln Center. This is undeniably true.  In fact, there is no concert hall in America (with the possible exception of LA's Disney Hall) where an orchestra sounds as good as it does in Carnegie Hall.

Being located so near to this marvel of architectural and acoustical pleasure has caused the comparatively charmless Avery Fisher Hall to have a terrible inferiority complex.  But in fact, if the music is good enough, one can overlook most of the auditorium's minor shortcomings, as I learned during my two most recent visits to Avery Fisher.

On Sunday, October 31, as part of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, the Dresden Staatskapelle, under the baton of Daniel Harding, performed a marvelously moving rendition of Brahms's German Requiem.  I have noticed before that Avery Fisher is not at all bad for vocal pieces, and this occasion was no exception.  The Westminster Symphonic Choir was in excellent voice (though one poor singer fainted mere seconds from the end of the piece, causing a brief local skirmish in the stands), and Harding conducted both the choir and the orchestra with such consummate grace and delicacy that every wave of the monumental Brahms work had its desired effect.  I had no sense of acoustical shortcomings of any kind: I was just immersed in the music, and it was terrific.

And then, two Sundays later, I returned to Avery Fisher for a Philharmonic-sponsored chamber music concert:  a set of Beethoven string trios performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yuri Bashmet, and Lynn Harrell.  To perform chamber music in a hall this size is madness, of course, and it was not the intimate experience it would have been in, say, Weill Hall (the jewel-box chamber venue at Carnegie).  But then, thousands more could hear the concert at Avery Fisher, and thousands evidently wanted to, because the orchestra section and the two upper balconies appeared to be almost completely filled.  These three eminent musicians were at once sufficiently brilliant and sufficiently in sync with each other to fill the space in a manner that was recognizably Beethovenesque.  One could get a sense of structure and texture on the most detailed level; and one could even hear the subtle playfulness in the answering strands of the final piece, the String Trio in E-flat Major, as first Mutter, then Bashmet, then Harrell handed on the melody in turn.  I have had less involving chamber-music experiences in the old Alice Tully Hall, which is about a third the size of Avery Fisher -- though granted, these took place before Alice Tully was remodeled, and the new space is far more intimate in feel.  Perhaps when Avery Fisher gets its promised remodel, we will all stop complaining about the venue and start judging the actual merits of the performers.
November 15, 2010 7:09 AM | | Comments (1)


Boston Symphony Hall actually has long been considered as boasting better acoustics than Carnegie, and, in turn, the best in the United States. When the original version of what is now Avery Fisher Hall was being planned back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the New York Philharmonic's committee responsible for planning Lincoln Center's concert hall cited Boston as the ideal, not Carnegie---which, of course, at the time was still the home of the New York Phil.

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