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A refurbished Alice Tully Hall reopens in NYC

The Associated Press, Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 11:18am (PST)

NEW YORK (AP) -- At the world's largest arts center, the word transparency has taken on a special meaning.

A three-story high glass facade that looks on Broadway is the new face of Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, which opened this week after a $159 million, 22-month renovation — with acoustics that are a musician's dream and African wooden walls that glow amber in the dark.

"I said, 'OK, can I move in?'" pianist Anne-Marie McDermott exclaimed after testing the hall. "You can play super-soft, and the sound floats out like pearls; and the loud is a big fat sound, so you don't have to push."

In the old hall, she said, music sounded "as if you had cotton in your ears."

There was also a now-muted urban soundtrack: the subway rumbling underground.

The new Alice Tully is the first completed project in the $1.2 billion reconstruction of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which includes the homes of the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and City Opera and the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

The complex was built in the 1960s when the surrounding Upper West Side was a slum — the setting for "West Side Story," complete with violent gangs.

Lincoln Center was built like a fortress, "with alienating blank walls, very much divorced from the fabric of the city," said Elizabeth Diller of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro firm, which worked on the project with Sylvia Smith of FXFowle Architects.

The see-through entrance sums up the feeling Lincoln Center is aiming for in the current transformation: a popular destination open to the neighborhood, hoping to draw visitors who may or may not be arts lovers.

They can sit in a cafe with a view of the lively urban landscape of people and cars passing by — and even bring a laptop that taps into the WiFi covering all of Lincoln Center's 16 acres.

In the next two weeks, concertgoers who step into the building's inner chamber — the 1,100-seat hall — will enjoy a series of opening concerts showcasing orchestral and chamber music, choral works, solo recitals, popular song, ethnic music and film. Tickets for the events — including 10 premieres — are either free or priced at $25 or less.

On Tuesday evening, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was "Coming Home," after almost two years on the road. The program covers three centuries, from Bach to premieres of music commissioned for the occasion from two American composers, William Bolcom and George Tsontakis.

Last Sunday, the first sounds the public heard were music from the 15th century Sephardic Jewish diaspora, with its intense, plaintive melodies played by the viola da gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall and his wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras. The group also offered a late-night concert that was a musical journey through Afghanistan, Turkey, Bosnia and Morocco.

Tully is also home to the annual New York Film Festival.

The concert hall is inside a building that also houses the Juilliard School, which has been expanded by 45,000 square feet, with more rehearsal and practice space for music, dance and theater.

But some space was kept as it was: the ample leg room in front of each Tully seat.

The late philanthropist Alice Tully, who financed the original hall, had a companion who was a very tall man with legs even longer than hers — and she wanted to make sure he, and everyone else, could sit comfortably.

Today's concertgoers will sit in a space that has been rejuvenated, with lighting inspired by bioluminescent marine organisms inside walls made of Moabi wood from western Africa. It was formed into a micro-thin veneer outfitted with an LED lighting system, producing a glow that can be "tuned" brighter or darker.

"It's celebratory, it's exuberant," said Diller. "The re-imagined hall taps into the DNA of Lincoln Center, yet establishes a new design vocabulary that is more democratic in spirit."

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On the Net:

http://www.lincolncenter.org

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