New York Philharmonic: Great music, little ambiance

New York Philharmonic: Great music, little ambiance

I can thank Travel Zoo for the discounted ticket I recently bought for an amazing performance at Lincoln Center’s NY Philharmonic (David Geffen Hall). I am not a music critic, so beyond joining the almost sold-out audience at the Smetana, Bartok and Musorgsky performance with Bramwell Tovey (conductor) and Yefim Bronfman (piano), and offering the masterful musicians standing ovations, my only comments for the music is OMG and awesome!

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It is the ambiance (or lack of ambiance) that diminished my Lincoln Center experience. Years ago, part of the joy of attending a performance at Lincoln Center, was the quality of the time spent at Lincoln Center. Walking through the Plaza, entering the then modern buildings, wandering the halls, taking a seat in the auditorium before the performance to experience the interior design, read the program, and get psyched for an awesome musical moment.

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Unfortunately, this is history and not the current state of affairs.

Immediately after making my online reservation for the performance, I received an email offering discounted wine and cocktails if I arrived early. The Happy Hour offer did not extend for the promoted 60 minutes – the advertised start time was 6:45 PM ending at 7:15 PM.

With the thought that it would be fun to arrive early, get a drink (cocktails $8; wine $7; beer $5) and wander the halls, and soak up the “ambiance.” Anticipating a crowd, I got to the David Geffen Hall at 6:30 PM. I asked for directions to the bar, only to be told that access to the Grand Promenade (Orchestra level), 1st and 2nd Tier, (where the drinks were offered) would not start until 7 PM.

Terrific – I get 30 minutes to hang-out in a crowded and chilly reception area – with nothing to do. I had my e-ticket – so – no need to stand on the ticket line. I looked at the few brochures stacked in box on the wall, and then – nothing! Harsh, football stadium lighting, no exhibits, no place to sit, entirely too cold to walk around the outside Plaza…no musical mood setting experience here.


Security First. Ambiance Zero

Finally, 7 PM! Ticket holders are allowed to que for the escalator to the auditorium. So – we que and then – have to wait again. At 7:10 PM (approximately), the crowd is permitted to move: first we go through a security check (machines) and then we have to wait again – in another holding pen that is chilly, with football stadium lighting and no place to sit!

I wonder, “What happened to the 6:45 PM cocktail time?”

Finally, at approximately 7:25 PM tickets were scanned and the escalator took the patiently waiting crowd to the Tiers. Tired from all this standing in frigid and windy spaces I looked forward to sitting down to read the program and get ready to be amazed by the music.

Once again, I was disappointed. No way would I be able to sit down: entrance to the auditorium would not be permitted until 7:45 PM. The Ushers told me “I would have to be patient. Perhaps I would like to use the restroom while I waited or buy a chocolate bar.”

OK. I get it! If I wanted to get a drink, or buy chips or chocolate, I had about 15 minutes to stand in long lines, get a mini-sized drink in a plastic cup, and guzzle or chomp in a very few minutes (only bottled water is permitted in the auditorium).

I turned down these opportunities and continued strolling through cold, over-bright corridors. I noticed that many people were so desperate for something to do or look at – they spent time reading the list of Philharmonic Donors engraved on the wall.

Led Astray

Finally – the auditorium doors opened and seating was permitted. While the Ushers at the entrance were very friendly, and quickly directed patrons to their seats, they did make mistakes. One woman was sent to a seat in a completely wrong section of the auditorium. It was only when the people with the ticket to the seat she occupied arrived – was the error noted. Now she had to gather up all her winter stuff (coat, scarf, boots, gloves, tote), disturb people seated in the row, and then bother another group of people – as she made her way to her reserved seat. If the Usher had directed her to the correct seat and section, this problem would never had happened.


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Finally, the lights dimmed and a member of the orchestra made an announcement. No – it was not a welcome to the performance. No – it was not a wish for a happy holiday and appreciation for all of us showing up in spite of the bone -chilling cold. The announcement was to remind us to close/mute our cell phones.

The program was fabulous, the audience showed their appreciation by offering standing applause. All too soon the program was over, and it was time to leave.

I put on my coat, scarf, gloves and rushed to the street to get a taxi. I will be back to Lincoln Center for another performance; however, I will arrive, “just in time” to get to my seat for the concert. The magical ambiance of David Geffen Hall (opened in 1962) has been tossed into the rubbish bin, only to be replaced with high school auditorium lighting, bone-chilling corridors, and airport level security.

There are so many ways that the spaces in Geffen Hall could be warm, welcoming, informational and attractive. It is unfortunate that the creative minds that built the space have not been enlisted to effectively develop the space for the 21st century.

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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