LIANE HANSEN, host:

New York's Lincoln Center is one of America's premier performing arts venues, but lately it's just one big construction site. The campus is undergoing a $1.2 billion renovation, and this afternoon the first part of the project is unveiled. After two years of construction, Alice Tully Hall is reopening.

More from Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of construction)

JEFF LUNDEN: Ten days before the reopening, the lobby of Alice Tully Hall was buzzing, literally, with construction workers putting finishing touches on a wholesale transformation of the space. Until the renovation, audiences entered the recital hall - which is underground - through a dark, cramped doorway off Broadway into a windowless lobby.

Jane Moss, vice president of programming for Lincoln Center, says Tully was kind of the ugly stepsister to the much larger Avery Fisher Hall.

Ms. JANE MOSS (Vice President of Programming, Lincoln Center): Well, Tully Hall was sort of vaguely a bunker, though people sort of liked it. But it was definitely not in the same family as Avery Fisher Hall. And now they are of equal weight.

LUNDEN: The redesigned lobby is airy and filled with light, surrounded by a high glass wall that faces both Broadway and 65th Street. Architect Elizabeth Diller says part of the mission was to reorient the lobby toward the street — and vice versa.

Ms. ELIZABETH DILLER (Architect): Not only was Tully cut off from the city and had a very, very minor entrance, but it really had no identity. So what we did was, very, very simply, we expanded the space, we encased it in glass, and we just put everything on view.

LUNDEN: Like a new dance studio for the Juilliard School, high above the lobby in a box, seemingly suspended in air.

Ms. DILLER: What's unique about it is that it has the glass faced to Broadway. People walking up and down the street can see the dancers inside.

LUNDEN: One feature of the lobby itself is a 50-foot-long, curved bar made of out of Portuguese limestone and designed by Diller. It manages to be both a piece of sculpture and a nice place to get a drink.

Ms. DILLER: It is a bar that's going to be open quite late into the night, and it's open to the public. So, during intermissions, the audiences will use this bar, as well. But it's a piece of the street.

LUNDEN: Not all the changes to Alice Tully Hall have been so visible. One goal of the architects was to make it quieter.

Ms. DILLER: We isolated the hall, structurally. It's partial box-in-box. We also isolated the nearby subway tracks to eliminate any rumble at all that would be coming from the subway and transmitted through the rock.

LUNDEN: Inside the auditorium, Elizabeth Diller says she wanted to create a sense of intimacy by getting rid of the visual noise, as well. So, the walls and ceilings are covered in an orange-tinted wood that's made from…

Ms. DILLER: One log that's visibly the one material that's there. It's a Moab, African wood sheared very, very thin.

LUNDEN: Behind this surface are LED lights, which will be used to dramatic effect right before each concert begins.

Ms. DILLER: The moment at which the murmur just dies down and all attention is focused on stage, is the moment where the wood just glows from the inside and exudes a kind of blush.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) (unintelligible)

LUNDEN: Of course, a concert hall is only as good as the sound inside it. And since mid-January, Alice Tully Hall has been going through a series of acoustical tune-ups.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman #2: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah.

LUNDEN: Lincoln Center's Jane Moss says she held her breath the first time musicians hit the stage.

Ms. MOSS: You never know with acoustics. All the science in the world and within the first note, we knew that we had an extraordinary hall on our hands, acoustically.

LUNDEN: Audiences can hear this first-hand today, when Alice Tully Hall reopens with a concert featuring the Emerson String Quartet, pianist Leon Fleischer, and members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

HANSEN: To see a photo gallery of Lincoln Center events over the years and later tonight, to hear one of Alice Tully Hall's opening gala concerts, go to NPRMusic.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.