David Geffen Hall Opening Galas 2022-23 Review: The Journey & The Joy

By Logan Martell

On October 26, 2022, Lincoln Center’s newly-renovated David Geffen Hall presented the first of its opening night galas, titled “The Journey.” The event was a momentous celebration of the music and history which has played so large a part through the numerous forms and iterations the hall has taken over the decades.

The reinvented venue strikes a visually-appealing balance between form and function from nearly the moment one steps into the lobby, with sleek glass paneling, communal lounge layout, and digital media screen to open and enliven the hall’s familiar façade and sculpture terrace.

The second floor’s brass railings and blue are boldly set behind the red flower petal motif which adorns the outer doors of the newly-christened Wu Tsai Theater. During a pre-concert reception, remarks were given by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the economic impact and cultural significance of the hall’s renovation, and toasting to the resiliency of the city, its arts, and its people.

The changes are instantly visible inside the new theater, where architects and acoustic experts have overhauled nearly everything in the name of aural and visual efficiency. The curve of the beechwood panels covering the balconies and the rippling in the side panels help guide not only our eyes to the stage, but sound towards our ears, making it all the more easy to engage with the closer stage. As patrons filed into their seats and the hall filled, there was a strong sense of intimacy as the stage and upper sections seemed to flow together, further reducing the boundaries between audience and artists. Before the lights dimmed fully, the “firefly” fixtures of the chandelier briefly rose and fell in a dance-like pattern to make one last visual impression before the concert started.

Following the national anthem, Chair of the Board Katherine Farley gave introductory remarks, welcoming the audience to the new hall, and acknowledging the efforts and contributions of those who were able to make the project possible and bring it to completion two years earlier than anticipated. In celebration of this feat, Farley cued in Van Zweden to lead the chorus and orchestra in an exultant rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus.

The Journey

After this brief musical prelude, the concert was launched into vibrant motion with the overture from Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide.” This tribute to the former Laureate Conductor could hardly be more fitting for the start of the evening, and made for a splendid showcase of the hall’s new acoustics through all the jubilance and fervor of its phrases and motifs.

Following a short film on the hall’s renovation, featuring figures from construction workers to celebrities such as Nathan Lane and Fran Lebowitz, the stage was joined by guest artist and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keyes, with a surprise performance of her hit song “New York” delivered from the piano.

At this point, Van Zweden tagged out for conductor Rob Mathes, who would lead the orchestra for the remainder of the evening. Returning to musical theatre, Broadway star Bernadette Peters took to the stage to pay respects to the efforts and accomplishments of the women behind the project, doing so with a passionate rendition of the “South Pacific” song “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” Peters made the most of every moment as the pattery verse settled and she delivered the lines with a comedic, sultry flair before she and the orchestra made a shift to strong swing to roll out the chorus with aplomb.

After this was renowned soprano Renée Fleming, who sang the dreamy and despondent torch song “Down in the Depths (On the Ninetieth Floor)” from Cole Porter’s 1936 “Red, Hot, & Blue.” While this number mostly carried through her relaxed and velvety lower register, Fleming adorned these phrases of longing and luxury with suitably-rich accents of vocal beauty. Continuing in the tribute to the legendary conductor and composer was Jaime Bernstein, who spoke briefly on the relationship and legacy between her father and the Philharmonic, before introducing Tony Award-winner Joaquina Kalukango in a soaring rendition of “Take Care of This House” from Bernstein’s “1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

The evening held no shortage of entertaining musical numbers, such as Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do,” sung by Sarah Bareilles and Nik Walker as musical substitutes for the respective presidents of Lincoln Center and the NY Phil, Henry Timms and Deborah Borda. This humorous battle of vocal chops carried with great energy as the two pushed each other in showing off their skills in the redesigned space. Paying tribute to all the musical performances yet to be held within the hall was Broadway actress Vanessa Williams to sing Cy Coleman’s “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Following remarks from comedian Stephen Colbert, touching on his time onstage with the Philharmonic for the 2010 concert production of Sondheim’s “Company,” the stage was soon taken by Lin Manuel Miranda and the cast of the Broadway sensation “Hamilton” for a medley of songs from the hit show.

Bringing the first night’s program to a close, Fleming returned joined by Broadway baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell to perform the finale from Candide “Make Our Garden Grow.” This rousing number saw the two stars in excellent form, bolstered by not only the philharmonic chorus, but the Juilliard Prepatory Chorus as they entered through the aisles, and all artists built towards a massive, glorious harmony of voices and instruments.



The Joy

The second night of the opening galas saw a smaller, but no less powerful program, comprised of only three works drawing from different eras. Making its premiere with the philharmonic was Baroque composer Giovanni Gabrieli’s “Canzon in Echo duodecimi.”  This work saw two brass choirs flanking the podium as they engaged in sound and expression which seemed to take the theater’s resonant qualities to majestic heights. While less than 5 minutes long, the piece made for splendid fanfare in the ongoing celebrations for the hall.

Following this was the premiere of a new work titled “You Are the Prelude,” commissioned for the reopening of the hall, by Puerto Rican composer Angelica Negron with text by poet Ricardo Alberto Maldonado. Described as honoring “the impact that the design of the new David Geffen Hall has on the communal experience of listening,” this new piece played with both sound and silence as the orchestra opened with three resounding chords spaced just enough to let the impact melt into the atmosphere before the choir powerfully joined. As this motif elaborated and repeated, what ensued was a stunning blend of vocal textures built over seemingly disparate parts as the choir lapped over one another until they filled the air.

Making up the bulk of the program was Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125.” This iconic work was a symphonic showcase that the orchestra and Van Zweden executed with utter finesse through the evocative subtleties of the “Allegro ma non troppo,” to the sheer rejoicing of the “Presto –Recitativo: ‘O Freunde, nicht diese Tone.” The soloists featured in this performance were soprano Joelle Harvey, mezzo Kelley O’Connor, tenor Issachah Savage, and bass-baritone Davone Tines, with both men making their Philharmonic debuts. While by no means an overlooked selection, the symphony could hardly have been more fitting to celebrate the enduring human spirit and the triumph of the arts.

In all, the two nights of musical jubilance wove a captivating tapestry of history and song, honoring some of the most significant milestones and feats of the New York Philharmonic, while turning our gazes towards the promise of all the performances yet to be heard within the new David Geffen Hall. It’s no secret that previous iterations of the venue suffered from a number of visual and acoustical obstacles, but the end result of this new endeavor is a space where music takes the forefront and the audience can enjoy almost total immersion in the beauty.


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