On Monday, April 30, the lights go down in Alice Tully Hall for the last time this year. When they come up in late 2008 for Lincoln Center's 50th anniversary season, the nearly 40-year-old hall will have a brand-new look. But, the musical mandate established by its founder will endure.
The hall — home to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and regularly used by several resident organizations, such as the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Juilliard School — is one of the busiest venues at Lincoln Center, hosting more than 1,300 events each year. Such high volume has lead to accompanying wear and tear, and the upcoming renovations will lead to major changes, inside and out. Alice Tully Hall's redevelopment is part of several interconnected capital projects that will transform Lincoln Center over the next ten years.
When Alice Tully Hall opened in 1969, it was built primarily as a venue for chamber music. Its opening concert, in September of that year, was the inaugural performance by the Chamber Music Society, a group that Alice Tully herself helped form. In the following decades, Alice Tully Hall became the site of many other firsts. It saw the launches of several important series at Lincoln Center, including New and Newer Music in 1970, Great Performers in 1973, and both Serious Fun (progenitor of the Lincoln Center Festival) and Classical Jazz (precursor of Jazz at Lincoln Center) in 1987. Alice Tully Hall is also where Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris received its world premiere (as part of the 1972 New York Film Festival), and where soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Bryn Terfel made their New York recital debuts.
Although the hall has been a beacon for boldfaced names in the performing arts, Miss Tully's patronage owes much to her own musical background. Her lifelong passion for music was awakened in her teens, after hearing a piano recital by Josef Hoffman. She subsequently studied in Paris as a young singer and traveled between Europe and the U.S. giving recitals from 1927 to 1937.
In the wake of the Second World War, Miss Tully stopped singing. In 1958, she came into an inheritance handed down from her maternal grandfather, Amory Houghton, Sr., founder of Corning Glass Works. Around that time, her cousin, Arthur Houghton, Jr. — one of the original board members of Lincoln Center — approached Tully with the idea of sponsoring a hall. Though a willing donor, she initially refused to put her name on the building, changing her mind only after learning that renowned Austrian acoustician Heinrich Kranholz would be working on the project.
The building's benefactor was adamant about her vision for the hall that would bear her name. A tall woman, Tully insisted on having ample legroom between the seats — something that patrons have been grateful for ever since. She also chose the paint and carpet colors, and selected upholstery for the auditorium seats and animal-print wallpaper for the bathrooms.
Miss Tully passed away in 1993, but the current renovation looks to enhance her aesthetic. One of the most stunning transformations will be to the building's façade. New York-based architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have designed an expansive three-story glass lobby that will glow at night. According to Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., the new façade will make Alice Tully Hall into "a wonderful, suitable companion to the openness of Avery Fisher Hall and the Metropolitan Opera." (Scroll down to see the architect's rendering.)
An exciting interior change is the addition of a bar and concession stand near the main entrance on Broadway. In addition to pre- and post-performances, the space will be open to the public throughout the day, serving drinks and snacks. On a more practical note, the building's notoriously cramped entrance and box office will be expanded.
The interior of the auditorium will have walls that glow from within, thanks to a groundbreaking technique that uses paper-thin wood panels and LED lights. An automated stage extension will be able to change the hall's size from its current 1,100 to 850 seats, making it a more versatile venue not only for concerts, but for film, theater, and dance as well. Behind the scenes, dressing rooms and rehearsal areas will also be improved and expanded.
These changes fulfill Lincoln Center's redevelopment goals of "modernizing its facilities and public spaces, making them as user-friendly as possible for patrons, artists, and employees," according to Gerald A. Hastings, Executive Director of the Lincoln Center Development Project.
To mark this transformation, there will be a gala concert on April 30, titled "Good Night, Alice," that celebrates Alice Tully Hall's remarkable past and illustrious future. The evening, which will raise funds for redevelopment efforts, honors the acclaimed broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, who will also serve as master of ceremonies. The gala's co-chairs are Katherine Farley and husband Jerry I. Speyer, and Charles O. Prince III and wife Margaret Wolff.
According to Nigel Redden, who directs the Lincoln Center Festival, which is producing the concert, "The program will reflect the diversity of work done at Alice Tully Hall." Performers include Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center; soprano Audra MacDonald, a frequent performer at Lincoln Center; members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; and groundbreaking composer Philip Glass and performance artist Laurie Anderson, both of whom have appeared in the Hall as part of the Serious Fun series and Lincoln Center Festival. The conductor for the evening will be David Robertson, leading The Juilliard Orchestra.
In addition to live musical performances, there will be clips of films that debuted at the Hall as part of the New York Film Festival. Patrons may also see a montage of shots of the demolition of the 65th Street Bridge connecting the Lincoln Center campus, as well as animations of what lies in store once the redevelopment is complete.
A Lincoln Center Special telecast showing segments of the "Good Night, Alice" gala concert will air nationally on PBS on May 3 at 8 p.m. (check local listings).
Charlotte Kaiser Weinberg, a New York-based freelance journalist, writes about culture, design and food.