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The Lincoln Center Debate-Can all the arts together flourish?


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#1 Calliope

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Posted 28 March 2002 - 05:40 AM

There's an article in this week's NEW YORKER magazine about the seemingly ongoing secession of NYC Opera from Lincoln Center.

http://www.newyorker...20401crmu_music

and the quote:

But Lincoln Center has never been able to foster an ideal cultural populace that delights equally in opera, ballet, and symphony. In my experience, opera people, ballet people, and symphony people seldom overlap comfortably. The lumping together of such distinct art forms has made it harder for each company to define itself crisply in the public eye. Ensconced in the limestone fortress, they have become subspecies of "the performing arts," whose main characteristic, the curious onlooker might decide, is an edifying stuffiness.


Any opinions on the piece?

For me, I made me realize that the appearance of the building DOES make a difference to me. Some of my favorite places to see ballet are these gorgeous buildings.
And it made me wonder whether or not having all the arts in one area does create a "fear factor" amongst the general population.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 28 March 2002 - 08:29 AM

Interesting article -- thank you, Calliope.

I'm not wild about either State Theater or the Met for watching dance. I agreed with the author's comment that not having aisles hinders the development of a feeling of community -- "you shuffle in, take your seat, and then shuffle out again," he says. And at the Met, I never think I've seen the ballet. I understand why ABT's style has coarsened since they've been there. Why pay attention to subtleties if no one can see them? There's no point to it.

As for the separation among opera, music and ballet people, is that Lincoln Center's fault, or our own bifurcated society? We all know we're not people but "target markets" Those who've grown up with that may well tend to act that way.

#3 Farrell Fan

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Posted 28 March 2002 - 10:00 AM

It's an easy and awfully tired argument to blame the architecture, the stage, the acoustics, or the seating plans of Lincoln Center for inspiring alleged mediocrity in its constituent companies. But the architecture was the same thirty years ago during the NYCB Stravinsky Festival.

"Each night of the week, the State Theater was packed with knowledgeable and wildly excited balletomaniacs, hopeful gatecrashers panted in the plaza...The week was full of surprises, unexpected beauties, dance jokes, and a kind of camaraderie between the audience and the company that the grandeur of Lincoln Center doesn't usually encourage."

Deborah Jowitt wrote that in the Village Voice, in the days when the Voice was considered an "alternative" paper. A "downtown" person, she was nevertheless able to find her way to Lincoln Center!

Similarly, the New York City Opera led by Julius Rudel, with Sills, Domingo, and Treigle, inspired superlatives from critics and audiences alike. The lack of a center aisle in the orchestra did not prevent happy opera fans from heading for the Promenade to sing the praises of Bubbles, et al. Incidentally, I remember when the orchestra seating at the State Theater was winning praise in the press.

I could go on but won't. My point is that moving NYCO downtown will not insure great performances or automatically attract the geographically-correct audiences Alex Ross holds in such esteem. And the "faintly spiritless air" he ascribes to all Lincoln Center companies except the mighty VilarMet, will not be cured by having Frank Gehry enclose them in a giant plastic bag. All it takes is creativity and talent. The excitement will follow

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 28 March 2002 - 10:03 AM

I think your point is well taken, FF. If I'm remembering correctly there was a lot of talk when Carnegie Hall opened that it was too far away from the center of town and no one would go. People found it. :)

There really is something to, "Build it and they will come." Or, in this case, "Make it exciting and they will come."

#5 BW

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 05:04 AM

I will have to read the article in The New Yorker...haven't yet, but have read about it in the NY Times whenever they run their sequels on the ongoing saga.

I'm with FF, who obviously has a long history and thus a very good view of the whole topic!:)

It might be interesting to see an accurate demographic study on where subscribers live, and where everyone else lives too! Personally, I love Lincoln Center - it's a great location for those of us "hardy" souls who brave the Henry Hudson and travel in by car! ;) Now that's another story - transportation or the lack thereof - if only we had better mass transportation - how about a train line that goes in on the West side?

Lincoln Center is beautiful to my eyes - even if I never attend another opera - I know it's right there if I want it... I love the fountain in the warm weather and love to see all the people milling around; the reflecting pool, the glass walls of the Met; Avery Fischer Hall, the Vivian Beaumont tucked away; the Performing Arts Library; the confusing underground walkways...alright, they could fix them up a bit and get rid of that grungy ambiance ;)...

I like having it all right there - I love the open space that's filled with music and people in the summer and the Christmas tree in the winter decorated with musical instruments....

To me it's a great venue for visiting ballet companies and although I don't like tripping over people's feet as I slowly make my way to my seat - it's a small price to pay....

Speaking of which - perhaps it's the cost of the tickets that is more of a problem for those who don't attend? I know there's always the fourth ring and a good pair of binoculars...but isn't that a bit like saying "let them eat cake"? I think that if the companies considered offering reduced ticket prices several days a season, it might attract those that often think briefly about attending but put it out of their minds due to the price of a ticket.

I also believe that it's the tendency of many to discount the arts in general that is the fault here - not the architecture, or the location thereof...and I agree with FF that "a giant plastic bag" won't do the trick either!:) It's the open space that I love!

#6 Michael

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 08:46 AM

I'm glad you posted this thread, Calliope, because I was upset with Ross's article when I read it this week and considered doing the same.

Personally I love Lincoln Center. It's one of the few, perhaps the only, architecturally integrated public space in Manhattan and it works. I would not want to think of New York without it and what is the alternative? Perhaps if the old Met had not been torn down the Metropolitan Opera would have had a home but could City Ballet really still have been housed at City Center? The Lincoln Center facilities are physically so important to the flourishing of the performing arts in NY that one literally cannot conceive of these companies in their current form without them.

But that's I suspect precisely Mr. Ross's problem with it all, as the core of his piece is I think a complaint about the "institutional" nature of the Lincoln Center constituents. But what do you want, what again is the alternative? A major company employing an hundred dancers and hundreds of others (costumiers, musicians, set builders, administrative staff, attorneys, accountants, physical therapists, press people, rehearsal masters and mistresses, and with a school attached to it ... ) is going to be an instutition, like it or not. Maybe Ross should move to Milan, the different institutional look there might please him more. And he's welcome to the Jersey Performing Arts Center. He can spend all his time there and at the Whitney Biennial.

I also personally love the fact that there is no center aisle in the State Theater and I was quite upset to learn that the renovation plans (now put on hold) contemplated changing this. State Theater is, I think, a gem: The right size, a masterpiece of what I'd call "Modern Baroque", the most successful of all the spaces within the Center complex. I think it it will be increasingly seen that way.

If you want to see the alternative in current terms, look what they're doing to Columbus Circle, surely a tabula rasa in New York terms to die for. And what are we going to get? Facing the Trump Grand Hotel with its "chatchka" like globe in front, a seventy story monstrosity going up, at the corner of the Park. As if we didn't already have enough claustrophobia here. And not only that -- These new buildings age very poorly, much more poorly than buildings built before 1970. I shudder to think what it will all look like in twenty years when the glass is dirty and the ferro concrete faded. Like someone's dirty bathroom.

#7 BW

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 11:02 AM

Oh, Michael what a picture you paint!

These new buildings age very poorly, much more poorly than buildings built before 1970. I shudder to think what it will all look like in twenty years when the glass is dirty and the ferro concrete faded. Like someone's dirty bathroom.

:eek: And paint it very well you did. When I am in the city, I am always looking at the architecture from the past - and pointing it out to the lucky person who is with me! One of these days, I am finally going to go on one of those walking tours...I want to start with the Upper West Side.:)

#8 Dale

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Posted 31 March 2002 - 03:07 AM

This article annoyed me as well. Taking him on point-by-point:

"Educated, younger people of my acquantance do not often make the trip to broadway and sixty-sixth street" -- 66th is not exactly Peru. Doesn't this guy's "young" friends travel further than the Joyce Theater? It's a 20-minute ride on the 1 or 9 local from the village to the upper west side.

Ross' friend from the East Village couldn't find the complex? This is an "educated" person? Read a subway map. Lincoln Center is easier to get to than MOMA or the Bronx Zoo. There's a major subway line going straight to it, not to mention several buses and it's just a few blocks from the A, B, C, and D lines. And its 10-15 minutes away from Penn Station, as well.

"Lincoln Center is an environment with little warmth" -- Not according to the replies here. It is a great public space. There's a park and a relecting pool to the left and right of the Met and a great landmark in the fountain to meet people. When the weather is warm and there's dancing and food available outside, it's a welcoming place where it's fun to hang out even if you're not going inside the theaters.

"airport terminals offer better spots to sit and wait" Just not true. The State Theater has small tables with stools on the promenade, along with benches. There are benches on every level. Same goes for Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall. Only Ross' valued Opera House has a lack of places to sit.

"The State Theatre is not so much acoustically bad as acoustically null." -- This might be as the theater was designed for dance, yet, as Beverly Sills pointed out in the NYTimes article, nobody complained about the acoustics during the New York City Opera's heyday. When Lincoln Center was being designed the heads of the major organizations were invited to make stipulations to the plans. Balanchine and the head of the Met did, Berstein supposedsly was not interested. Therefore, it's not a surprise that the State Theater is great for ballet (speaking as a person who often sits in the cheap seats, the sightlines are great) and the Met is perfect for the big productions done by the opera company. And Avery Fisher has had more facelifts than Joan Rivers and it still has poor acoustics.

Ross praises NJPAC. Well, I've got to agree that it's a lovely space and I wish Manhattan had another theater of its size for dance (there is one in New York City -- BAM in Brooklyn). One of the things I like about NJPAC is, like NYST, it has a very democratic public space.

Which brings me to Ross' assertion that "you cannot move around and talk to other patrons; there is no sense of a shared experience..."

Well, get off your a-- and go to the promande, walk around one of the rings. Something that's really wonderful about NYST is the promenade -- where patrons of all classes can mingle. During intermissions, there's ballet critics sitting alongside solitary people reading books, sitting on the benches, and socialites standing in line at the bar next to families with children. There is a green room, but many people hang out on the promenade and when it's warm, it's nice to go out on the terrace. That's something you don't get at Met (although it's a little warmer at Avery Fisher), where I think most people just mill on the same level as their seats.

Two opera companies side-by-side. This is tricky. I think NYCO has tried different things to become unique -- the cheaper alternative to the Met, more experiemental than the Met, more historically correct than the Met. They might try scheduling things differently at Lincoln Center, by having both opera companies work out of the Met and both ballet companies at NYST. But of course, there would be fights over which company is the "home" company of the building. And it is fun to have NYCB and ABT going on at the same time during the summer. Dispelling Ross' claim that there's no excitement, ballet at Lincoln Center and the yearly Festival bring a lot of excitement to me. There's a time when NYCB, ABT and SAB all are giving shows and it seems like everybody is dancing and talking about ballet when you walk around the area.

Ross mentions the gloom of "upper" broadway. Does he (is Ross a man? I'm not sure) ever venture higher than 66th street? :) Maybe because I went to school Manhattan School of Music on 122nd street and Colombia on 116th, but I don't think of Lincoln Center as so far uptown. Plus, there's tons of restuarants that stay open late and during the warmer months have ouside cafes.

Ross adresses that people might be scared off attending shows at a big, intimidating venue such as Lincoln Center. This maybe true, but he doesn't offer any solutions.

#9 Calliope

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Posted 31 March 2002 - 04:17 AM

From what I understand, the lack of a center aisle at the NYST is one that is unfortunatlely considered both a fire hazard (according to new coding) and isn't up to snuff with wheelchair access codes either (keeping in mind that just over the last 2 years they finally made the theater wheelchair accessible).

I'm going to be a little different, because I actually am not fond of the architecture of Lincoln Center. I like the fountain and the Chagalls hanging in the Met, but the building, and they way they face each other and the "boxiness" of them, isn't very breath taking. Which is I think his point. Most people walk past the main library on 5th Ave. and think it's a museum, most walk past Lincoln Center (and if it weren't for the banners of advertising) might not have any idea what's inside and therefore, skip it.
Even the Grand Central Train Terminal makes you want to go inside of it!
I love the Upper West Side, but I lived and worked there for so long. But it still isn't a "tourist friendly" area. It's very residential, with the exception of the Natural History Museum and the NY Historical Society. It's restaurants and shopping, but not the kind Midtown offers. So I'll attribute that to his disparaging remarks of the UWS. Oh, and Central Park, (and Riverside) but most people enter CP along CPS or 5th Ave.
Geographically, it has only 1 subway line that runs up to it, another isolation point, though they have changed the station to reflect Lincoln Center is there.
I'm not defending all his points, but I agree with him on the look of the place. It often reminds me of the Halls of Justice look from cartoons. Dark, grey and loomy.

#10 Dale

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Posted 31 March 2002 - 05:14 AM

What is a "tourist friendly" area? Carnegie Hall is a 5-10 minute walk, there are hotels close by, other theaters such as the Beacon and the smaller Merkin Concert hall. While there is not a department store, you have the Gap, Tower Records, Barnes and Noble, Bannana Republic, VS, Anne Taylor, Gracious Homes etc.. as well as smaller boutiques. It's not far from Columbus Circle and Central Park. The west side has more than one subway, not like the east side, which only has one. It's easy to take the shuttle or 7 from 42nd street on the east side over to Times Square to pick up the 1 or 9. From downtown, either take the 1 or 9 or one the trains to 59th and walk the 4 blocks. Lincoln Center really starts at 63rd street (State Theater). 66th street is the far side of Julliard.

The Metropolitain Museum is in essentially a residential area -- an extremely upscale one, but residential just the same. There aren't any restaurants across the street. MOMA is in midtown among highrises and business, but the area tends to close down shortly after those office buildings clear out. In a residential area, the restaurants are open longer. In addition, Lincoln Center has parking (too expensive, true, I suggest one of the garages on 8th avenue around 57th street), but that's a feature not afforded to customers at Carnegie Hall.

If anything, by having all the arts organizations at one center, it is tourist friendly because they allow people to decide what they want to see, ask about tickets etc... without having to crisscross Manhattan.

Other than copy the styles of smaller European halls, I don't know how you can make Lincoln Center look more like a theater. Does the Kennedy Center look like a theater or a big box on a hill by the water?

One point Ross brought up was interesting -- the prospect of an arts center in lower Manhattan. Evidently a major transportation hub is part of the plans. Without debating what should be built on this land (a combustable topic not really suited to this board, if an arts center were to be built, what should it be like? What way could it avoid the problems of Lincoln Center?

#11 Michael

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Posted 31 March 2002 - 07:08 AM

Another thing I love about the Lincoln Center area is the de facto restriction to the hight of the buildings in the entire neighborhood. This gives a sense of human space -- although it is being fearfully eroded to the west of Lincoln Center right now.

There is space at Lincoln Center -- breadth as well as lower height -- You Washingtonians on the board may not know how lucky you are -- the formal height restriction is one of the things that makes your City so liveable and human in scale. Now Manhattan wouldn't be Manhattan without its "gratte-ciels" but it makes me treasure every cubic foot of space that isn't so designed. In fact, the tension between the two things -- the pressurized heavily built up upper spaces and the nearby open air, is very dramatic and delicate and makes for a lovely Baroque architcectural experience but is also a very fragile balance. And alas it's going the way of most civilized things here as they are now putting up a row of forty to seventy story structures on the west of Lincoln Towers, right along the river to the West of Lincoln Center.

To my mind the greatest architectural experience at Lincoln Center is not to approach it or see it from Broadway. It is, instead, to stand in the space in front of the MET and to look back (north) to the beautiful horizontal facade of Julliard, with its visual analogy to the East Front of the Louvre. You see the regular and serene Julliard facade on one horizontal and below it the Michaelangelo-esque stairs to the reflecting pool in front of the Beaumont, and then below that the sweep of the plaza at your feet. "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est" (sic) but it is one of the most glorious architectural views in the City.

The plaza may look boxy from Broadway, but when you are within it, it is not so boxy. It is when seen as oriented on the axis between Julliard and the State Theater that it shows to its best. Personally, I always go out of my way approach it that way. Even from Broadway, I take the escelator up to the Julliard book store and then approach State Theater down the stairs and across the plaza from the NW of the NYS Theater, as you do from SAB. It's a beautiful walk before a performance.


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