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Monday, May 11, 2009

Images of Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center, the massive performing arts complex in the heart of NY City, is in the middle of major revitalization project. I was very familiar with the complex when it was relatively new in the early 1970s, and I never cared much for the layout or Imperial nature of those massive concrete structures or the use of outdoor space between them. The Philip Johnson (1906-2005) 1964 design for the NY State Theatre (home of the NYC Opera and Ballet) is my least favorite of the buildings. It verges on Italian fascistic architecture on the outside, and seems to be completely devoid of windows. Most everything else in the center is decorated on the inside with various kitsch and gold glitter. It's classic 70s egotism to the max.


The the entire Lincoln Center area is now under construction, and I quickly discovered that all tickets purchased for performances include by default a mandatory $2 surcharge to help defray the on-going construction cost.


Formulating the master plan for this project took years, and it was of course very political at its core and involved the many competing interests at the center. I remember when opera singer Beverly Sills (aka "Bubbles") took on the leadership role to redesign Lincoln Center and attempted to steer it into the current century. One of the plans that was proposed (but which did not survive) was to construct an enormous environmentally-controlled glass bubble atop all of the center. It would have covered the outdoor park area as well as the existing buildings. Warm in the winter. HOT in the summer.


The landscape of the surrounding area has changed significantly over the past 30 years. On my recent visit, I couldn't believe the number of towering glass skyscrapers recently built or currently under construction along the West Side, particularly amongst the blocks adjacent to Lincoln Center. There seems to be an insatiable demand for expensive penthouse condos with a view of the Hudson River, yet within walking distance to Lincoln Center's cultural venues and associated fine restaurants. In a time when the recession of 2008/09 put a halt to construction non-essential projects in cities all around the country, New York seems relatively immune to this financial malaise (although I did see a local TV report that 16% of store fronts along Broadway are vacant). Yet, the entire city is thriving, and the performing arts - at least in the major venues - appear to be surviving the current downturn in the economy fairly well.


As you enter the subway at 66th street and 7th Avenue at Lincoln Center, you can see some eye-catching tile work and mosaics on the walls of the subway platform. There was a saxophonist performing for those who were heading home after their evening's concert. He was savvy enough to know that his audience had just heard the Mahler 1st Symphony, and he honked out tunes from that work on his tarnished and dented alto - adding additional riffs to liven the music up.






Directly across from Avery Fisher Hall, where the Philharmonic is based, is a Mormon church. The LDS church has a tall pedestal with a golden copy of the iconic Moroni Angel statue that tops the mother church in Salt Lake City. The statue was originally commissioned from the 19th century Boston-based (and non-Mormon) sculptor Cyrus Dallin. Dallin lived and maintained a studio in Arlington, MA, and there is small a Dallin Museum in the center of that town.






Dallin's Moroni Angel seems to be playing music for the Lincoln Center crowd and for the residents of the exclusive condos that surround it. Perhaps the Angel is performing Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." This photo was taken through a window on the third floor of Avery Fisher Hall.




The entrance to the Juilliard School was at one time on 65th street, but now seems to be on another side of the building. The city has dedicated this "one-way" street to the legendary Leonard Bernstein. Of course Lenny worked next door at Avery Fisher Hall when he was music director with the NY Philharmonic.













In the photo above are some workmen with construction hats busy preparing the water fountain at Lincoln Center for the summer months. It's a big tourist attraction.



On the south side of Avery Fisher Hall, construction is underway on something, but only time will tell what. Perhaps it will be a subway entrance.




The construction shown above is occurring between Avery Fisher Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House building. It appears that the large reflecting pool that had provided a nice setting for a Henry Moore sculpture, and a retreat from urban heat during the summer, might be history.


There is also a new wing being added onto Juilliard at this location. Right now, it too just looks like a major construction zone...












Just across the street where Broadway and Columbus Ave intersect, there is a tiny island.





The city has dedicated this spot to the famed MET opera singer Richard Tucker. A statue of Tucker stands here for all to see.























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