After decades of setbacks, the New York Philharmonic will finally perform in a gut-renovated concert hall in October.

“The key is—two years early—on budget and on schedule,” says a triumphant Deborah Borda, the president and chief executive officer of the New York Philharmonic, standing under a scaffold in what will be the completely revamped concert hall. 

A happy ending was by no means guaranteed.

The venue, set at New York’s Lincoln Center, had problems almost as soon as its doors opened in 1962. Concertgoers and performers complained that the sound was muddy and deadening.

A significant renovation in 1976, which saw the venue’s name change from Philharmonic Hall to Avery Fisher Hall, didn’t do much to solve things. “The hall has always had its acoustic challenges,” Borda says. “The hall was originally meant to have an acoustic envelope for 2,200 people, and for a variety of reasons—five months before the opening—it was changed to 2,800 people.”

The most recent effort was jump-started by a $100 million gift in 2015 from billionaire David Geffen. But even that led to a series of false starts and revised plans for the renamed David Geffen Hall, culminating in Geffen publicly airing complaints in 2017, telling the New York Times “that a city that has as many wealthy individuals who’ve made a fortune in New York—that they couldn’t show up and support the most important cultural institution in New York, I think is too bad and shameful.”

One of the critical sticking points was what to do with the orchestra while the renovation was underway. There was little appetite to displace concerts for years on end, so in 2019 the Philharmonic finally announced a phased renovation that would trim the orchestra’s concert season and close the space for renovations during the summer. Construction was supposed to begin this year and finish in 2024.

But when Covid-19 hit, leadership at the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center saw an opportunity: Live concerts had been canceled, obviating the need for a phased construction timeline. Suddenly, they could do it in one fell swoop.

“As we talk about this project, we’ve talked about what’s inside the building, the artistic achievement, and the kind of civic achievement,” says Henry Timms, the president and CEO of Lincoln Center. “But there’s a bigger idea here, which is what this could do for New York. And that was really at the heart of what we were trying to do, at a time when there were so many winds against us.”

Rallying a team that includes Diamond Schmitt Architects, which spearheaded the theater design, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, which addressed the public spaces, and Turner Construction Co.,  the project’s construction manager, work began in spring 2021.

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