Carnegie's New Zankel Hall

By Clark, Robert S. | The Hudson Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Carnegie's New Zankel Hall


Clark, Robert S., The Hudson Review


PERHAPS THE MOST VIVID IMPRESSION you receive when you get down (yes, down-more about that shortly) to the lobby levels of Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall's new sister stage in New York, is warmth. The walls are finished in a finely polished cream-colored translucent artisan plaster and glow almost as if they were backlit. The impression continues as you enter the auditorium: the seats and walls are fashioned from American sycamore, and the slotted railings too, lending the interior an open, almost weightless air. The comfortable seats are upholstered with a dark green mohair that enhances the feeling of informality-an important attribute in a space that was designed to appeal to a wide range of potential auditors.

Zankel Hall began life in much the same capacity it serves now: as one of three performing spaces of differing sizes under a single roof, Andrew Carnegie's original 1891 concept for Carnegie Hall. Zankel, which can hold up to 640 people, joins the main hall, now called Isaac Stern Auditorium (seating 2804) after the late violinist, who led the drive to save Carnegie when it was threatened with demolition in the fifties, and Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall (268), up a few flights from the main hall level. Zankel occupies the same space as its predecessor, though now expanded: it lies two flights under the main hall, and is thus reached through a new entrance on Seventh Avenue and descent by escalator or staircase. (To accommodate the new design for Zankel by Polshek Partnership, 6300 cubic yards of bedrock had to be removed before construction could begin in 1999.) The space has a checkered history: it was first rented out in 1896 to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which renovated it and renamed it the Lyceum. Subsequently it became an off-Broadway theater, an art film house, and a commercial cinema.

But when the cinema's lease ran out in 1987, the late Judith Arron, then Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director, conceived a scheme to restore Andrew Carnegie's original intent and to create a performing space that could expand the hall's educational mission and accommodate a broad range of programs, from early music and chamber music to jazz, world music, solo recitals, dance, and small-scale theater presentations. Another aim was to incorporate the most innovative communications facilities in order to carry the hall's educational programs to a greater audience. …

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