Carnegie's new hall tuned up & ready to go


Zankel Hall, Carnegie's third auditorium.

Carnegie Hall brought in an unusual "mechanic" to test its new $72 million auditorium

Wednesday afternoon - soprano Renee Fleming. Fleming sang two arias "in the interests of seeing what she can do," she joked to the preview audience - the "she" being the 600-seat, Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall on Carnegie's lower level.

First, Fleming sang Richard Strauss' lush song "Cacilie" (with no less an "accompanist" than the distinguished pianist Emanuel Ax). Then she sang Strauss' hushed "Morgen," every quiet syllable of which resonated through the hall.

Clearly, the acoustics are excellent.

Even more impressive proof of what "she" could do came a few minutes later, when Fleming sang Heitor Villa-Lobos' haunting Bachiana Brasileira No. 5, part of which the singer hums to an accompaniment of eight cellos. It was crystal clear.

Zankel Hall, which opened last night with a concert for benefactors and which will have its official public bow tomorrow, was designed by Polshek Partnership Architects.

It can be used conventionally, with the audience facing the stage, as it did yesterday, or informally, with the audience surrounding the performers.

The idea of having a third auditorium was part of industrialist Andrew Carnegie's original vision for the building. For much of Carnegie Hall's 113- year history, the lower space has been a theater, most recently a cinema.

The preview concert featured not only Fleming and Ax (who performed a shimmering Debussy "Pagodes" before accompanying Fleming) but a septet by contemporary American composer Lou Harrison (conducted by composer John Adams, who will lead tomorrow night's concert), a set by jazz great Kenny Barron's quintet and one by the African-oriented Fula Flute Ensemble.

Concerts in the next two weeks will demonstrate the range of offerings that will characterize the new space, from Pierre Boulez leading the Ensemble Intercontemporain to Latin American music performed by Yo-Yo Ma to pop songwriter Randy Newman to dramatic monologist Anna Deavere Smith to Baroque specialist Ton Koopman leading the Orchestra of St. Luke's to the Senegalese music of Youssou N'Dour.

Among the opening weekend offerings is a $5 Family Concert on Saturday at 11 a.m., with music from the Andes.

Originally published on September 11, 2003



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