NEW YORK, NY (2003-10-08) A much-heralded but controversial plan to merge the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall – two of New York’s most powerful cultural institutions – has collapsed after three months of talks.
In an announcement on Tuesday, the boards of both institutions agreed to call off the merger, citing irresolvable conflicts over which organization would dominate rehearsal and performance time. Instead, the Philharmonic will remain at Lincoln Center, its home since 1962.
The Philharmonic's executive director, Zarin Mehta, said in an interview on WNYC's Soundcheck that the main reason the merger did not succeed is that Carnegie Hall could not accommodate the number of concerts the orchestra plays each season, between 120 and 130. He added that the Philharmonic is pleased to be staying at Lincoln Center.
“It has been a very comfortable happy home,” says Mehta. “There was the possibility of a great hall being available so I think it was perfectly right...on the part of our board to look at it to see if it would work. It took 3 or 4 months to do that and it's over with."
The planned union, announced for the 2006-07 season, would have created a massive nonprofit corporation with an endowment of around $350 million and shared programming. But those involved with the discussions said that there were problems from the beginning. The Philharmonic has a constituency agreement with Lincoln Center that runs through 2011 and a move was viewed by the latter institution as a breach of contract. There was also considerable uncertainty as to how the merged institution would function from an administrative and artistic standpoint. Insiders questioned whether Carnegie Hall would agree to give up artistic control over its offerings.
When the plan was announced in June by the executive boards of both institutions, it took many of the respective board members by surprise, who first learned about it from an article in The New York Times. Lincoln Center was also taken by surprise.
Many questions remain, particularly how renovations will proceed at Avery Fisher Hall now that the Philharmonic will be staying. Before the announcement of the merger the orchestra commissioned a report from the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that detailed several renovation options: $400 million for rebuilding Avery Fisher, $300 million for renovating its interior, $25 million for more modest improvements and $100 million for moving to Carnegie with reconstruction there.
The Philharmonic resided at Carnegie Hall from the hall's inception in 1891 until 1962, when it moved to the then-newly opened Lincoln Center, a short walk up Broadway.