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Carnegie Hall Announces Plans for New Auditorium

Slide Show: Zankel Hall and its construction

NEW YORK -- At a press conference Wednesday, Carnegie Hall announced plans for the inaugural season of Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, the new 644-seat downstairs auditorium and educational center. Carved from bedrock directly beneath the hall’s main auditorium, the flexible recital space will host more than 80 concerts in 2003-04 including performances by Pierre Boulez, Yo-Yo Ma, Youssou N'Dour, Audra McDonald, and the Kronos Quartet.

Designed by the New York-based architectural firm Polshek Partnership in conjunction with Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Zankel Hall sits on the site of a former movie theater, a space that was originally used for concerts when Carnegie Hall opened in 1891.

Most noteworthy about the facility is its flexibility. The auditorium can be easily reconfigured through a remote-control system of lifts, steel trusses, and wagons, allowing for different stage positions and seating arrangements. The two-tier auditorium is contemporary in style with curved walls, blonde wood and bronze surfaces.

Robert Harth, Carnegie Hall's artistic and executive director, stressed the trial-and-error process by which adjustments to the hall will be made. "How do we change Zankel Hall's stage configuration? Practice, practice, practice," he said.

In keeping with this built-in flexibility, programming appears to reach out to more diverse audiences. Composer John Adams has programmed the first weekend of concerts within the opening two-week festival of 23 events, September 12-28. Among the artists scheduled are the Kronos Quartet; Meredith Monk; the Brad Mehldau Trio; Frederic Rzewski; the Emerson String Quartet; Youssou N'Dour; the Ensemble Intercontemporain; the Omar Sosa Quartet; and the Kenny Barron Quintet featuring Stefon Harris.

"Our Opening Festival is a window through which to view the world of new musical possibilities at Carnegie Hall," said Harth.

Also prominent in the opening season are several artist-driven projects. Carnegie Hall's five-year-old Perspectives program, in which major artists create concert series to reflect their own artistic visions, carries over to Zankel Hall with a series by Brazilian musician and author Caetano Veloso.

Perspectives concerts by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Emanuel Ax, and soprano Dawn Upshaw will also figure prominently throughout the Zankel Hall’s first season.

New and Experimental Programming

Adams, who begins a three-year tenure in the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair in September, will moderate conversations with major personalities in the arts, including architect Frank Gehry, video artist Bill Viola, and director Peter Sellars. Adams will also wield the baton during the opening chamber concert, which features works by Charles Ives, Lou Harrison, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, among others.

Contemporary music is a main ingredient in other ways.

Carnegie Hall's ongoing series, "When Morty Met John...," which spotlights the composers John Cage and Morton Feldman, returns after a year-long hiatus, and features new-music authorities like pianist Marilyn Nonken and Margaret Leng Tan, vocalist Joan La Barbara, and the Flux Quartet, which will present Feldman's six-hour-long Quartet II.

World premieres will be given to works by Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Osvaldo Golijov, Peter Lieberson, Kaija Saariaho and Steven Stucky. A new-musical theater work written by composer Adam Guettel will take place over a six-night run by Tony Award-winning singer Audra McDonald.

Jazz and World Sounds

While Carnegie Hall faced some criticism when it disbanded the 10-year-old Carnegie Hall Jazz Band last year, jazz artists are well represented at Zankel Hall, with the Dave Holland Big Band, David Murray Quartet, the Danilio Perez Trio, and vocalists Karrin Allyson and Luciana Souza scheduled.

Perhaps the most unusual addition to the Carnegie Hall season will be a world-music series, created in conjunction with the World Music Institute. On tap are programs dedicated to Romanian Gypsy music, Indian classical music, and music from East and West Africa. An opening festival program joins Yo-Yo Ma with Brazilian guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad and saxophonist Pacquito D'Rivera.

At the press conference, Harth noted that the opening of Zankel Hall was not without its challenges. About 6,300 cubic yards of bedrock under Carnegie Hall were removed to create the auditorium, a process that took place without altering the exterior or disrupting the nightly performances. Ultimately, Zankel Hall cost about $72 million, $22 million more than originally planned.

Zankel Hall’s opening had been set for September 2002, but the effects of the economic downturn had made Carnegie Hall rethink its plans. The hall is preparing to open at a difficult time for the arts, when charitable giving and advance ticket sales have declined. Tickets for events at Zankel Hall will generally cost $25 to $68, lower than those for Carnegie Hall's other two stages. Tickets for the first two weeks of concerts are all $25.