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Renovating Its Hall, New York Philharmonic Plans a Roving Season


For any major music ensemble, planning a season of concerts as a pandemic stretches on is daunting. For the New York Philharmonic, there is an added challenge: The orchestra’s home, David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, is in the midst of a $550 million renovation.

That will leave the orchestra roving for the next year as it tries to recover from the pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of its 2020-21 season and the loss of more than $21 million in ticket revenue, forcing painful budget cuts.

But the Philharmonic won’t travel too far. On Tuesday, it announced its 2021-22 season: a slate of about 80 concerts, compared to 120 in a normal year, spent mostly at two other Lincoln Center venues, Alice Tully Hall and the Rose Theater, with four forays to Carnegie Hall and a holiday run of “Messiah” at Riverside Church.

“People are starved for live entertainment,” Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive, said in an interview. “There may be some slight hesitancy at the beginning, but I think people are going to come flocking back.”

The season opens Sept. 17 with the pianist Daniil Trifonov playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 at Tully. Other prominent artists on the schedule include the pianists Yuja Wang and Leif Ove Andsnes; the violinists Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell; the saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who will play a concerto by John Adams; and the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who will lead Schumann’s four symphonies and two world premieres over two weeks in March. The Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist, Anthony McGill, will be featured in Anthony Davis’s “You Have the Right to Remain Silent.”

Soloists appearing for the first time with the orchestra include the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who will play Dvorak’s concerto and also participate in a Young People’s Concert; the soprano Golda Schultz; the pianist Beatrice Rana; and the conductors Jeannette Sorrell and Dalia Stasevska.

In its fourth year with the conductor Jaap van Zweden as its music director, the Philharmonic will also premiere a variety of works, including by the American composers Joan Tower and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Those two premieres are part of Project 19, a multiyear initiative to commission works from 19 female composers to honor the centenary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which barred the states from denying women the right to vote.

A few of the concerts will be at an unusual time: The orchestra will present three Sunday matinees, the first time it has done that since the 1960s, in an effort to broaden its audience.

The Philharmonic has been at the center of the recent revival of the arts in New York. The orchestra appeared at the Shed in April, its first indoor concert in 13 months. And it performed at Bryant Park last week, the first time its musicians had played together without masks since the start of the pandemic.

The orchestra is taking precautions in its planning to ease fears about the virus. There will be no intermissions at least through December, to prevent crowds from gathering. Borda said the orchestra would follow guidance from the state and federal authorities in deciding other public health measures, like requiring masks or proof of vaccination.

“What it will be like in September is anybody’s guess,” Borda said. “We have to remain flexible.”

The Philharmonic had to make a series of painful cuts as more than 100 of its concerts were canceled. The orchestra reduced its administrative staff by about 40 percent, largely through layoffs. In December, its musicians agreed to a four-year contract that included a 25 percent cut to the players’ base pay through August 2023, with compensation gradually increasing after that, though remaining below prepandemic levels.

There were some bright spots amid the turmoil. Donations increased 11 percent last year, totaling $31.5 million. The orchestra also worked to deepen its connections with city residents through two series of Bandwagon concerts, bringing first a pickup truck and then a 20-foot shipping container with a foldout stage to neighborhoods across the city, and giving local artists an opportunity to perform.

Several of the organizations that took part in Bandwagon concerts, including National Black Theater, a nonprofit arts group in Harlem, and El Puente, a social justice organization in Brooklyn, will be featured in the 2021-22 season. Those collaborations will be organized by Anthony Roth Costanzo, a countertenor who produced the Bandwagon series and is also the orchestra’s artist-in-residence next season; he has also helped prepare a two-week festival focusing on identity, “Authentic Selves: The Beauty Within.”

The coming season will be the first time in recent decades that the orchestra has not had access to its own hall. Its administration and Lincoln Center decided to use the shutdown to accelerate the renovation of Geffen Hall, which is set to reopen in the fall of 2022, a year and a half earlier than planned. The hall will feature state-of-the-art acoustics and a more intimate feel, with seats that wrap around the stage.

Borda said much of the coming season would be devoted to preparing for the orchestra’s return to Geffen.

“This hall provides an opportunity to transform ourselves,” she said, “but also to paint on an even larger palette.”

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