I grew up in a leafy suburb about an hour outside of New York City. When I was a kid my parents sometimes brought us into the city on Saturdays, to shop Canal Street (back in the 1970’s it was an important source for appliances and gifts) or attend the seasonal movie-and-a-show spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. We would arrive early in the morning and leave after dark, driving home along the FDR Drive, with views of the Pepsi Cola sign lit up across the river in Queens to send us on our way. From the back seat of the family station wagon the city was magical, a gentle stream of noise and light. It’s precisely that dream of New York City that brought me here, and the one that’s captured at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The space, designed by Rafael Vinoly, sits on the fifth floor of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle and faces east through an immense stretch of curtain wall. The auditorium is hi-tech. On its website Jazz claims it was “[d]esigned acoustically to be the premier jazz performance hall in the world.” There are adjustable curtains, video monitors, stage platforms, and banks of seating to suit different music and performance styles. The night I was there, for a rather sedate awards ceremony, the hall was arranged in tiered, semi-circular rows that overlooked the stage and, beyond it, the southwest corner of Central Park, the statue of Christopher Columbus (which is temporarily enclosed), and West Fifty-Seventh Street. It was a spectacle that rendered the goings-on all but irrelevant. The walls, stairs and steps inside are all finished simply in blonde wood. Though the layout is pragmatic it reminded me of the auditorium at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, where every seat seems to be perched on a balcony, as if there’s no main space and no main floor.During the ceremony there was a large, and largely unnecessary, video monitor hanging right in the center of the glass. The organizers could have set smaller screens at each side instead. Surely they knew we weren’t there for the ceremony, but for the view.