NY Philharmonic's love affair with Carnegie Hall is over

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The Independent US

It was a flirtation that promised to remake the cultural landscape of the city. The New York Philharmonic announced it was leaving its home at Lincoln Centre and setting up at nearby Carnegie Hall. And the Carnegie and the Philharmonic were to merge.

That was in June and everyone believed it. It would be just three years before the Philharmonic would be back in the grandiose - and acoustically blessed - environs of Carnegie Hall, the venue it called home from 1891 until 1962, when it left for the Lincoln Centre. But now it is all over. Only last week it occurred to everyone that the two institutions were not really in love, and, brought together, they were unlikely even to get on. And so, to the bemusement of the American classical music community, a second announcement was made: the marriage was off.

Of course, the break-up was described in the politest terms possible. "It is clear each institution has unique, undeniable core values, which could have been compromised," the two sides said in a statement. In other words, neither camp was willing to give up any control to accommodate the other.

The chairman of Carnegie Hall is Sanford Weill, the outgoing chief executive of Citigroup, the giant investment bank, and if there is anyone who knows how to make a merger deal stick it is him. This time he failed.

Those most disappointed may be the fans of the Philharmonic. Avery Fischer Hall, where the orchestra now plays inside the Lincoln Centre, is loved by few people. With its rectangular and uninspiring auditorium it suffers from notorious acoustic problems and is due for a refurbishment likely to cost more than $250m (£150m). Carnegie is glorious in both sound and architecture.

Others in the classical community are relieved. It would have been a "disaster for Lincoln Centre", Sedgwick Clark, editor of Musical America, said. "To fill Avery Fisher Hall in this economic climate would have been an insurmountable problem. And would there have been room for all the other orchestras that come to Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic there? This merger would have changed America's entire classical music scene."

Indeed, happiest all to see the courtship collapse are the numerous lesser-known orchestras and ensembles who booked nights at the Carnegie. They faced being pushed into the wilderness after the Philharmonic, which plays more than 100 concerts a year, arrived.

Now Lincoln Centre, which was blindsided by the original announcement that the Philharmonic was moving away, has to repair its relations with the orchestra. "If you were to capture our feelings about this, they could be succinctly stated," Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Centre, said. "Welcome home. All is forgiven."

The most urgent topic will be the future of Avery Fisher Hall. No one is clear how the necessary $250m will be raised. The orchestra needs a temporary home while the work is done.

There is an old Jewish joke often told in New York that goes: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Answer: "Practise, practise, practise." It seems the negotiators in this deal had not practised enough.

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