- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

NEW YORK

The artists’ attire at Carnegie’s new concert hall will be global chic — traditional tuxedos, Moroccan robes, South American ponchos.

Opening this weekend, the $72 million Zankel Hall will test whether a classical music venue can lure a wide variety of listeners with repertoire ranging from 19th-century Schubert songs to a rapper joining a Cuban jazz pianist.

“We want the widest possible audience to experience the hall in the first two weeks — a window through which to explore the wonders of different musical genres,” Robert Harth, Carnegie Hall’s executive director, said Tuesday. “We’re stepping out of our comfort zone in Zankel Hall. We’re being adventurous.”

Zankel’s opening night tomorrow features a program organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams, conducting music by Charles Ives, Lou Harrison and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Later that evening at 10 — unusually late for the Carnegie — Zankel plays host to the Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa and his octet, which includes a Yoruba singer, rapper Brutha Los and a saxophone player.

The hall’s opening festival continues with artists such as Anna Deavere Smith, who co-starred in Rob Reiner’s 1995 film “The American President” and also is known for her one-woman plays that portray multiracial characters from American life; the Kenny Barron jazz quintet; composer Frederic Rzewski playing his own piano music, including a piece called “Stop the War!”; and an evening of Meredith Monk jazz pieces.

Of course, under Carnegie Hall management, Zankel also offers classical warhorses such as a Haydn string quartet and a Dvorak piano quintet, played by the Grammy-award winning Emerson String Quartet with pianist Emanuel Ax.

But a day later, it’s back to nonclassical works, with vocalist Youssou N’Dour from Senegal accompanied by drums, vocals, and Senegalese speech as performance art.

Youssou N’Dour is part of perhaps the most unusual addition to the Carnegie season: a world-music series that includes pieces from Romanian Gypsies, India and both East and West Africa.

Zankel Hall, designed by the New York-based architectural firm Polshek Partnership in conjunction with Jaffe Holden Acoustics, sits directly under Carnegie’s main auditorium.

The venue is a former movie theater, so builders carved out more room from the underlying bedrock. A subway line runs nearby, but acoustics were not expected to be affected. It is named after Carnegie Hall Vice Chairman Arthur Zankel and his wife Judy, who gave millions to build the venue.

With a movable floor and stage, it can seat 540 to 644 spectators, depending on whether the stage is at the end or in the middle and whether an orchestra pit is needed. The space is easily reconfigured through a remote-control system of lifts, steel trusses and wagons.

Zankel Hall rounds out Carnegie’s versatility, added to the 2,800-seat Isaac Stern Auditorium and the 268-seat Weill Recital Hall.

The new space also is affordable: Ticket prices range from $5 for “family” concerts such as the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, to $82 for an evening with cellist Yo Yo Ma playing Latin music with a band.

Zankel’s first season also includes Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso, singers Michael Feinstein and Emmylou Harris, and Tony Award-winning singer Audra McDonald starring in a new musical theater work by composer Adam Guettel.

Make no mistake, however: The program does not short-shift traditional Western music. There are pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Peter Serkin, both known for their Mozart interpretations; soprano Dawn Upshaw; and a dozen cellists from the Berlin Philharmonic.

Then there’s Morton Feldman’s monumental String Quartet No. 2 from 1983 — played in one unbroken movement lasting about six hours.

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