What’s Lincoln Center?
David Geffen Hall Exterior ©Michael Moran.
Spanning more than 16 acres on the Upper West side of Manhattan, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (more commonly known as Lincoln Center) is home to 11 resident arts organizations covering music, dance, film, opera, theater, and more. They include:
- The New York Philharmonic
- New York City Ballet
- The Metropolitan Opera
- Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
- Jazz at Lincoln Center
- The Juilliard School
Built as part of the Lincoln Square Renewal Project in the 1960s, Lincoln Center originally was made up of three buildings: David Geffen Hall, 1962 (previously Avery Fisher Hall and Philharmonic Hall); the David H. Koch Theater (1964), formerly the New York State Theater; and the Metropolitan Opera House (1966).
Fun Fact: To this day, it’s not definitively known if the name for the area or as a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln.
What Does Lincoln Center Offer?
Today the complex is one of the premiere hosts of performing arts organizations in the city, if not the country. The anchor organization is Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. Its function? It essentially manages the “campus,” and presents artistic programming. And the programming includes some of Lincoln Center’s most popular offerings, and ones everyone should know about, so take note: they include American Songbook and Great Performers, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Mostly Mozart, and Target Free Thursdays.
Let’s break these down, shall we?
American Songbook showcases American composers and performers, ranging from cabaret to Broadway and jazz. The series for 2023, for instance, focuses on sounds of belonging and discovery. The popular Midsummer Night Swing, now in its 25th year, gives summer visitors a chance to dance under the stars. Looking for a budget-friendly option? “Lincoln Center Presents” is your go-to: The series offers free and low-cost performance options, ranging from family programs to burlesque shows. Another summer favorite? “Lincoln Center Out of Doors,” the country’s longest-running free outdoor festival, with offerings that include music, spoken word, and dance presentations every August.
What Are All Those Buildings?
When you enter the “campus,” you’ll see a wide space in front you, anchored with the fountain in the middle. The Revson Fountain, dedicated in 1964 and redesigned in 1994, may look familiar even if you’ve never been there before: it’s been featured in films including The Producers, Manhattan, Moonstruck, and Ghostbusters.
To your left, you’ll see the David H. Koch Theater; it hosts all kinds of dance performances, from ballet to modern, and has been the home of the renowned New York City Ballet since its opening in 1964. It also hosts the American Ballet Theater and was the home of the New York City Opera until 2011.
Aida: Marty Sohl / Met Opera.
Straight ahead, behind the fountain, stands the Metropolitan Opera House. Seating close to 4,000 people, it’s the largest repertory opera house in the world. It’s also one of the most technologically advanced: its rigging systems, hydraulic elevators, and motorized stages make it possible for complex staging and huge operas to be presented there, such as Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), the 16-hour Wagner opera. It has also hosted numerous world premiere operas, including The Voyage by Phillip Glass. The building is also famous for its Marc Chagall murals, which can be seen even from a distance. They represent “The Triumph of Music” (on the left side) and “The Sources of Music” (on the right side) and were painted in Paris and then sent to New York. (Chagall also painted set murals for the opera The Magic Flute.) The 30x36 foot murals, unveiled in the lobby in 1966, are an attraction in and of themselves—many people go to simply gaze at them from the plaza.
David Geffen Hall Exterior ©Michael Moran.
To your right, you’ll see David Geffen Hall. (It was so named after Geffen donated $100 million dollars to Lincoln Center.) The building can host more than 2,000 people and is the home of the New York Philharmonic. The recently renovated space includes thousands of square feet that are open daily the public, as well as new areas for viewing the plaza, more socializing areas (with bars), new venues for smaller-scale performances, and balcony seating that wraps around the entire stage.
Wu Tsai Theater ©Michael Moran.
Plus, it boasts vastly improved, state-of-the-art acoustics, especially in the Wu Tsai Theater, the centerpiece of the building; it now also includes seating closer to the stage.
Did someone say free? The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center offers free programming that focuses on artistic innovation, from talks to family shows. The offerings share a commitment to addressing current cultural and political issues, all in a soothing space complete with lush vertical gardens and a media wall. It’s open daily to the public, and also hosts a TKTS booth and a public visitors’ center. (You’ll have to leave the main “campus”—the Atrium is located on West 62nd Street, just a few blocks away.)
How Do You Choose Things to Do at Lincoln Center?
Etienne Charles at grand opening of David Geffen Hall, photo by Lawrence Sumulong, © Lincoln Center.
With so many offerings in so many spaces…how do you choose?
Here’s a list of suggested ”must do’s”:
- See The Nutcracker, performed by The New York City Ballet, during the holiday season
- Hear a concert by The New York Philharmonic in the renovated David Geffen Hall
- Wander into the David Rubenstein Atrium for some down time, and just gaze at the garden walls.
- Have a drink and listen to some jazz at Dizzy’s Club
- Take advantage of one of the many free summer performance programs
- People watch by the Revson Fountain
And once you’ve done those? Never fear—at Lincoln Center, here’s always something new to discover.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is located on Columbus Avenue, just below the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Broadway and between West 62nd and West 66th Streets. The Metropolitan Opera House address is 30 Lincoln Center Plaza, which will work for GPS. For subway, take the 1 train to 66th Street-Lincoln Center, 212-875-5456, lincolncenter.org.