California Cool Collides with Classical Music Center

Lincoln Center at Twilight. Avery Fisher Hall, on the right, will soon be renamed the David Geffen Hall.

Lincoln Center at Twilight. Avery Fisher Hall, on the right, will soon be renamed the David Geffen Hall.

He managed the careers of folk and rock superstars such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, CSN, Cher, (whom he briefly dated) Guns N’ Roses, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Aerosmith and Whitesnake. And while one might not be inclined to associate the music and film mogul David Geffen with the world of classical music, one of the preeminent centers for orchestra performances will soon bear his name.

The Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic, will be renamed the David Geffen Hall in September 2015. Geffen, music producer and co-creator of Asylum Records, Geffen Records, DGC Records and co-founder of the DreamWorks SKG Inc. motion picture company, agreed to donate $100 million to the renovation of the concert hall, Lincoln Center Chair Katherine Farley announced Wednesday.

Geffen, who was born in Brooklyn, and listed at No. 68 on the Forbes 400 list in 2014 with an estimated worth of $6.9 billion, told reporters he gave a “quick yes” when asked about his contribution.

“As a native New Yorker, I recognize that Lincoln Center is a beacon to artists and musicians around the world,” Geffen said in a statement.

Geffen is well known for his philanthropy. He has made contributions to organizations such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Elton John AIDS Foundation and has also made donations to several other centers including the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A., the David Geffen Westwood Playhouse and the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Geffen’s donations to U.C.L.A. over a 12 year period totaled over $300 million, the largest donation ever given to a medical center.

Renovations to the concert hall will be aimed at sprucing up its look well as improving some of the acoustical issues that have long been associated with the hall. Public relations for the New York Philharmonic did not return calls for comment.

Some Lincoln Center patrons expressed a mix of shock and dismay outside the hall following a Thursday night performance that a historic center long associated with tradition and prestige would be undergoing a name change perhaps indicative of yet another step toward the popularization of classical music at the New York Philharmonic. Such criticisms have been cycling for years and were recently aimed at the Art of the Score, a series that through orchestral accompaniment, showcases popular film classics, such as “La Dolce Vita.”

Alice and Charlie Monchik, who had just attended a performance of Massenet’s “Manon” at the Metropolitan Opera House, had not heard about the donation and were surprised at the news. Alice referred to the change as a “Disneyification” of the center but chalked up the naming rights decision to one borne out of necessity.

“In order to preserve the fine institution of Lincoln Center, I guess sometimes a name change is in order,” said Alice Monchik. “And it just goes to show you that the person who puts up the most money for a donation can get what they want,” Charlie Monchik added.

Jane Halperin, a psychologist, who attends Lincoln Center performances regularly, expressed disappointment at hearing that the center would be renamed after Geffen. Halperin said that although it doesn’t have to be an anonymous donation, the name change was not imperative.

The hall was built in 1962 and named after violinist and founder of the Fisher Radio Company, Avery Fisher, who financed a renovation that took place in 1973. The Fisher family had threatened for years that they would pursue legal action if the name of the concert hall was changed, but the family agreed to the change in November and were given $15 million in exchange for the agreement.

Updated on March 16th, 7 p.m.