The Shed Opens: What Our Critics Think

When people use the word “fanfare” to describe celebrations, they usually mean it metaphorically. But there were literal brass instruments, bells up and held high, at the official opening of the Shed on Friday night.

The first public performance — inside the cavernous McCourt space at the new arts center, one of the most ambitious and high-profile additions to New York City’s cultural landscape in years — began with a marching band exuberantly parading through the audience.

It was the start of Soundtrack of America, a five-concert series paying homage to the history of African-American music, conceived by the filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen. He and Quincy Jones watched from the sidelines as the instrumentalists made their joyous entrance.

Nearby was Alex Poots, the Shed’s artistic director and chief executive, pacing on the periphery. He was witnessing not only the inauguration of an institution more than a decade (and $475 million) in the making, but also of the programming he has been developing since he joined in 2014.

about the Shed’s development.]

For the Shed’s first weekend, he had commissioned “Soundtrack for America,” as well as the interdisciplinary “Reich Richter Pärt,” new work by the artist Trisha Donnelly and the play “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy,” starring Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming.

On Wednesday evening, the Shed had opened its doors to mostly donors and industry insiders for a preview party. Mr. Poots and Elizabeth Diller — the architect whose firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, designed the building in collaboration with the Rockwell Group — were tapped on the shoulders by a near-constant stream of luminaries offering congratulations. It was a long day for Ms. Diller, who arrived at the building around 8 a.m. and stayed at the party until 10:30 p.m. (To unwind, she said, she and her husband, Ricardo Scofidio, went out for ramen. She was back at her office by 9 a.m.)

There was a preview of “Reich Richter Pärt”; afterward, Steve Reich said in an interview that he was happy to finally hear his score with a large crowd, and not in the acoustics of an empty room. He was there again for the piece’s first public performances on Saturday.

[Our guide to navigating the Shed and Hudson Yards.]

By the weekend, the building was operational, though not fully finished. One crucial escalator wasn’t completely installed; another was in and out of service. A bartender for Cedric’s, the Shed’s not-yet-open restaurant by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, apologetically handed out free bottles of water and said that it would probably be up and running by late April.

Jon Batiste was leading the Howard University “Showtime” Marching Band, the Brooklyn United drumline and his own 369th Experience brass band. Their set commemorated James Reese Europe, a pioneer in bringing African-American music to concert halls — including Carnegie Hall in 1912 — and recordings. During World War I, he served in the segregated 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, and directed its regimental band, which introduced ragtime across Europe. Mr. Batiste’s 369th Experience musicians wore military khakis.

“Feeling Good,” a Nina Simone showpiece, as a bluesy reflection, then shifted it toward the Caribbean lilt of her own songs calling for self-acceptance. Rapsody, a rapper from North Carolina, emphasized women’s power and self-determination. She declaimed her rhymes with decisive, leaping inflections, linking her material to Nina Simone, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Roberta Flack and (joined by Victory singing “Strange Fruit”) Billie Holiday.

“Love Fell on Me” with crowd-pleasing homages to Sarah Vaughan, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. Mr. Phillinganes and the band added their renditions of songs by Ray Charles, James Brown and Thelonious Monk.

On the way out, concertgoers received a poster-size family tree tracing 400 years of interconnected African-American music. For all the major figures that its opening night touched on, Soundtrack of America has plenty of pantheon left. JON PARELES

a spirited piece in Arvo Pärt’s neo-Medieval style. When this collaboration between Pärt and the artist Gerhard Richter was new, in England in 2015, “Drei Hirtenkinder” was heard among Richter’s somber “Double Gray” diptychs and “Birkenau,” a series of abstractions concealing photographs of concentration-camp prisoners.

Richter’s “Patterns,” a 2012 book project that halved and mirrored an earlier abstract painting, over and over, into ever-thinner strips that eventually resolve into long, horizontal bands of color.

A film, by Mr. Richter and Corinna Belz, depicts the “Patterns” process, then its reversal, to the live accompaniment of a new score by Steve Reich, played on Saturday by Ensemble Signal, that also undergoes a symmetrical process-based transformation. (The International Contemporary Ensemble will fill in for some performances in the eight-week, four-times-daily run; the Brooklyn Youth Chorus similarly shares the workload for the Pärt.) A two-note motif builds to complex, rhythmically agile brightness, then gradually recedes back into blur as we watch Richter’s bands seem to rush by at light speed, fervently oscillating, at the finale.

The music has tender energy, and an undercurrent of melancholy. Its droning tones sometimes seem to be pulling apart — like taffy, or like Richter’s stretching spaghetti stripes of color. The film, by contrast, feels merely self-fascinated. But two masters have been brought together, furthering the reputation of each; in the collaboration-consumed, eminence-obsessed ethos of high-end art-making these days, that’s all that matters. ZACHARY WOOLFE

The Shed Is Finally Open. Here’s What You Need to Know.April 4, 2019

New York Chased the Olympics. It Got the Shed Instead.March 28, 2019
How the Shed Can Live Up to Its Hype: Focus on the ArtistsMarch 28, 2019

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