A Short History
Since it opened in 1891, Carnegie Hall has set the international standard for musical excellence as the aspirational destination for the world’s finest artists. From Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Mahler, and Bartók to George Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, and The Beatles, an honor roll of music-making artists representing the finest of every genre has filled Carnegie Hall throughout the years.
The Hall’s unique history is rooted in its stunning acoustics, the beauty of its three concert halls, and its location in New York City, where it has played a central role in elevating the city into one of the world’s great cultural capitals.
Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was inspired to build Carnegie Hall by his new wife, Louise, who sang with the Oratorio Society of New York. While on a honeymoon cruise to Scotland in 1887, Louise and Walter Damrosch—conductor of the Symphony Society of New York and the Oratorio Society, who was also on his way to Europe—asked Carnegie to create a new home for music in New York City. The hall was designed by William Burnet Tuthill, a professional architect and cellist who had never built a concert hall before.
When the Hall’s cornerstone was laid in 1891, Andrew Carnegie proclaimed that “it is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” This was true from the start when it opened on May 5, 1891, with a spectacular concert that featured famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, conducting his own music in his American debut. Since then, its walls have echoed with applause not only for the greatest classical, jazz, and popular musicians, but also for the foremost comedians, authors, social crusaders, world figures, and orators of our time.
It seems inconceivable now that Carnegie Hall, having fallen into disrepair in the late 1950s, was once slated for demotion. The building was saved only when bought in 1960 by the City of New York after a major campaign led by renowned violinist Isaac Stern and key civic leaders. The Hall was soon designated a National Historic Landmark, and, after a series of significant building-wide renovations over the last 30 years, has been rejuvenated and transformed into one of the greatest homes for music in the world.
Today, Carnegie Hall presents a wide range of exceptional musical performances each season on its three great stages—the renowned Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, the intimate Weill Recital Hall, and the innovative Zankel Hall—including concert series curated by acclaimed artists and composers; citywide festivals that feature collaborations with leading New York City cultural institutions; orchestral performances, chamber music, new-music concerts, and recitals; as well as the best in jazz, world, and popular music. In addition to Carnegie Hall’s presentations, the venue is also home to more than 500 independently produced events each year.
Complementing these performance activities, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute creates extensive music education and social impact programs that annually serve more than half a million people in New York City, across the country, and around the globe, playing a central role in the Hall’s commitment to making great music accessible to as many people as possible. In fall 2014, Carnegie Hall completed its $230 million Studio Towers Renovation Project, which included the addition of the 60,000-square-foot Resnick Education Wing to the Hall’s upper floors, creating a space specially designed for music education within the landmark building.