The story of Carnegie Hall begins in the middle of the Atlantic. In the spring of 1887, on board a ship traveling from New York to London, newlyweds Andrew Carnegie (the rich industrialist) and Louise Whitfield (daughter of a well-to-do New York merchant) were on their way to the groom’s native Scotland for their honeymoon. Also on board was the 25-year-old Walter Damrosch, who had just finished his second season as conductor and musical director of the Symphony Society of New York and the Oratorio Society of New York, and was traveling to Europe for a summer of study with Hans von Bülow. Over the course of the voyage, the couple developed a friendship with Damrosch, inviting him to visit them in Scotland. It was there, at an estate called Kilgraston, that Damrosch discussed his vision for a new concert hall in New York City. Carnegie expressed interest in committing a portion of his enormous wealth to the project, and the idea of Carnegie Hall was born.


From this germ of an idea grew a legendary concert hall whose allure has drawn the world’s greatest artists to its stages, setting the standard for excellence in music for more than a century. Gustav Mahler, Leopold Stokowski, Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas, Liza Minnelli, Paul Robeson, Bob Dylan—they all made their mark at Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie proclaimed at the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone in 1890, “It is built to stand for ages, and during these ages it is probable that this Hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” Indeed, some of the most prominent political figures, authors, and intellectuals have appeared at Carnegie Hall, from Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt to Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington. In addition to standing as the pinnacle of musical achievement, Carnegie Hall has been an integral player in the development of American history.

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After he returned to the US from his honeymoon, Carnegie set in motion his plan, which he started formulating during his time with Damrosch in Scotland, for a new concert hall. He established The Music Hall Company of New York, Ltd., acquired parcels of land along Seventh Avenue between 56th and 57th streets, and hired William Burnet Tuthill, an architect with a fondness for music (he played the cello and served on the board of the Oratorio Society), as chief architect. On May 13, 1890, Mrs. Carnegie cemented the cornerstone in place with a silver trowel from Tiffany & Co., a memento she would keep on her mantelpiece for the rest of her life.

The building of this new hall was the culmination of a crusade for a world-class venue in New York City that Damrosch inherited from his father, Leopold, the founder of both the Oratorio Society and the Symphony Society. As New York’s second-place orchestra (the Philharmonic Society was considered first), the Symphony Society had a difficult time booking concerts at any of the very few halls large enough to accommodate it, chief among them the Metropolitan Opera House. That facility was available only after its resident opera company, then the Philharmonic Society, and finally various visiting orchestras and opera companies had scheduled their performances. The Oratorio Society was compelled to give its concerts in the showrooms of one of the piano companies—Chickering, Steinway, and Knabe—that maintained premises on 14th Street.

The location that Carnegie chose for the Music Hall was a short distance from Central Park, so far uptown it was considered suburban at best. But at least Damrosch would have his concert hall—and more. The plans called for a rectangular six-story structure, housing three performance spaces: the Main Hall (renamed Isaac Stern Auditorium / Ronald O. Perelman Stage in 2006), seating 2,800; the Recital Hall located below the Main Hall, seating 1,200 (now the location of the 600-seat Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall); and, adjacent to the Main Hall, the 250-seat Chamber Music Hall (now Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall). Above the Chamber Music Hall were assembly rooms which, according to the program from the Main Hall’s Opening Night, would be “suitable for lectures, readings, and receptions, as well as chapter and lodge rooms for secret organizations.” Designed so that it would not require steel support beams, the edifice was built using the Guastavino process, with concrete and masonry walls several feet thick—a fortunate choice, considering the fine acoustical properties they proved to have. The building, with its striking Italian Renaissance–style façade of terra cotta and iron-spotted brick, was completed in the spring of 1891.

The five-day opening festival attracted the cream of New York society—arrayed in the boxes were Whitneys, Sloans, Rockefellers, and Fricks—who paid from $1 to $2 to hear performances by the Symphony and Oratorio societies under the direction of Damrosch and famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Horse-drawn carriages lined up for a quarter-mile outside on Opening Night, May 5, 1891, choking the streets, while inside, the Main Hall was jammed to capacity. After a lengthy dedication speech from Bishop Henry Codman Potter, Damrosch led the Symphony Society in playing “America” and Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3. Tchaikovsky then came to the podium to conduct his Festival Coronation March before Damrosch concluded the evening with a performance of the Berlioz’s Te Deum.

It was clear right away that Andrew Carnegie had built a concert hall that was as pleasing to the ear as it was to the eye, and that he had furnished it with consummate luxury. Notwithstanding the talent onstage and the glamour in the audience, the reviews of that inaugural night concentrated on the Hall. One newspaper reported, “Tonight, the most beautiful Music Hall in the world was consecrated to the loveliest of the arts. Possession of such a hall is in itself an incentive for culture.” Another exclaimed, “It stood the test well!” Critical and public reactions were unanimous. The “Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie” was an overwhelming success.

Classical Artists

During the 1894–1895 season, the Board of Trustees dropped the Music Hall moniker—for many concertgoers in the late-19th century, the term suggested a vaudeville palace rather than a location for serious musical art—and officially named the venue in honor of its benefactor. Since then, the prestige of making a Carnegie Hall appearance has unfailingly attracted the world’s finest performers to its stage. Tchaikovsky’s appearance on Opening Night set an auspicious precedent for the array of classical musicians in those early years who would make Carnegie Hall the essential venue in the United States. Even two weeks before the Hall officially opened, pianist Leopold Godowsky put in an appearance, and, in November 1891, pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski made his debut to extraordinary acclaim. Celebrated composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1909, playing his Second Piano Concerto as guest soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

A host of other great pianists have made history at Carnegie Hall. Arthur Rubinstein gave his Carnegie Hall farewell concert in 1976 after 70 years of performances. Josef Hofmann’s 1898 debut had people pushing and shoving to get in, while, decades later, people lined up around the block in 1965 for tickets to Vladimir Horowitz’s return to performing after a 12-year break. And surely one of the most dramatic moments in the Hall’s history came in 1958 when the 23-year-old Van Cliburn staged his triumphant homecoming after winning the gold medal in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

This tradition of remarkable pianists making Carnegie Hall a regular home remains very much alive today. Maurizio Pollini, who made his first appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1968, is but one of those welcome regulars. He performed three concerts dedicated to Chopin’s music for the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in 2010, and in 1999 was the first artist Carnegie Hall selected to create a Perspectives series, which allows musicians to program and perform a group of concerts that deeply explore their artistic interests. In 1989, a young Norwegian pianist named Leif Ove Andsnes gave his first recital at Carnegie Hall, becoming a favorite of concertgoers and critics alike. More than 20 years later, following his own Perspectivesresidency during the 2004–2005 season, Andsnes brought the musicians of the Risør Chamber Music Festival, of which he was co-artistic director, to Carnegie Hall in 2010. And pianists such as Mitsuko Uchida, Martha Argerich, Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, along with newcomers Jeremy Denk and Jonathan Biss continue to make Carnegie Hall the place where great pianists burnish their own artistic legacies.

In addition to pianists, the early years of Carnegie Hall saw celebrated violinists such as Fritz Kreisler and Eugène Ysaÿe make their names. One warm October afternoon in 1917, with a revolution going on in his Russian homeland, the brilliant 16-year-old Jascha Heifetz made his debut. In the audience, violinist Mischa Elman turned to pianist Leopold Godowsky, and, dabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief, whispered, “It’s warm in here, isn’t it?” “Not for pianists,” Godowsky shot back. Since then, the roster of violinists who have played in Carnegie Hall has come to include such eminent performers as Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Gil Shaham, Midori, Christian Tetzlaff, and Joshua Bell. The greatest cellists of the 20th century, including Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yo-Yo Ma, have also graced the stage on numerous occasions.

Over the years, countless singers have appeared in recital at Carnegie Hall, including such luminaries as Enrico Caruso, Plácido Domingo, Maria Callas, Paul Robeson, Lily Pons, Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Montserrat Caballé, Luciano Pavarotti, and Beverly Sills. And when a hall in the nation’s capital was closed to her because of her race, the great Marian Anderson was welcomed on the Carnegie Hall stage. Singers remain a staple of the Carnegie Hall season: Thomas Quasthoff, Ian Bostridge, Dawn Upshaw, and Renée Fleming are all former Perspectives artists, and Marilyn Horne returns each January for The Song Continues, a series of concerts and master classes that help train a new generation of singers.

The Orchestras and Their Conductors

In 1892, after a fire gutted the Metropolitan Opera House, the Philharmonic Society joined the Symphony Society in making its home at Carnegie Hall. The move ignited an intense rivalry that continued until 1928, when the two organizations merged under the name of the Philharmonic–Symphony Society of New York, still the name by which the New York Philharmonic is officially known. The Philharmonic Society quickly contributed to its own prestige and to that of the Hall: On December 16, 1893, one of the red-letter dates in American musical history, it gave the premiere of Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony in the Main Hall, with the composer in attendance.

Orchestras began to tour in the early part of the 20th century as a matter of local and national pride, and Carnegie Hall was a necessary stop to buttress a group’s reputation back home. The great American orchestras have been a staple of Carnegie Hall programming since the Hall’s first decade, when both the Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras made their first visits. Over the years, it has become a home away from home for the orchestras of Philadelphia and Cleveland, with other orchestras from Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati making regular visits. With their rich traditions and varied programming, these ensembles from around the country, which have contributed so much to American culture, have drawn inspiration and encouragement from the Carnegie Hall audience.

From the start, Carnegie Hall has been a favorite venue for the world’s finest conductors. Gustav Mahler, Arthur Nikisch, Willem Mengelberg, Sir Thomas Beecham, Pierre Monteux, Fritz Reiner, Charles Munch, Leopold Stokowski, George Szell, and Bruno Walter all passed in glory through its portals. Arturo Toscanini electrified Carnegie Hall audiences for 28 years at the helm of the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony, writing an unforgettable page in the Hall’s history when, with son-in-law Vladimir Horowitz as soloist, he raised over $10 million for the World War II bond effort in a single benefit performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor.

America’s own Leonard Bernstein made his celebrated 1943 debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, and in later years conducted more than 400 concerts in the Hall, both as the Philharmonic’s music director and as guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Bernstein’s mentor, Serge Koussevitzky, brought his Boston Symphony Orchestra to Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions, introducing the New York audience to many new works, including Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and dozens of scores by American composers. Herbert von Karajan took his first Carnegie Hall bow in 1955 with the group he would head for the rest of his life, the Berliner Philharmoniker. Karajan’s infrequent Carnegie Hall appearances over the years were always landmark events.

Sir Georg Solti earned a place in the Carnegie Hall pantheon thanks to his visits with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s and ’80s—visits that helped secure that orchestra’s preeminent reputation among American ensembles. Riccardo Muti, who has made many notable appearances at Carnegie Hall himself since rising to prominence in the US as the music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra in the early 1980s, took over the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2010–2011, and brought the group to Carnegie Hall for three concerts that included a stellar concert performance of Verdi’s Otello, a highlight of the season. In addition to leading many memorable performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine has for years taken the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera out of the pit and onto the Carnegie Hall stage as The MET Orchestra. Valery Gergiev, whose trips to the Hall with the Mariinsky Orchestra always astound; Michael Tilson Thomas, who has shown New York audiences at Carnegie Hall just how special his San Francisco Symphony has become; and Gustavo Dudamel, who has appeared with his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the Vienna Philharmonic, are but three of the exciting conductors working today who have made their names at Carnegie Hall.

Jazz, Folk, and Pop

Early jazz was first heard at Carnegie Hall in 1912 as part of a concert of African American music by James Reese Europe’s Clef Club Orchestra. This performance foreshadowed many stellar evenings featuring a cavalcade of jazz greats that has included Fats Waller, W. C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Tormé, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. A 1938 concert by Benny Goodman and his band, one of the most celebrated events in Carnegie Hall history, marked a turning point in the public acceptance of swing. Duke Ellington made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1943 with the premiere of his tone poem Black, Brown, and Beige, and when Norman Granz toured his legendary Jazz at the Philharmonic programs, Carnegie Hall was the New York base. Carnegie Hall presented its own jazz band throughout the 1990s and was the home to jazz impresario George Wein’s JVC Jazz Festival (in 2010, Wein brought his CareFusion festival to Carnegie Hall). In 2010–2011, the holder of the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair (a position that Carnegie Hall began in 1995 to highlight the achievements of a single composer) was Brad Mehldau—the first jazz artist to receive the honor. 

A number of folksingers have performed at Carnegie Hall: John Jacob Niles, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. Popular entertainers who have performed at Carnegie Hall include Josephine Baker, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, and Tony Bennett. In 1964, The Beatles made their New York concert debut—their third live appearance in the US—onstage at Carnegie Hall. They were followed by The Rolling Stones that same year, and thereafter The Doors, Elton John, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder, to name but a few. In recent years, musicians such as the Cowboy Junkies, Cheyenne Jackson, JAY Z, and The Roots have come to Carnegie Hall. In 2010‒2011, James Taylor was in residence as a Perspectives artist, bringing along guests such as Sting and Alison Krauss.  

Throughout its history, Carnegie Hall has been the site of numerous television and radio productions—among the most famous being Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, the televised NBC Symphony concerts led by Arturo Toscanini, “Horowitz on Television,” “Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews at Carnegie Hall,” weekly radio broadcasts by the New York Philharmonic from the 1920s through 1962, and AT&T Presents Carnegie Hall Tonight in the 1980s. And live Carnegie Hall recordings by an endless list of great artists and entertainers—Sviatoslav Richter, Edith Piaf, Glenn Miller, Ike and Tina Turner, Groucho Marx—often qualified as among those artists’ definitive statements. The name of Carnegie Hall was thereby carried to audiences around the world who came to associate the Hall’s name with the finest in performance.

The Public Forum

From its inception, Carnegie Hall has been an important showcase for American cultural development. It has succeeded in this role, in part, because it has drawn from every genre of performance, demonstrating a variety that is distinctive, if not unexpected. The Hall’s openness to many styles of music, and to much else besides, is a unique quality and one of its strongest assets.

In the days before radio and television, Carnegie Hall gave a prominent public forum to anyone with a cause. Jack London spoke on communism in 1906; Emmeline Pankhurst lobbied for women’s suffrage and Margaret Sanger for birth control. A young Winston Churchill spoke on the Boer War, and Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington shared the stage at a Lincoln Memorial Meeting. Clarence Darrow debated prohibitionist Wayne B. Wheeler on the merits of banning alcohol—and found there were none. In recent years, Carnegie Hall audiences have heard journalist Walt Mossberg discuss the future of consumer electronics with Sony CEO Howard Stringer, witnessed Harry Potter author JK Rowling out Dumbledore, and laughed along to comedians such as Katt Williams and Louis CK.

Uncertainty and a New Beginning: 1955–1960

In 1925, six years after Andrew Carnegie’s death, New York City realtor Robert E. Simon bought Carnegie Hall. At the time of the purchase, Simon promised Mrs. Carnegie that he would not demolish the building for a period of five years or use it for purposes other than those for which it had been originally intended. Following Simon’s death in 1935, his son, Robert E. Simon Jr., took over management of the Hall, and for a while actually made a profit on its operation. By the mid-1950s, however, the musical landscape in New York had evolved in such a way that it was impossible to continue to operate Carnegie Hall in the same fashion. The practically minded Simon offered the New York Philharmonic an option to buy Carnegie Hall for $4 million, since the orchestra, which rented it more than 100 nights a year, was the major tenant. But plans were already being made for the Philharmonic to move to a new home at Lincoln Center, and the orchestra declined the offer.

While Simon wanted to be a benefactor to the Hall and keep it running, he was forced to put it up for sale in 1956, always under the condition that if a way could be found to save it, the contract would be null and void. That year, a deal was struck for the sale of the Hall to a group of developers who planned to demolish it and erect a 44-story office tower on the site. The deal fell through, but not before the September 9, 1957, issue of Life magazine had shown an artist’s rendering of the garish, fire-engine–red monstrosity the developers were contemplating. By decade’s end, with the Philharmonic’s departure imminent, Simon had run out of options and could no longer afford to keep Carnegie Hall in operation. The date of March 31, 1960, was set for its demolition.

As early as 1955, various committees had been formed to save the Hall, but none of these groups had the political clout to make much of a difference. It was only at the 11th hour that the Citizens Committee for Carnegie Hall, headed by Isaac Stern with administrative and financial assistance from the likes of Jacob M. Kaplan and State Senator MacNeil Mitchell, was able to stop the impending demolition.

On June 30, 1960, as a result of special state legislation, New York City purchased Carnegie Hall for $5 million, and a new nonprofit organization called The Carnegie Hall Corporation was chartered, with Stern being elected its president. Not only had Carnegie Hall been saved, it had been reborn as a public trust. Its corporation would manage and rent the concert hall, as had previous owners, but it would soon present its own events, as well. Carnegie Hall had entered a new phase in its history, free to serve its owners—the people of New York City—in new and unique ways. The Hall that founder Andrew Carnegie had hailed as an idea “which will affect the world” was poised to take an active role in shaping the destiny that Carnegie had predicted.

Carnegie Hall has had two distinct kinds of boards in its history. The first was Andrew Carnegie’s hand-picked advisory board—a group Edith Wharton would surely have recognized. But the activities of this Gilded Age group were largely ceremonial. The real philanthropy began at the moment of the Hall’s reorganization in 1960, when The Carnegie Hall Corporation was formed and a Board of Directors pledged to ensure the Hall’s financial and physical health, taking control of its destiny. This was the moment of Carnegie Hall’s birth as a nonprofit organization, and the beginning of its history as a public-private partnership.

Becoming an Institution

During the 1960s and ’70s, The Carnegie Hall Corporation became increasingly active as a concert-presenting organization, hosting a number of international ensembles and soloists in the Main and Recital halls under its own artistic aegis. While the Hall presented comparatively little of its own programming in the years immediately following its incorporation, it did manage to bring a number of important visiting ensembles to New York City, beginning as early as the 1963–1964 season with its International Festival of Orchestras. By the 1964–1965 season, the Hall was showcasing 15 orchestras in four different subscription series. Under Julius Bloom, the Hall’s executive director from 1960 to 1977, new music also received a great deal of attention, along with new artists such as Alfred Brendel, who was little-known to the concertgoing public when first presented by the Hall in 1973.

While the core of Carnegie Hall’s presentations remained classical during Bloom’s tenure, the programming did branch out into jazz, dance, and non-Western music. As the Hall searched for a way to make itself part of the community and at the same time financially viable, no genre was left untouched. This diversity continues to be one of the Hall’s great strengths. Stewart Warkow, whose association with Carnegie Hall began in 1968 when he became house manager, took over as executive director in 1980. He guided the Hall through its 90th anniversary season, which concluded with a gala re-creation of the opening concert of May 5, 1891. Between 1982 and 1986, Seymour Rosen served as artistic director, with Edward H. Michaelsen and Norton Belknap in succession as the Hall’s managing directors. During this period, Carnegie Hall hosted an acclaimed series of concert-opera presentations, and saw some remarkably innovative programming in the areas of jazz, folk, and contemporary music in the Recital Hall.

The evolution of the Hall through the 1970s saw growth in many directions, not least in its fundraising capacity, which during this time developed from enthusiastic amateur efforts into professional broad-based outreach. Much of this was spurred by James D. Wolfensohn, who joined the Board in 1973, served as treasurer under the chairmanship of Richard Debs, and succeeded him as chairman from 1980 to 1991. Among his accomplishments was success in attracting an ongoing stream of talent to the Board, which included Sanford I. Weill, who co-chaired the 1985 Capital Campaign and the 1990–1991 Centennial Season, and became chairman in 1991.

By 1980, thanks to Wolfensohn’s leadership in the corporate community, 350 companies were giving money to Carnegie Hall; that same year, the Development department, which had been created as recently as 1975, was able to report $800,000 to support a budget of $5 million. Hall president Isaac Stern and Wolfensohn felt that Carnegie Hall could and should make a claim as a national center of culture, and they pushed for recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts. That recognition came in 1979, in the form of an NEA challenge grant for $750,000 targeted toward presentations and commissions, requiring a three-to-one match.

In 1976, with an eye toward endowment, Stern—along with his wife Vera, Richard Debs, and Schuyler Chapin—had already organized one of Carnegie Hall’s first major galas, The Concert of the Century, to mark the Hall’s 85th anniversary. The concert featured a stellar group of classical artists, including Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Leonard Bernstein, and Vladimir Horowitz. The concert brought the fledgling endowment fund up to $1.2 million, which, it was hoped, would eventually serve as seed money for a major endowment like those of older institutions, such as the Metropolitan Opera. Having built up the Hall’s annual funding from individual and corporate sources, the Board’s Executive Committee began to position the institution for an endowment drive that would guarantee both its leadership position in American musical life and its future financial stability. But concerns were already mounting about the physical condition of the Hall, and when the 1981 architectural evaluation showed just how serious was the need for renovation and capital funding, Carnegie Hall’s fundraising policy was immediately redirected. Endowment was put on the back burner, where it would remain until 1991, when separate and general endowment drives were set in motion with the intention of raising $75 million before the end of the century.

The Hall is Restored: 1986

The exterior of the Hall had undergone many changes since the 1891 opening. In 1894 and 1897, Andrew Carnegie added two Studio Towers, adjoining and above the performance venues. In 1908, the first of several marquees was added to the front entrance to shelter arriving concertgoers; a few years later, city building codes dictated the addition of a fire escape across the entire Seventh Avenue façade. Further exterior changes to Carnegie Hall came during the 1920s, when the massive front stairs were removed and Hall’s management decided to carve six storefronts out of the ground-floor masonry around the building, compromising some of the gracefulness of the original design. Until these fronts were removed in 1986, they housed four restaurants, a barber shop, a drugstore, a violin maker, a dry cleaner, a nightclub (located below the lobby), and a thrift bookshop.

While the exterior of Carnegie Hall underwent various changes as the decades passed, the structure itself continued to age. For many years, only patchwork repair and renovation was possible. In 1978, the Board of Trustees commissioned an architectural evaluation of the building. This evaluation, announced in 1981, resulted in a nine-phase Master Plan devised and implemented by the architectural firm of James Stewart Polshek and Partners for the most extensive restoration, renovation, and expansion of the Hall’s facilities in its history.

In 1985, Carnegie Hall celebrated the 25th anniversary of its “saving” by announcing a $50 million capital campaign committed to the restoration and renovation of the building. Presiding over this initiative was a 50-member steering committee co-chaired by James D. Wolfensohn and Sanford I. Weill.

On May 18, 1986, Carnegie Hall closed its doors for the keystone phase of the Master Plan. During this seven-month shutdown period, the lobby was rebuilt at street level (and later named in honor of trustee Lester S. Morse Jr. and his wife Enid), with the Box Office expanded and repositioned in a convenient location opposite the entrance, and elevator service was installed for the first time in the history of the Hall. The Main Hall interior received new seats, carpeting, floor, and stage floor; the ceiling shell above the stage was restored. In addition, ornamental and damaged plaster was repaired, and the entire interior was freshly painted. The entire backstage area was renovated and reconfigured, including the creation of a stage wing that had been sorely lacking in Carnegie Hall’s original design. A complete renovation and restoration of the smaller Recital Hall was also undertaken, involving a new floor, seats, carpet, and chandeliers; removal of such recent additions as a false proscenium arch, curtain, and wood paneling; and the building of a new stage. In January 1987, this space was reopened as Weill Recital Hall in honor of Joan and Sanford I. Weill.

Still to come in the next five years would be the acquisition of expansion space in the Carnegie Hall Tower to be built next door, which would provide additional backstage and public areas. But meanwhile, the eagerly awaited Gala Reopening concert of the restored and renovated Carnegie Hall took place on December 15, 1986. With a roster of guest artists that included Isaac Stern, Vladimir Horowitz, Yo-Yo Ma, Marilyn Horne, and Frank Sinatra, and with Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta leading the New York Philharmonic, the concert gave musicians and audiences alike cause for celebration. The Hall had been returned to service in pristine condition.

The Centennial: 1991

The arrival of Judith Arron as general manager and artistic director in early 1986 coincided with the renovation of the Main Hall and a succession of major milestones in Carnegie Hall’s recent history. (In 1988, Arron was named executive director, upon the retirement of then–managing director Norton Belknap.) Mrs. Arron passed away on December 18, 1998, but in the near-13 years of her leadership, the Hall witnessed extraordinary strides in programming and a renewed commitment to excellence in every aspect of its operation. Philanthropic funds and the Carnegie Hall family of committed supporters have grown directly in response to this excellence. That a new plateau had been reached was evident to all by the end of the 1990–1991 season, when Carnegie Hall marked its centennial with a season-long international celebration, encompassing more than 150 events and featuring an unprecedented roster of the world’s great artists in the Main Hall and Weill Recital Hall.

Special centennial activities included the inauguration of a permanent Commissioning Project endowed with a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with the premieres of 13 new works by major composers commissioned by Carnegie Hall and performed by major artists throughout the season; an inaugural series of Artist Training Workshops, including a choral workshop under the direction of Robert Shaw, a contemporary-music conductor’s workshop led by Pierre Boulez, and a workshop on the presentation of educational concerts; a festival of folk music of the Americas in Weill Recital Hall; special commemorative exhibits in museums and galleries in New York City and in major national and international concert halls; and the opening of the Rose Museum, named after philanthropists Susan and Elihu Rose, at Carnegie Hall. These events led up to a 10-day festival of concerts, culminating in a Centennial Day Gala on May 5, 1991.

The centennial season also saw the completion, after 10 years, of the Master Plan for renovation and restoration of Carnegie Hall. After painstaking renewal of the century-old building itself, the plan’s final phase resulted in the first actual additions to the building since 1896. Demolition crews broke through the exterior brick wall of Carnegie Hall in February of 1990 in order to connect the hundred-year-old Hall with its new next-door neighbor, Carnegie Hall Tower (a 60-story office building), and open up approximately 25,000 square feet of new space. The Hall’s heretofore cramped backstage and artists’ facilities expanded into the space, which allowed for an enlarged stage wing, more dressing rooms, a freight elevator, and a new backstage area for Weill Recital Hall. The public spaces of Weill Recital Hall were augmented with an enlarged lobby, a new elevator, and a new patron lounge with bar. The capstone was the creation of a new wing of public spaces for the Main Hall, christened the James D. Wolfensohn Wing, and incorporating the Rose Museum for display of exhibitions relating to Carnegie Hall’s history, the Carnegie Hall Shop, and the Rohatyn Room and Shorin Club Room reception areas.

Recent Milestones

To commemorate its first hundred years, Carnegie Hall commissioned works from 13 composers, including nine Americans. This Centennial Commissioning Project galvanized Carnegie Hall to start a permanent commissioning program that has sponsored world premieres of works by Elliott Carter, David Del Tredici, Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Gordon, Meredith Monk, André Previn, Kaija Saariaho, and Charles Wuorinen. Hundreds of jazz-band arrangements and new music by jazz artists Bill Frisell and Brad Mehldau are the result of the Carnegie Hall Commissioning Program, as are two Pulitzer Prize–winning pieces: David Lang’s little match girl passion, which received its world premiere in 2007 at Carnegie Hall, and Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, first performed at Carnegie Hall—and in New York—in April 2008.

A particularly heartwarming New York premiere of a Carnegie Hall commission occurred on December 11, 2008, when James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, joined by Daniel Barenboim at the piano, celebrated Elliott Carter’s 100th birthday with a performance of his Interventions, co-commissioned with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Staatskapelle Berlin. At the time, Carter held the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair. In addition to Mr. Carter, some of the best-known and influential composers around the world have held the position, including Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, John Adams, Pierre Boulez, Louis Andriessen, Brad Mehldau, Kaija Saariaho, and Osvaldo Golijov. Carnegie Hall honors David Lang in the 2013–2014 season.


While the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair gives audience members a season-long chance to get to know a composer’s music, Carnegie Hall’s Perspectives series similarly provide an opportunity to plumb the musical depths of a particular performer’s artistic outlook. Since it first began selecting Perspectives artists in 1999, Carnegie Hall has welcomed musicians from diverse musical backgrounds: Pollini and Upshaw have been featured, but so have singer Bobby McFerrin and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. During the 2008–2009 season, Daniel Barenboim—the only artist to have had two Perspectives series—joined forces with Pierre Boulez, himself a 1999–2000 Perspectives artist, and the Staatskapelle Berlin for a complete cycle of Mahler’s symphonies. Two seasons earlier, David Byrne presented Bulgarian folk music, an homage to Nino Rota, and his own Here Lies Love song cycle.


Violinist Christian Tetzlaff showed off his versatility and his showmanship as a soloist, chamber musician, and teacher throughout 2010‒2011, the same season that James Taylor revealed his breadth as a musician and his evolution as an artist with four concerts. Perspectives artists in 2011‒2012 were L’Arpeggiata, the first early-music group to participate in this artistic initiative, and pianist András Schiff. Superstar soprano Renée Fleming was the 2012–2013 Perspectives artist, showcasing a full and dramatic range of her artistic versatility with four contrasting events, including a reprisal of her role as Blanche Dubois in a semi-staged performance of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.


Carnegie Hall has been a place where young people can learn about music, dating back to the days when Leonard Bernstein led his celebrated education concerts with the New York Philharmonic. Over the last two decades, Carnegie Hall has deepened its commitment to education. Since 1990, young performers from around the country have benefited fromin-depth workshops and master classes with world-class artists through Artist Training Programs, and the Hall began its own Family Concerts series during the 1995–1996 season. Education became an essential part of Carnegie Hall in 2003 when the Board of Trustees voted to establish the Weill Music Institute in honor of Chairman Sanford I. Weill, a driving force behind the creation of an endowment fund for music education.


 Today, the Weill Music Institute (WMI) offers a wide range of engaging music education and community programs serving more than 400,000 people from all walks of life each year—in New York City, across the US, and around the world. In addition to bringing innovative programs to public schools in all five boroughs of New York City, WMI also makes music education resources available for free to more than 50 orchestras, schools, and other organizations across the country and worldwide through its Link Up program. WMI has long utilized technology to connect students in the US with their peers around the world. Musical Exchange, WMI’s global online community for young musicians, offers opportunities for teens worldwide to interact with professional musicians, share their own music, and take part in collaborative projects, building connections internationally through music.


In the community, WMI brings people together through music, offering free concerts and events in venues throughout New York City, and making free musical experiences accessible to people in healthcare settings, correctional facilities, senior-service organizations, and homeless centers.


 In 2012, WMI announced an exciting new initiative: the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, an opportunity for the nation’s finest young musicians, ages 16–19, to come together with leading orchestral musician coaches and a world-class conductor for a two-week residency followed by international tour. The first NYO-USA made triumphant debuts in Purchase, New York; Washington, DC; Moscow; St. Petersburg; and London in summer 2013, in sold-out concerts led by Valery Gergiev and featuring soloist Joshua Bell.      


As Carnegie Hall’s educational and artistic programs have evolved over the last 20 years, adapting to the needs of music lovers in New York City and around the world, the building itself underwent a significant change in 2003 with the opening of the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall. Named after the philanthropists who provided millions to the project, Zankel Hall is a mid-size performance space that Carnegie Hall has dedicated to exploring adventurous new programs, expanding its offerings further into world, jazz, pop, and rock music.


With the arrival of Clive Gillinson as executive and artistic director in 2005, Carnegie Hall has continued to build on its impressive legacy as it expands its reach further into the community with a number of important initiatives, including Ensemble ACJW—The Academy, a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education; as well as its multi-disciplinary festivals. Initiated by Gillinson and Joseph Polisi, president of The Juilliard School, and launched in January 2007, Ensemble ACJW is a two-year fellowship program for the finest young professional musicians, fostering their growth both as educators and as performers. As part of their training, fellows are paired with a New York City public school, where they spend at least one day with students each week for 24 weeks. Ensemble ACJW also performs at Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and other venues throughout New York, earning accolades for being, as Steve Smith wrote in The New York Times, “consistently one of the best games in town.”


In November 2007, Carnegie Hall hosted its first major international festival, Berlin in Lights, with 50 events at Carnegie Hall and partner venues around New York City, exploring a fascinating city that has reinvented itself as a cultural capital since the reunification of Germany. Since then, Carnegie Hall has continued to join with other organizations to present festivals that cut across a number of artistic disciplines, bringing a wide range of perspectives on a single topic to people throughout the area. The New York Philharmonic joined Carnegie Hall during the first part of 2008–2009 to present Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds, a celebration of a true legend in classical music and American culture on both the 90th anniversary of his birth and the 50th anniversary of his appointment as music director of the Philharmonic. Later that season, soprano Jessye Norman curated Honor!, a tribute to African American trailblazers and courageous artists of the past, including panel discussions, a memorable celebration of gospel music at the Apollo Theater, and a closing concert that celebrated the contributions of notable African American classical singers.


Carnegie Hall explored China’s vibrant culture in 2009 with Ancient Paths, Modern Voices, a festival that showcased orchestral and traditional Chinese music and dance, as well as exhibitions of Chinese artwork. A partnership with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the Segerstrom Center for the Artsin Costa Mesa, California, took programming from this festival to the West Coast. The partnership continued in 2010–2011 when the Segerstrom Center presented JapanOC in tandem with the JapanNYC festival at Carnegie Hall. The two-part JapanNYC marked the emotional return in December of Seiji Ozawa, who also served as the festival’s artistic director, when he conducted the Saito Kinen Orchestra. The second part of the festival, in March 2011, was dedicated to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan the same month.


On May 5, 2011, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic marked the 120th birthday of Carnegie Hall with a star-studded event, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Gil Shaham, and Audra McDonald. The concert kicked off the season-long celebration in 2011‒2012 that explored the vibrant world of music and the arts that flourished in the early years of the Hall. Leading partner museums examined the early days of New York City during this dynamic and turbulent time in American history. Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra opened the season by commemorating Tchaikovsky’s appearance at Carnegie Hall’s first Opening Night with the composer’s symphonies one through six and music by Tchaikovsky’s successors.


During the 2012–2013 season, Carnegie Hall unveiled Voices from Latin America, a monthlong, citywide arts festival that celebrated Latin American music, arts, and culture, with a particular focus on music of Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, and Mexico. The festival was developed under the guidance of four internationally acclaimed musicians serving as artistic advisors—composer Osvaldo Golijov, conductor Gustavo Dudamel, jazz pianist and composer Chucho Valdés, and singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil.  


Carnegie Hall salutes Vienna’s extraordinary cultural legacy of artists, dreamers, and innovators with Vienna: City of Dreams during the 2013–2014 season, a citywide festival that features symphonic and operatic masterpieces, chamber music, and lieder, as well as a sampling of new sounds that are emerging from this historic cultural capital.  


Beginning in 2010, an extensive renovation of Carnegie Hall’s upper floors was launched to fully modernize backstage areas and create inspirational new spaces to house the Hall’s extensive and growing music-education programs. A new Education Wing will include ensemble rooms, practice rooms, and music studios, as well as a state-of-the-art home for Carnegie Hall’s Archives. Adjacent to the Education Wing will be a new outdoor Roof Terrace, a gathering place for visitors to the building. These new spaces will ultimately provide a wonderful setting in which to inspire a lifelong love of music in young musicians, students, and educators, enabling Carnegie Hall to increase the number of people that it serves.


The Studio Towers Renovation Project, largely made possible by a generous leadership gift from Joan and Sanford I. Weill and The Weill Family Foundation, as well as major funding from New York City and New York State, is scheduled to be completed in 2014.