The longest walk in the world, it has been said, is the one from the wings of Carnegie Hall to the center of its stage. Likewise, the most charged and musical silence imaginable can be found in the auditorium, surrounding the listener after the show is over and most of the lights are out.

If you believe in ghosts, this would be the place to find them. Tchaikovsky was here on opening night. Arthur Rubinstein played here for 70 years. The Beatles managed to squeeze in their first American concerts here between their historic television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Thousands upon thousands of other artists have played their best and maybe just a little bit more than that on the old stage, in the hope of adding their own gifts to Carnegie Hall’s immemorial treasure. And the concert hall gives back as much as it takes: No matter what else happens in the course of a lifetime, having appeared at Carnegie Hall will be among the last things a musician forgets.

Carnegie Hall Treasures is not a traditional history. No attempt has been made to be all-inclusive, and many significant artists who have appeared at Carnegie Hall cannot be commemorated here. Instead, consider this volume a keepsake of a beautiful and noble place in the midst of America’s largest city—a place to which generations have come for celebration and solace, in times of joy and trouble, with new loves and fondly remembered elders.

Indeed, Carnegie Hall seems so wonderfully permanent, something so steady and reliable within a city of infinite flux, that many will be surprised to learn how close the world came to losing it. But that is part of the story, too: The battle to save Carnegie Hall was an important (and all too rare) early victory for civic preservationists at a time when the words urban renewal usually meant the wrecking ball and the bulldozer, employed aggressively. We owe a great debt to the Citizens Committee for Carnegie Hall, founded by Isaac Stern and the arts administrator Leonard Altman, for its steadfast, wildly idealistic and, in the end, brilliantly successful refusal to face what seemed inevitable.

Carnegie Hall Treasures tells its tale mostly in images—an attempt to capture, as far as possible, the protean internal life of the place itself with a minimum of editorial intrusion. In the pages to come, there are the photographs and illustrations of great conductors waving batons, singers in the midst of a performance, and pianists in reverie, but there are also ticket stubs, construction plans, snippets from old newspapers, orchestral players biding their time in backstage chess games, magicians, hypnotists, and explorers.

And so, whether you are performer, habitué, recent visitor, or faraway dreamer, welcome to Carnegie Hall. Dig in.

Excerpted from Carnegie Hall Treasures, published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, available from the Carnegie Hall Shop and wherever books are sold.