On a rainy Sunday evening in late April 1965, there was an unusual sight on West 57th Street. A group of people—their ages running the gamut from high schooler to senior citizen—were camped out in front of the steps of Carnegie Hall, just east of Seventh Avenue. Among them was a good-natured, overweight 15-year-old boy with horn-rimmed glasses who was constantly checking to make sure that he was in the right place in the line, created by the enterprising leader of the group. As Sunday turned into Monday morning, the doors of the building opened, and the line (by then stretching all the way around the long block) jammed its way inside. Two weeks later, many of these people were privileged to witness one of the most famous musical events of the past century—the return of Vladimir Horowitz to the stage after 12 years of absence.

Nineteen sixty-five was a banner year in my long and continuing love affair with Carnegie Hall. I was that chubby boy of 15, and it is a bittersweet realization for me now that I am almost exactly the same age as Horowitz was when he played his unforgettable concert. But that performance was only one of the incredible events I have witnessed in Carnegie Hall that season. As it is for most of my colleagues and friends, Carnegie Hall has always been the place where the dream of great music making becomes reality. I remember from that season alone, concerts by Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Arthur Rubinstein, and Rudolf Serkin. All of these artists created a unique and unforgettable atmosphere—to me, their playing and the sound and look of Carnegie Hall were inseparable.

The first time that I played on the stage of Carnegie Hall was at the age of 12 or so—not a concert by any means. An orchestra called the Symphony of the Air, conducted by the great Leopold Stokowski, held its rehearsals there, and I was able to sneak in a few times to hear them practice. A wonderful man named Stewart Warkow, at the time the manager of the orchestra, saw me once, and when everyone had left, asked if I would like to play the piano onstage for a moment. The piano was in a corner, and I remember nothing about the way it felt or what I tried to play—it was quite enough to look up and see that amazing, vast expanse of seats.

Since then, I have had the privilege of playing on that illustrious stage many times, and each performance has been memorable and exciting, if also nerve-racking. But none are more meaningful and dear to me than the chances I had to play with Isaac Stern, the eminent artist who ensured that the concert hall would remain one of the world’s centers for music. It seems almost beyond belief, but we came within a hairsbreadth of losing Carnegie Hall, and it was Stern who—with his incredible energy and unique ability to rally everyone to a noble cause through strength of personality combined with devastating charm—was the moving force behind the citywide drive to save it. These contributions are known to everyone, of course—and when I worked with him on the music that he loved, it was thrilling to see the same abilities that made him such a great personage also reflected in his artistry. His musicianship and personal magnetism were always at the service of the composer.

What makes Carnegie Hall so special? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people who love music. For me, it is simply the place where I heard the music that molded me and where I had so many life-changing evenings. But it seems to have a deep meaning not only to us New Yorkers—or Americans. Recently, I played at Carnegie Hall with two great European orchestras—one from Berlin and the other from Munich—and it was remarkable to see how much they looked forward to playing and how important it was to them to play their very best. I have talked with many of my colleagues all over the world, and they almost all talk about their experiences playing at Carnegie Hall as highlights of their musical lives. I hope that all of us continue to have this great place as a part of our ever-richer lives, and that future generations will have as much pleasure, and as many great moments and memories, as I have been fortunate to have.

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.