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The A to Z of Carnegie Hall: F is for Festivals

Next up in our A to Z of Carnegie Hall series id the letter F for festivals. As we gear up for Voices from Latin America this November and December, we take a look at some of the festivals of music and culture that have happened over the decades at Carnegie Hall.

Start As You Mean To Go On

Although Carnegie Hall has become well known in recent years for presenting festivals of music and culture from different parts of the world, the Hall actually opened with a five-day festival of music on May 5, 1891—with a concert that starred Tchaikovsky—that concluded on May 9.

Carnegie Hall Opening Festival Poster
Carnegie Hall Opening Festival poster. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.


Carnegie Hall's Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesconi provides a fascinating and entertaining insight into the Hall's first Opening Night, using some of the earliest and rarest artifacts from the Archives.

Mad for Mahler

The great composer—who, himself, performed more than 70 times at Carnegie Hall as conductor and pianist between 1908 and 1911—has been feted more than once at the Hall. Leonard Bernstein—with the New York Philharmonic—famously celebrated Mahler's music during the centenary of his birth in 1960 with a Carnegie Hall festival during which Bernstein, Bruno Walter, and Dimitri Mitropoulos conducted his music.

Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic celebrated Mahler again with Mahler Month in September and October 1976. Pierre Boulez, James Levine, and Eric Leinsdorf were the conductors for the complete Mahler symphony cycle that season.

1976 Mahler Festival Poster
Poster for Mahler Month in 1976. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.


The first festival of the "modern era" was 2007's Berlin in Lights, which included such artists as Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker, Max Raabe, and Gustavo Dudamel with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. A host of partner institutions also provided a snapshot of contemporary Berlin, the city that has reemerged as one of the world’s centers of artistic expression and forward thinking. One of the highlights of Berlin in Lights was The Rite of Spring Project, culminating with 120 New York City school students taking to the stage with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker for an exciting performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. 

A video series documenting the The Rite of Spring Project, part of Berlin in Lights.

Click "Playlist" on the player to see full video list.


In 1943, Leonard Bernstein made his historic debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, thus beginning an association with both New York institutions that lasted until his death in 1990. In 2008—65 years later—the two institutions co-presented Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds to commemorate the 90th anniversary of his birth and the 50th anniversary of his appointment as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

Here, Michael Tilson Thomas—who opened the festival with his San Francisco Symphony—talks about his first meeting with Leonard Bernstein and the influence Bernstein had on the people whom he taught and trained.


In 2009, we presented Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy, curated by Jessye Norman. Miss Norman wrote of the festival, "From the drumbeats of Mother Africa to the work songs and Spirituals created in a new land, a path is traced to the blues, gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and hip-hop expressions of African Americans that are celebrated throughout the world. The classical music performers have become icons of concert halls and opera stages everywhere. In charting the story of this great cultural tradition, I invite you on a personal journey that honors the trailblazers and the courageous artists of the past through concerts, recitals, lectures, panel discussions, and exhibitions hosted by Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, and other sites around the city. This vast cultural fabric of the African American experience consists not only of the music, but also the words, the images, and the dances of a people, all providing rich fulfillment of the Langston Hughes credo: 'Hold fast to dreams.'"

Jessye Norman introduces 2009's Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices

Later in 2009, Ancient Paths, Modern Voices: A Festival Celebrating Chinese Culture paid tribute to a vibrant culture and its influence around the globe with 21 days of events and exhibitions at Carnegie Hall and partner institutions throughout New York City. It featured leading Chinese musicians, including artists and ensembles traveling outside of China for the first time, performing myriad genres of music. This festival also included traditional marionette theater, dance, exhibitions, and much more—a true immersion into a world that mixes ancient and modern, familiar and new.

Chinese coomposers Tan Dun and Chen Qigang discuss the importance of the Central Conservatory of Music's "Class of 1978," the first post–Cultural Revolution graduates.


With JapanNYC in 2010–2011—with the great Seiji Ozawa as artistic director—we delved into the dynamic artistic world of a country with a beguiling, ever-changing cultural tradition. We heard the best Japanese musicians and explored Noh theater, manga, film, butoh dance, and pop art at Carnegie Hall and at partner institutions throughout the city.

View a range of videos related to the JapanNYC festival.

Click "Playlist" on the player to see full video list.

A to Z of Carnegie Hall
The History of the Hall
Voices from Latin America
Ancient Paths, Modern Voices: A Festival Celebrating Chinese Culture
Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy, Curated by Jessye Norman
Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds
Berlin in Lights  

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