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Five Facts About Opening Night

How much do you know about Carnegie Hall’s original Opening Night in 1891? Here are five important facts about the historic occasion.

In what year did Carnegie Hall open?

Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night was May 5, 1891, kicking off a five-day Opening Week Festival. Horse-drawn carriages lined up for a quarter-mile outside, while inside the Main Hall was jammed to capacity.

How much were tickets to Opening Night?

Tickets were only $1! While there was a box auction for the five-day Opening Week Festival, which attracted much of New York society—including the Whitneys, Sloans, Rockefellers, and Fricks—single concert tickets were just $1 or $2.

Who performed on Opening Night?

Walter Damrosch led the New York Symphony Orchestra and the Oratorio Society on Opening Night. Famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky also performed, conducting his own “Marche solennelle.” For his appearances during the five-day Opening Week Festival, Tchaikovsky earned approximately $5,000 (~$140k in 2020)—nearly a full year’s salary for a conductor at that time!

What works were on the program for Opening Night 1891?

The program opened with the hymn “Old Hundreth,” followed by a lengthy dedication speech from Bishop Henry Codman Potter. After the speech, Damrosch led the Symphony Society in playing “America” and Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3. Tchaikovsky then conducted his “Marche solennelle” before Damrosch concluded the evening with the New York premiere of Berlioz’s Te Deum.

What did the critics think of Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night?

Despite the talent onstage and the glamour in the audience, the reviews of Carnegie Hall’s 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.” The critical and public reactions were unanimous in deeming the Music Hall an overwhelming success.

Images courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Rose Archives.

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