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Igor Stravinsky at Carnegie Hall

By Rob Hudson

Igor Stravinsky’s long association with Carnegie Hall—which included some 40 appearances over a period of 42 years—began with his first visit to the United States in 1925. The three-month tour—the most lucrative of Stravinsky’s life—took the 42-year-old Russian composer from New York to Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, and Cincinnati. “What energy there is in your immense country,” an awed Stravinsky remarked upon his return to Paris. “Your skyscrapers impressed me as leading to new visions in art.”

If a contemporary New Yorker had accompanied Stravinsky when he stepped off the ocean liner SS Paris on January 4, 1925, they probably would have been awed instead by the lack of skyscrapers and other familiar landmarks. At the time, there were no Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, or Radio City Music Hall. In fact, as the Paris steamed into upper New York Harbor, Stravinsky would have noticed not the World Trade Center that greets contemporary ship travelers, but rather the 60-story Woolworth Building, which remained the world’s tallest until 1929.

Stravinsky began his first full day in America by rehearsing his music with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. On January 6, 1925, The New York Times noted that he finished his day by going “to hear on its native heath the dance music that the Old World has called American jazz.” Stravinsky made his official US debut at Carnegie Hall on January 8, 9, and 10, conducting the New York Philharmonic in programs of his own works, including the Firebird and Pulcinella suites, Feu d’artifice (Fireworks), and, on the final concert, Pétrouchka. Following several other tour stops, Stravinsky returned to Carnegie Hall on February 5 and 6 to perform the New York premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments with the New York Philharmonic under Willem Mengelberg.

Like fellow composer Béla Bartók, Stravinsky lived in New York City only near the end of his life. He and his wife, Vera, moved to the Essex House on Central Park South in 1969, then relocated to an apartment at 920 Fifth Avenue just days before Stravinsky’s death on April 6, 1971.

Watch a performance of the Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite conducted by the composer.

Listen to a selection of Stravinsky’s works that have been performed at Carnegie Hall.

Photography: Woolworth Building courtesy of the Library of Congress Online Catalog, Prints and Photographs Division; all other images courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Rose Archives.

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