• People and History

    The Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie opened on May 5, 1891, with a concert featuring the American debut of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and was at once heralded as a triumph for music and architecture. Read more.


    Clive Gillinson became Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall in July 2005, having been appointed the previous season.  Read more.

  • Carnegie Hall, 1891
  • A Short History of Carnegie Hall

    The Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie opened on May 5, 1891, with a concert featuring the American debut of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and was at once heralded as a triumph for music and architecture. Designed by William B. Tuthill, the building was a self-contained performing arts complex with three auditoriums, and it quickly became known simply as “Carnegie Hall” in recognition of the great industrialist, whose second career in charitable work set a new standard in philanthropy.

    Tchaikovsky’s opening-night appearance set an auspicious precedent for the array of classical musicians and conductors for whom the Hall would become the essential venue in the United States. Henceforth, a success at Carnegie Hall would be the litmus test of greatness. Among the artists who have appeared at Carnegie Hall throughout the years are Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, Pablo Casals, Jascha Heifetz, Josef Hofmann, Vladimir Horowitz, Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Arthur Rubinstein, Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski, George Szell, and Bruno Walter. The great American orchestras have been a staple of Carnegie Hall programming since the Hall’s first decade, when both the Boston Symphony and Chicago Symphony made their first visits. Over the years it has become a home away from home for the orchestras of Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Washington, DC, among others. Also calling the Carnegie Hall stage home are such international symphonic ensembles, including the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin and Vienna, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the Kirov Orchestra.

    Early jazz was first heard at Carnegie Hall in 1912, in a concert of early African-American music by James Reese Europe’s Clef Club Orchestra. The Hall has since featured a cavalcade of jazz greats that has included Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Tormé, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. A 1938 concert by Benny Goodman and his band, one of the most celebrated events in Carnegie Hall history, marked a turning point in the public acceptance of swing. Duke Ellington made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1943 with the New York Premiere of his tone poem Black, Brown, and Beige.

    In 1925—six years after Andrew Carnegie’s death—Mrs. Carnegie sold the Hall to New York realtor Robert E. Simon. When it was announced in the mid-1950s that the New York Philharmonic would move to a new performing arts center, Carnegie Hall was put up for sale; however, the only parties interested in purchasing it were developers. In September 1957, Life magazine published a now-infamous artist’s rendering of a red office skyscraper proposed by developers to go up on the site of Carnegie Hall. The date of March 31, 1960, was set for its demolition.

    Although many wanted to save the Hall, and several committees to help rescue it were formed, it was only at the eleventh hour that the Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, headed by Isaac Stern, was able to stop the impending demolition. On May 16, 1960, as a result of special state legislation, New York City was permitted to purchase Carnegie Hall for $5 million. A new nonprofit organization, The Carnegie Hall Corporation, was chartered, and to this day it manages the building and its operations. Isaac Stern served as President of the Corporation for over four decades, until his death in September 2001.

    Carnegie Hall thrived throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, hosting renowned artists such as Judy Garland, Vladimir Horowitz, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Itzhak Perlman, and Luciano Pavarotti. By the late 1970s, however, concerns were mounting about the physical condition of the Hall, and a 1981 architectural evaluation showed a serious need for renovation. Carnegie Hall celebrated the 25th anniversary of its “saving” by announcing a $60 million capital campaign committed to the restoration and renovation of the building. On May 18, 1986, Carnegie Hall closed its doors and on December 15 of the same year reopened with a completely refurbished main lobby, box office, Recital Hall, Main Hall, and backstage area.

    In 1987, the Recital Hall was renamed Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in recognition of the long-standing generosity and support of current Carnegie Hall Chairman Sanford I. Weill and his wife. Carnegie Hall’s Rose Museum opened in April 1991, when it began displaying historical memorabilia from the Hall’s archives, as well as special exhibitions relating to themes in concert programming. In January 1997, the Main Hall was dedicated as Isaac Stern Auditorium.

    Carnegie Hall announced a Composer’s Chair for the first time in its history in January 1995. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich began her four-year term as the inaugural appointee in July of that year, and she served as a collaborator in many aspects of the Hall’s activities, including contemporary music programming, the commissioning program, and educational projects. September 1999 marked the beginning of Pierre Boulez’s tenure as holder of the newly named Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall. Mr. Boulez was succeeded by composer John Adams in the fall of 2003. Beginning in the 2007–2008 season, the Debs Composer’s Chair was reconfigured as a one-year position, then held by composer Thomas Adès. Composer Elliott Carter celebrated his 100th birthday during his Composer’s Chair residency in 2008–2009 and was recently succeeded by current Debs Composer Louis Andriessen (2009–2010).

    Other recent programming initiatives include several signature series: Making Music, featuring conversations with and the performance of works by living composers; and Perspectives, in which select musicians are invited to explore their musical individuality and create their own concert series in collaboration with other musicians and ensembles Previous Perspectives artists have included conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim; conductors Pierre Boulez, James Levine, Michael Tilson Thomas, and David Robertson; violinist Gidon Kremer; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Leif Ove Andsnes, Martha Argerich, Emanuel Ax, Maurizio Pollini, Peter Serkin, and Mitsuko Uchida; soprano Dawn Upshaw; bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff; the Emerson String Quartet; Senegalese vocalist Youssou N’Dour; Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso; Indian classical tabla player Zakir Hussain; and experimental rocker David Byrne.

    Plans were announced in January 1999 to renovate Carnegie Hall’s lower level into a flexible hall for performance and education. The space had served various purposes in its first century, including a medium-sized auditorium called the Carnegie Lyceum and the Carnegie Hall Cinema movie theater. The new performance space, located directly beneath Isaac Stern Auditorium, opened in September 2003 as Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. The completion of Zankel Hall represented Carnegie Hall’s return to its founder’s vision of three great halls of varying sizes all under one roof. Zankel Hall opened on September 12, 2003, with a two-week Opening Festival of 23 events representative of its season programming, from classical, jazz, world, and pop music to family concerts and education programs. The technologically advanced venue, which seats more than 600, can be configured in a number of ways and features high-performance communications networks that allow for multimedia productions and interactive educational activities.

    Also in September 2003, Carnegie Hall established The Weill Music Institute in honor of Board Chairman Sanford I. Weill. The Weill Music Institute uses the resources of Carnegie Hall’s three stages in a comprehensive variety of acclaimed music education programs. The Institute reaches a broad audience—ranging from preschoolers to adults, concertgoers to emerging professional musicians, in the New York metropolitan region, across the United States, and around the world—through school-based programs, Carnegie Hall Family Concerts, free Neighborhood Concerts, adult education programs, and Professional Training Workshops with internationally renowned artists and performers.

    In January 2007, The Academy was launched as initiated by Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson in partnership with Joseph W. Polisi, President of The Juilliard School. A two-year program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and The Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, The Academy is designed to develop the skills and values necessary for careers that combine musical excellence with education, community engagement, and advocacy. The program serves postgraduate musicians with opportunities to perform in concert halls, to teach in public schools, to engage in local communities and college campuses, and to support this work through professional development. The program reflects the belief that the artist of tomorrow will require both the ability to perform at the highest level and the capacity to give back to the community, inspiring the next generation of musicians and music lovers. A partnership with Skidmore College that began in the 2007–08 season will also bring performances and educational events to the Saratoga Springs community.

    In November 2007, Carnegie Hall launched its first major international festival, Berlin in Lights. Along with partner venues throughout New York City, Berlin in Lights featured close to 50 events over 17 days capturing a snapshot of contemporary Berlin, the city that today has reemerged as one of the world’s centers of artistic expression and forward thinking.

    The following fall, in partnership with the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall presented Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds which commemorated the 90th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, and the 50th anniversary of his appointment as music director of the New York Philharmonic and featured more than 30 events in seven different venues throughout New York City. The following March, acclaimed soprano Jessye Norman curated a festival titled HONOR!: A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy which saluted the enduring vitality, influence, and creativity of African American culture through a collection of close to 20 concerts and recitals, lectures, panel discussions, exhibitions, and educational programs at Carnegie Hall, Apollo Theater, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and other venues throughout New York City.

    Carnegie Hall continues to present major international and national festivals to offer audiences opportunities to undertake compelling journeys of discovery, which include not only extraordinary concerts at Carnegie Hall, but also films, lectures, readings, museum exhibits, and more, through partnerships with other cultural institutions. Equally important to each festival are educational programs in the New York City schools, designed to stimulate the imagination of students and nurture their creativity.

    Today, Carnegie Hall presents more than 180 concerts each year—from orchestral performances, chamber music, recitals, and choral music to folk, world, musical theater, and jazz. The venue is also home to over 500 independently produced events each year. Through the work of The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, wide-reaching music education programs serve people in the New York City metropolitan region, across the United States, and around the world, playing a central role in Carnegie Hall's commitment to making great music accessible to as many people as possible. Continually building on its long-standing tradition of excellence and innovation, Carnegie Hall remains one of the world’s premier concert venues.