History of New York’s Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall History

Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2020

Carnegie Hall is one of the most well-known music venues in the world. The concert hall located in Manhattan, New York has hosted a wide variety of individual artist and bands from across the globe. Many musicians have considered performing at Carnegie Hall to be one of the highlights of their careers.

The venue was constructed and funded by philanthropist and industrialist William Carnegie. It was designed by architect William Bennett Tuthill. Carnegie Hall was originally intended to serve as a performance theater for the New York Symphonic Society and the Oratorio Society of New York. Construction began in 1890. Carnegie Hall was first used in April 1891, and was introduced to the public on May 5th of that year with a classical music concert conducted by composers Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Walter Damrosch.

Three separate structures were developed during Carnegie Hall’s construction. Each one is arranged in the shape of the letter “L” and each of them has a different performance space. The three buildings are:

The Main Hall (Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage)

Carnegie Hall History

Photo: Ottoklemperer1885, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Main Hall was the primary theater for performances from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1892 to 1962. It has been one of the most used stages for classical music for well over a century.

This section was renovated in the 1980’s after decades of performances began to take their toll. All renovations from then on were managed by architect James Stewart Polshek. One of the major changes was removing a large slab of concrete in 1995 from underneath the stage. Some believed that the concrete was to blame for the reduced acoustic quality in the hall after the first renovations in 1986.

The Isaac Stern Auditorium was named in honor of the musician who led the efforts to save Carnegie Hall from destruction after it was put up for sale in the 1960’s. There are 2,804 seats spread across five levels. Visitors can access everything except the top floor by elevator. There are 137 steps to the highest level of the auditorium.

The Perelman Stage of the auditorium is 42 feet deep. Seating in the auditorium starts at the Parquet level. This level has a total of 1,021 seats: 25 full rows at 38 seats apiece and four partial seating rows located at stage level. 65 boxes make up the First and Second Tier seating levels. The First Level has eight seats per box for a total of 264 seats for visitors. The Second Level has six to eight seats per box and 238 seats overall. The next level is the Dress Level has six rows of seating for up to 444 people. The balcony can hold up to 837 people.

Weill Recital Hall

Carnegie Hall History

Photo: Grantmaloysmithwiki, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The John and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall has been in operation since 1891. There are 268 seats for guests in the building. The hall was originally known as the Chamber Music Hall and later as the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall. It was renamed the Carnegie Music Hall in the 1940’s. Its name changed once again in 1986 to honor former board chairman Sanford I. Weill and his wife Joan.

This building is the smallest of the three structures that make up Carnegie Hall. The Weill Recital Hall. There are 268 seats altogether. There are 196 seats in the Orchestra Level, arranged in fourteen rows with fourteen seats per row. The Balcony level has 72 seats in five rows.

Zankel Hall

Zankel Hall was named after financier Arthur Zankel and his wife Judy. The building was first known as Recital Hall. It was the first of the three Carnegie Hall buildings that opened in April 1891. It was later renamed as the Carnegie Lyceum in 1896.

The building was leased to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1898. It was converted into a movie theater in the 1960’s and later renovated as a performance hall in 1997. The building reopened to the general public in 2003.

There are 599 seats in Zankel Hall. 463 seats are on the panterre level and another 136 seats are on the mezzanine level. There are also several sections of box seats in each level. Six boxes of 54 seats are on the panterre level and four boxes of 48 boxes can be found on the mezzanine level. The stage itself measures 44 feet wide and 25 feet deep. It takes up about 20 percent of the building’s performance space.

Andrew Carnegie passed away in 1919, but his family still owned Carnegie Hall until his widow sold the property in 1925 to Robert E. Simon, a real estate developer. Simon’s son, Robert E. Simon Jr. became the new owner after his father’s death in 1935. The younger Simon would later offer to sell the facilities to the New York Philharmonic in the mid-1950’s after changes in popular music tastes resulted in decreased revenue. Even though the orchestra had booked most of their performances at Carnegie Hall, they declined the offer after deciding to move to the nearby Lincoln Center. Simon eventually put the property up for sale. Carnegie Hall was considered for demolition at one point to make room for a new skyscraper.

Local artists led by violinist Isaac Stern petitioned New York city officials to save the music venue The city passed special legislation that allowed them to purchase Carnegie Hall from Robert E. Simon Jr. for $5 million. The Carnegie Hall Corporation, a non-profit group, was established in 1960 to operate the company. Carnegie Hall was officially designated as a national historic landmark in 1962.

The Carnegie Hall Archives were added in 1986. The Rose Museum was added to the second floor of the Main Hall building in 1991. Studio space was reserved in some of the Hall’s upper floors for graphic artists and music performers until 2009. They were in a preferred location for artists because of their large windows and skylights that let in an abundance of natural light and their high ceilings. The Carnegie Hall Corporation now uses those rooms for corporate offices and music education classes.

Additional changes were made to the property throughout the years. The Kaplan Rehearsal Space and the Weill Recital Hall were added in the 1980’s and the East Room and Club Room (later known as the Rohatyn Room and Shoryn Club Room were developed in the 1990’s. The Judith and Burton Resnick Education Wing opened in 2014. The wing has 24 rooms, including one where performances can be held with small to medium-sized audiences in attendance.

Carnegie Hall has hosted hundreds of performances since it first opened. Glenn Miller, the Benny Goodman Orchestra, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Chicago, Jethro Tull and Stevie Ray Vaughan are just some of the artists whose Carnegie Hall performances have been released as live recordings.

The venue is primarily known for classical music concerts, but there have been plenty of legendary shows by artists in all music genres. Duke Ellington and Count Basie have played jazz shows at Carnegie Hall. Bill Haley and the Comets were the first rock band to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1955. The Beatles played two concerts there in 1964. The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin graced the Carnegie Hall stages a few years later. There have also been several memorable lectures held at the facility, including speaking engagements in 1906 by Booker T. Washington and Mark Twain.

Carnegie Hall’s goal has always been to connect musicians and audiences. They strive to provide the best possible experience for both parties. Performers and music lovers flock to the historic venue every year to be a part of a unique experience that simply can’t be duplicated anywhere else.

Carnegie Hall History

Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2020


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