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Gala. Looking it up in a dictionary, we find the definition is “a social occasion with special entertainment or performances.” Carnegie Hall galas are certainly that: a gathering of a family of friends and supporters to hear performances for which the word special is something of an understatement. But a Carnegie Hall gala is somehow more than that. So let’s dig deeper. The word’s origins seem to lie in the early 17th century, referring to the showy dress worn at such events. Well, while that’s true, too, of course—stylish ball gowns or well-cut suits are invariably much in evidence—that’s not really the point of it. But this is more like it: The term seems to derive from the old French word gale, which means rejoicing. Yes, that’s it: rejoicing. For what better word summarizes the sheer sense of celebration, of people, of talent, of life-affirming and life-changing music-making, and of an organization that has for 125 years nurtured, supported, and made possible such art? Rejoicing: That’s the definition of a Carnegie Hall gala.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Thomas Hampson, Dawn Upshaw, Yo-Yo Ma, and Christine Ebersole at Carnegie Hall for its Opening Night Gala concert on Sept. 24, 2008.

Pretty much since Carnegie Hall opened 125 years ago on May 5, 1891, galas have been a part of its history. There have, in fact, been 1,100 gala and benefit concerts. To mention a few: May 7, 1906, saw a benefit gala for victims of San Francisco’s earthquake. April 30, 1918, saw tenor Enrico Caruso and soprano Geraldine Farrar take to the stage for the Liberty Loan Rally, promoting the bonds being sold to help support the Allied efforts in World War I. Another war bond rally in 1943 similarly saw conductor Arturo Toscanini and pianist Vladimir Horowitz raise almost $11 million for Allied forces in World War II. That January had also seen a gala to raise funds for infantile paralysis. More recently, Dec. 1, 1988, saw an event in support of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. On March 10, 1991, a gala was held to raise awareness of the destruction of the rainforests.

“Everyone who stands on Carnegie Hall’s main stage is participating in and creating American cultural history.”

There have also been a series of tributes to major artists from across genres: composer Moritz Moszkowski in 1921, violinist Leopold Auer in 1925, jazz legend Fats Waller in 1944, and singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie in 1968. Figures beyond the music world have been honored too, including, on Jan. 27, 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That’s just a snapshot of the many ways that Carnegie Hall’s stage has been used to reach out to wider society, both musical and beyond. And it’s worth noting that in recent years, funds raised by Carnegie Hall galas have been used to benefit the organization’s social and educational programs. This forthcoming 125th anniversary gala stands in a tradition of galas that have marked milestones in Carnegie Hall’s own history.

The opening gala in 1891—boasting Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as conductor no less—started the trend. On Sept. 27, 1960, a gala opening night marked the Hall’s salvation from potential demolition. After the extensive renovation of the 1980s, Dec. 15, 1986, saw another gala reopening. Opening nights in general became regular gala events from Sept. 26, 1990, onward, while major anniversaries were celebrated, including the centenary on May 5, 1991, and on April 12, 2011, when James Taylor headlined one of the two events marking the 120th anniversary, the second being the next month with the New York Philharmonic on the Hall’s actual birthday.

Five years on, and James Taylor will again help lead the celebrations, joined by a number of fellow Artist Trustees, including sopranos Renée Fleming and Jessye Norman, retired vocalists Martina Arroyo and Marilyn Horne, pianists Emanuel Ax and Lang Lang, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The title of Artist Trustee reflects the deep bond that exists between so many of today’s leading musicians and this iconic venue. Each one is an artist with a significant relationship to the Hall, and furthermore is an artist who both embodies and represents aspects of the Hall’s overall mission. This bond, and the place the Hall plays in an artist’s life, are neatly encapsulated by Renée Fleming: “Everyone who stands on Carnegie Hall’s main stage is participating in and creating American cultural history. Since making my own Hall debut in 1991, I have never been less than awestruck on that stage, thinking about its history, its beauty, and what it stands for. I have performed there with musicians ranging from Luciano Pavarotti and the New York Philharmonic to Sting. The architectural beauty and extraordinary acoustics always make me feel that I am singing for friends in a warm, inviting environment.”

Left: James Taylor Celebrates 120 years with special guests on April 12, 2011. Photo by Chris Lee. Right: Renée Fleming. Photo by DeCCa/anDrew eCCLes

For Emanuel Ax, Carnegie Hall “has always been the place where the dream of great music-making becomes reality.” Ax first played on the Hall’s stage at age 12, invited by an orchestra manager after everyone else had left an afternoon rehearsal to try out the piano; he vividly remembers gazing for the first time out at “that amazing, vast expanse of seats.” But while Ax went on to become one of the Hall’s most significant and beloved performers of today, he is just as aware of how special it feels to be looking in the other direction, out from the seats and toward the music-making. “For me, it is simply the place where I heard the music that molded me and where I had so many life-changing evenings,” he recalls. On May 5, 2016, Ax, Fleming, and their fellow artists will be channeling that passion—and gratitude—for Carnegie Hall into an event that will no doubt earn its own worthy place among the illustrious chronology of previously mentioned concerts.

But let’s conclude by returning 125 years to that first, opening-night concert and to the recollections of not just one of Carnegie Hall’s great musicians, but one of all history’s great musicians. In his diary, after the 1891 opening, Tchaikovsky wrote of the welcome the Carnegie Hall audience gave him: “the enthusiasm was such as I never succeeded in arousing, even in Russia. In a word, it was evidence that I had really pleased the Americans.” It’s the spirit and atmosphere that Tchaikovsky observed then that has gone on to define Carnegie Hall galas ever since. Rejoice indeed, for there is much to celebrate. And, no doubt, much more to come.

This article first appeared in Carnegie Hall: 125 Years of an Iconic Music Venue’s Most Remarkable People and Memorable Events, available at

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This season, Carnegie Hall celebrates 40 years of partnering with local community organizations to present free Neighborhood Concerts featuring outstanding main-stage artists as well as exciting rising stars of classical, jazz, and world music. These performances tap into the pulse of diverse communities across New York City and bring local residents together to share in the joy of music.

On May 7, Carnegie Hall presents a Neighborhood Concert with Viento de Agua at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island. We talked to Larry Anderson—Snug Harbor’s director of performing arts and production management—about the history of Snug Harbor, its relationship with Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts, and the best things to do in Staten Island.

What is the history of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden?

Robert Richard Randall founded Sailors’ Snug Harbor as a “haven for aged, decrepit, and worn out sailors” with his benefactors’ bequest in 1801. Over the next century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor expanded from its original three buildings to 50 structures and 900 residents from every corner of the world. By the turn of the 20th century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor was the richest charitable institution in the US, as well as a self-sustaining community composed of a working farm, dairy, bakery, chapel, sanatorium, hospital, music hall, and cemetery.

When Sailors’ Snug Harbor moved off of Staten Island in the 1960s, the newly formed New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped forward to save the five Greek Revival front buildings and the chapel and designated them New York City’s first landmark structures. Local activists and artists worked with elected officials to secure the unique property and its principal buildings for New York during the 1970s, with the objective of transforming the complex into a regional arts center. The newly formed Snug Harbor Cultural Center was incorporated in 1975.

In 2008, Snug Harbor Cultural Center was combined with the Staten Island Botanical Gardens to become Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Today, Snug Harbor is a place where history, architecture, visual art, theater, dance, music, and environmental science come together to provide dynamic experiences for people of all ages. Consisting of 28 buildings, it is one of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America, and is one of New York City’s most unique architectural complexes and historic landscapes. Its Music Hall is one of the oldest concert halls in New York City—second only to Carnegie Hall—and serves as the centerpiece for the performing arts.

Can you describe some of the architectural details of the building?

Snug Harbor’s major buildings are representative of the changing architectural styles of the early 19th and 20th centuries. The first buildings were built in the Greek Revival style. As the complex expanded, new buildings were erected in the Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Second Empire, and Italianate styles. High Victorian decorative components were added throughout the 83-acre site.

What is one unique feature of the Music Hall at Snug Harbor that you would like concertgoers to know about?

The Music Hall at Snug Harbor is the only music hall on Staten Island. It is just six months younger than Carnegie Hall! It was built as a space to entertain the sailors who lived here, providing them with vaudevillian performances and, later, films. We’ve featured local and international performers ranging from David Bowie to Norah Jones. The Music Hall is said to be haunted by the benevolent ghost of the mysterious Lady in White.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center 630px (Stefan Cohen)
Photography by Stefan Cohen

What kind of concerts and genres do you typically present?

Since our campus is so big, we offer a wide range of performances and artistic programming. The Music Hall generally features live theater, dance, and music performances. We also feature chamber ensembles and multimedia performances in our Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, which is a historic building on campus. We also feature family-friendly programs throughout the year.

How long have concerts been taking place at this venue?

Concerts have been taking place since 1892, when the Music Hall was built.

How long has Snug Harbor been collaborating with Neighborhood Concerts?

We’ve been collaborating with Neighborhood Concerts for 20 years. It’s a great partnership that allows our neighborhood to experience a wide range of high quality, accessible music performances that they wouldn’t otherwise have immediate access to. It’s one of the most consistent and exciting programs we’re involved with.

What is your favorite Neighborhood Concert experience so far?

My favorite memory was meeting the mother of a six-year-old who came to see Emily Eagan. After talking to her I found out that her son knew all the words to Emily Eagan’s songs and begged his mother to bring him to see the concert. They drove all the way from eastern Pennsylvania just to see her, and got to meet her after the concert, which made his day.

For concertgoers who are new to the neighborhood, what should be on their itineraries before or after a concert at Snug Harbor?

Our campus has 83 acres of historic grounds, so that can be a whole day’s experience in itself. We are situated in Livingston on Staten Island’s historic North Shore, and we’re a short scenic bike ride, bus ride, or walk from the ferry. There are beautiful historic homes (some dating back to the late 19th century) in the area, as well as several local art galleries (Staten Island Arts, Creative Photographers Guild, and Art on the Terrace, to name a few). Of course, anyone looking to grab a bite to eat should check out Adobe Blues or Blue, which are both located within walking distance of Snug Harbor.

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Throughout the spring, Ensemble ACJW has been presenting a series of three concerts at National Sawdust, one of New York City’s most cutting-edge new music venues. ACJW violin fellow Siwoo Kim reflects on the process of creating the program for “Turning Point,” the second concert in the series—taking place on May 3—which features Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony (in Webern’s small ensemble arrangement), as well as pieces influenced by his revolutionary ideas.

“Would this set of composers get along if they went out for a drink together?”

Ara Guzelimian, provost and dean of The Juilliard School, asked the ACJW fellows this question during a professional development seminar regarding the art of programming concerts. That idea (naturally) struck a chord with me, and I realized I have a deep interest in creative programming. No matter how good a single piece or a performance of a work is, context is most important.

Violinist Siwoo Kim, violist Dana Kelley, and cellist Caleb van der Swaagh performing at National Sawdust in March, 2016.
Photo by Richard Termine.

As performers, we are responsible for the audience’s evening, so having a natural, dramatic arc in the choice and order of repertoire certainly helps. Violinist Itzhak Perlman once said to me that a recital program should be like a dinner menu—appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Does the entrée go well with white wine or red wine?

One of the coolest experiences we have as fellows of Ensemble ACJW is to curate three of our own hourlong concerts at National Sawdust. We broke up into teams of six to build the three programs.

“Turning Point” is our upcoming May 3 concert that I was involved in programming. The process was meticulous, but our team is proud and excited about the outcome.

Some fellows felt strongly about performing Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 (arranged by Anton Webern), so we chose it as the centerpiece (the steak!). We’re working hard to deliver a great performance of this epic masterpiece—a piece full of innovation while preserving late-Romantic philosophy.

We immediately started thinking of which composers’ works would offer variety while maintaining a through line. One such work is Toru Takemitsu’s Entre-temps for oboe and string quartet, which was written during a period during which Takemitsu—much like Schoenberg with the Chamber Symphony—was harkening back to the Romantic style of expression. Takemitsu told Pierre Boulez that this was his “Romantic” period.

This year, we grieved the loss of Pierre Boulez, a musical titan of the 20th century and a Schoenberg specialist. He was music director of the New York Philharmonic before moving to Paris to lead Ensemble intercontemporain. In November, Ensemble ACJW had planned to perform Boulez’s Dérive 1 with Jean-Christophe Vervoitte of Ensemble intercontemporain in Paris; however, the tragic Paris attacks unfolded as the fellows were about to board the plane, so the trip was canceled. David Fulmer, who had helped the fellows prepare the music for the trip, will be conducting the work for our Sawdust concert on May 3. The performance of Dérive 1 in “Turning Point,” I like to think, is a tribute to Pierre Boulez and the victims in Paris.


The night before Pierre Boulez passed away, Ensemble ACJW was working with Matthias Pintscher on his string trio. He came to Carnegie Hall sporting a Boulez t-shirt (Matthias is his successor as director of Ensemble intercontemporain and the Lucerne Festival). I’ve personally been a big fan of Pintscher’s musical aesthetics ever since I played his music under his baton in the Juilliard Orchestra. Figura II / Frammento represents the elusive and colorful virtuosity I am fond of.

Ruth Crawford Seeger is the only American composer represented on this program. Her music is characterized by dissonant and American serial techniques. She was also influenced by Arnold Schoenberg when she met him in Germany. To complement Pintscher’s string quartet, we programmed the famous Andante movement of Crawford Seeger’s string quartet. Both pieces avert tonal centers in their own unique ways.

Technicalities aside, each of these five pieces will bustle with aesthetic individuality in a potent, hourlong concert. As performers, we are having an invigorating time understanding and connecting ourselves with the music. We can’t wait to share it with everyone! I think Pierre Boulez, Toru Takemitsu, Matthias Pintscher, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and Arnold Schoenberg would have a great time if they got a drink together at National Sawdust—especially on May 3 at 7 PM!

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Andrew Parthum—the winner of a Stanley Chow custom portrait—takes a selfie with his new framed masterpiece.

It’s a wonderful portrait, both modern and classic.
I'm really happy to be the recipient of this generosity.
Carnegie Hall produces great performances and helps promote all the arts!

Acclaimed artist Stanley Chow, whose work has appeared in notable publications such at The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, has created portraits for Carnegie Hall’s Digital Hall of Fame as part of our 125 anniversary celebrations.

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To celebrate the Hall’s 125th anniversary, the Great Moments at Carnegie Hall 43-CD box set chronicles eight decades of unforgettable performances.

Learn more ›

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In case you haven’t heard, it’s Preservation Week! To celebrate the American Library Association’s (ALA) Preservation Week 2016 (April 24–30), here are some of the preservation-related activities we’ve been up to in the Carnegie Hall Archives.

As we continue our initiative to conserve and digitize a majority of Carnegie Hall’s historic collections, we’ve completed two collection assessments with conservators from the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts.

Carnegie Hall’s program book collections provide a fascinating look at events that have taken place on all three stages of the Hall, dating back to 1891. In 2012, we began sending our collection of bound concert programs to NEDCC for disbinding, conservation treatment, and digital imaging. In order to get the most complete condition and cost estimates, Director of Book Conservation Mary Patrick Bogan and Associate Conservator Jessica Henze spent two days at Carnegie Hall in November 2014, surveying the programs from 1952 through 1987 (programs from 1891 to 1952 have already been conserved and digitized). They did an in-depth examination of 162 bound volumes and assessed their current condition. Treatment priorities were developed and cost estimates were prepared, along with a comprehensive condition report with the recommended treatments necessary for the preservation of the programs. Treatments include disbinding each volume, surface cleaning the pages, mending tears and folds, flattening, and rehousing the programs into archival folders and boxes. The programs will also be digitized in NEDCC’s imaging lab. When completed, this project will ensure these programs—the backbone of our legacy collections—are preserved for the future and ready to share through our upcoming online Digital Collections website.


This past March, Senior Conservator Suzanne Martin Gramly and Associate Conservator Victoria Bunting examined three collections of valuable architectural plans dating from 1889 to 1978. During their five-day visit, they carefully evaluated the drawings and gathered information needed to create a condition report and treatment estimate for the collections, including identifying the medium and support for each drawing, documenting the current condition, and recommending conservation treatment plans. The resulting condition reports and estimates are essential in order to apply for grants to carry out the conservation treatments and digitization for all of the architectural drawings.

The 45 drawings in the William B. Tuthill Collection (1889–1920), are the only existing original documentation of the Carnegie Hall building in 1891 and the work that Tuthill continued until 1920. The 242 drawings in the Kahn and Jacobs Collection (1947–1956) by architects Ely Jacques Kahn and Robert Allan Jacobs were the product of the first thorough architectural assessment of Carnegie Hall. They depict proposed renovations and redecorations to the building, some of which were never undertaken. Many of these drawings represent the firm’s attempt to faithfully recreate, floor by floor, Tuthill’s original drawings, which are no longer extant. The John J. McNamara Collection (1965–1978) of 123 drawings depict proposed renovations and partial rehabilitations made at Carnegie Hall between 1965 and 1978. Some drawings show the building’s storefront properties that still existed at that time, and others show rehabilitations in Carnegie Hall’s executive offices, backstage spaces, and certain public areas.


Conservation assessments are critical for the Archives because they provide necessary information about the extent and health of a collection, and provide documentation for grant applications and project updates.

Small scripts like this are available for organizations or individuals to use and develop
for their own needs on Carnegie Hall’s GitHub account.

At the Carnegie Hall Archives, we are also creating and using code to speed through activities related to preparing our digitized material for description and discovery. Archives staff wrote small programs, or “scripts,” which help complete computing processes like:

  • quality control on digitized materials (How big is this file? Does the filename abide by our naming conventions?)
  • matching performance data to files for cataloging (automating relationships between a person like Marian Anderson and a photo of her performing on stage)
  • reformatting the Hall’s published performance history data into a format for linked open data

These scripts benefit immensely from a wide community of archiving, preservation, and programming experts who share their code and troubleshooting techniques online. We are excited to participate in this community and improve through open collaboration and mutual exchange. We are excited to share our scripts with the archiving community, which can be found at

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From the opening concert 125 years ago to modern marvels like the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall has become an indelible part of the American cultural landscape, the temple on 57th Street and Seventh Avenue that can be reached (according to the old joke) by one word: practice. And as the fact that it has a joke at all suggests, its presence is almost as strong in American pop culture as it is in what we might call high culture.

Even as entertainment options have become more varied for the average American, Carnegie Hall has remained a central image—to borrow a pop culture idea of today, it’s a 125-year-old meme with meaning to many. Just setting foot onto the boards of the hallowed Perelman Stage in Stern Auditorium can represent the start of a great career or the pinnacle of one’s personal achievement.

Pop culture recognizes this, and either doffs its cap or plays around with the idea as the situation demands. After all, even James Bond (not known for having a love of classical music among his many virtues) understood what the blonde Czech cellist in 1987’s The Living Daylights meant when she yearned for Carnegie Hall.

Bond: Your cello’s a Stradivarius!
Kara: A famous one! “The Lady Rose.” Gyorgi got it for me in New York City. Maybe some day I’ll play there ... at Carnegie Hall?
There's always room for a Stradivarius cello when it’s James Bond.

America’s favorite family—the Simpsons, of course—has never visited Carnegie Hall themselves (although the show has had the yellow clan visit New York on three different occasions). However, in the episode “A Fish Called Selma,” washed-up Hollywood actor Troy McClure mentions two B-movies that he was in:

“Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such films as The Greatest Story Ever Hulaed and They Came to Burgle Carnegie Hall.”

Perhaps surprisingly given its provenance, the freewheeling 1948 Leonard Bernstein musical On the Town never mentions Carnegie Hall by name—but it does feature a visit by sailor Gabey (Gene Kelly) to “Music Hall” (incidentally the Hall’s original name) in pursuit of “Miss Turnstiles” (Vera-Ellen), a girl who is taking dance lessons in one of the upstairs studios.

The cream-and-gold interior of Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage has become instantly recognizable—not just through reputation, but through Hollywood movies, where the collective imagination of screenwriters has made the building into a sort of dream-factory, a place where one’s fondest wishes might come true. And that’s a theme that goes right back to the 1947 film Carnegie Hall, which tells of a pushy parent who wants her boy to become good enough to play there (and he does).

The Carnegie Hall stage has been host to an astonishing variety of performers and performances over the last century. Composers, conductors, and soloists have graced it with their talents. Jazz musicians (Miles Davis, Benny Goodman—part of the pop culture to this day) cut historic live albums there. Rockers and bluesmen, too, have taken advantage of its pristine acoustics with live albums, from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Frank Zappa to Ryan Adams.

Some of the most famous acts to play Carnegie Hall have been stand-up comedians—those bastions, definers, and ridiculers-in-chief of pop culture. Jerry Seinfeld’s TV show never visited the Hall, but the comic has performed there on several occasions. Patton Oswalt gave a notorious concert, during which he and his opening acts broke taboos and barriers in a scathing evening. And Louis C.K. made his 2012 live album Word from a 2010 concert in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.

Classical music and comedy have crossed paths regularly at Carnegie Hall. Sometimes, it was unintentional, like diva Florence Foster Jenkins, fondly immortalized as the world’s worst opera singer. And then there’s Peter Schickele, the Juilliard music professor and composer who made a side career out of playing the “lost” works of P.D.Q. Bach, the (fictional) last and least of Bach’s many children.

Schickele gave a slew of concerts at the Hall, where he and a cast of singers and musicians would play works like the “Bluegrass cantata” Blaues Gras (written for bluegrass band and string orchestra), and pastiche parody operas like The Magic Bassoon and The Abduction of Figaro. Schickele would make crazy entrances to the stage, swinging down from the balcony, racing down the parquet level on a hospital gurney, or simply running in 15 minutes late and out of breath.

For sheer weirdness though, even the good professor couldn’t beat Andy Kaufman, who shot to fame on television, playing the foreign-born mechanic Latka Gravas on the hit series Taxi. But what he really wanted to do was play a special concert at Carnegie Hall. In April 1979, he got his wish.

Kaufman’s Carnegie Hall show was a circus of the absurd. At its start, an elderly woman was seated on the stage and introduced as the comic’s grandmother (she was later revealed to be Robin Williams in drag). The show included a “resurrection dance” performed in an Indian headdress, wrestling, some children’s songs, and a visit from Santa Claus. At the end of the show, the audience was invited onto 24 buses, taken to a nearby school, and given milk and cookies (an episode memorably captured in the 1999 Jim Carrey biopic Man on the Moon). And what could be better, or more pop culture, than that?

Like Kaufman’s performance, the idea of Carnegie Hall in pop culture transcends its more humble reality—a brick building on a Manhattan street corner, surrounded by looming (and ever-rising) skyscrapers. And for New Yorkers who see the skyline change on what seems like a weekly basis, its landmark status has a welcome ring of permanence: that no matter what happens to the rest of the city, in our reality and in our mythology there will still be Carnegie Hall.

This article first appeared in Carnegie Hall: 125 Years of an Iconic Music Venue’s Most Remarkable People and Memorable Events, available at

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April 30, 2016, marks the centenary of the birth of the legendary American conductor and choral director Robert Shaw (1916–1999). On that date, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and Music Director Robert Spano perform at Carnegie Hall. For more than half a century, Shaw—the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director from 1967–1988—was a frequent, inspiring creative presence in New York’s legendary concert venue.

Robert Shaw was 26 when, on October 16, 1942, he made his Carnegie Hall headline conducting debut. The Artists’ Front to Win the War Concert, hosted by Orson Welles, featured Shaw’s Collegiate Chorale, as well as numerous speakers, including Charlie Chaplin and Lillian Hellman. Over the following decade, Shaw, the Collegiate Chorale, and later, the Robert Shaw Chorale, appeared often at Carnegie Hall. In addition to several Christmas concerts, Shaw led programs that juxtaposed familiar masterworks with compositions by favored contemporaries. A concert on May 19, 1947, placed the Mozart Mass in C Minor alongside the New York premieres of Hindemith’s Apparebit repentina dies and Copland’s In the Beginning. World premieres at Carnegie Hall conducted by Shaw during this period included Charles Faulkner Bryan’s The Bell Witch (1947); Charles Ives’s Three Harvest Home Chorales (1948); Peter Mennin’s Symphony No. 4, “The Cycle” (1949); Jacob Avshalomov’s Tom O’Bedlam and Ernest Bacon’s Five Fables with Music (1953); and numerous first US and New York performances.

Toscanini deemed Shaw the finest choral director with whom he had ever worked.

Shaw also prepared the Robert Shaw Chorale for Carnegie Hall concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). The Toscanini-NBC programs at Carnegie Hall, broadcast nationwide and recorded by RCA, included the Verdi Te Deum and Requiem (1951), the Beethoven Ninth Symphony (1952) and Missa solemnis (1953), selections from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (1954), and the Prologue from Arrigo Boito’s opera Mefistofele (1954). Shaw treasured the opportunity to collaborate and study with the legendary Italian maestro, a man who had met Verdi and discussed the interpretation of his music. For his part, Toscanini deemed Shaw the finest choral director with whom he had ever worked.

Shaw was captivated by Toscanini’s untiring, perfectionist commitment to the music and the maestro’s humility when confronting the challenges of interpreting the greatest masterworks. In a conversation with music critic B. H. Haggin, Shaw recalled discussing the Beethoven Ninth with Toscanini, who told the young conductor: “You know, I have never had a good performance of this work. Sometimes the chorus is bad; sometimes the orchestra is bad; many times the soloists are bad. And many times I am terrible.” Working with Toscanini did much to shape Shaw’s philosophy of musical collaboration. In a letter dated September 19, 1991, to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (reprinted in Keith C. Burris’s 2013 biography, Deep River), Shaw described Toscanini in a manner that applied with equal force to his own approach: “Dictatorship? Phooey! Nonsense! Artists played with Toscanini, not for him.”

Photo by Chris Lee

In addition to appearances at Carnegie Hall with his own ensembles, Shaw conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s. An April 13, 1992, performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s commemorated the 250th anniversary of the oratorio’s premiere. The last of the Shaw-Cleveland concerts at Carnegie Hall, on May 5, 1995, was a stunning performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8—often call the “Symphony of a Thousand”—with members of the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Oberlin College Choir, American Boychoir, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus placed throughout the auditorium.

During the early years of his tenure as music director of the Atlanta Symphony, Shaw formed the all-volunteer Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (and Chamber Chorus). Under his leadership, they gained national and international recognition through concert performances and recordings. On March 4, 1971, Shaw led the Atlanta Symphony in the orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut. In all, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Shaw performed a dozen concerts at Carnegie Hall. The programming embodied Shaw’s philosophy during his Atlanta years. Choral works by Beethoven, Verdi, Berlioz, and Brahms, and the traditional European orchestral repertoire were cornerstones. But works by American composers William Schuman, Charles Ives, Karel Husa, Ned Rorem, and John Harbison were prominent as well. The Shaw Centennial Concert on April 30, 2016—with its New York premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Zohar and the Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem—recalls the Shaw-Atlanta program at Carnegie Hall on April 5, 1980, which also featured the Brahms, and Philip Rhodes’s The Lament of Michal (a New York premiere).

Shaw’s last Carnegie Hall concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was on May 25, 1988. Two years later, he embarked upon a new venture, the brainchild of Judith Arron, Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director from 1986–1998. The Robert Shaw Choral Workshops—intense weeklong exploration and rehearsals of masterworks—culminated in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall. The Choral Workshops and culminating concerts focused on works by Haydn, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Brahms, Hindemith, and Britten.

Witness sessions of Carnegie Hall’s Robert Shaw Choral Workshop, Volume 1,
which features rehearsals and performance excerpts of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem.

After the first Robert Shaw Choral Workshop Concert on November 18, 1990 (a performance of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem), Bernard Holland wrote in The New York Times that the performance was “proof of what a gathering of choral directors, orchestra conductors, music administrators, and singers had learned under Robert Shaw during five days of seminars and rehearsals.” Holland continued: “The afternoon was much more: indeed, one of the more powerful communications between musician and listener that this reviewer has experienced in the past 10 years.” This was a sentiment echoed by all who had the privilege of attending the Shaw Choral Workshops and Concerts.

Failing health prevented Shaw from leading the 1999 Choral Workshop and the subsequent concert on January 17, including settings of the Stabat mater by Verdi, Szymanowski, and Poulenc. On January 25, 1999, Shaw died at the age of 82. Shaw’s final concert at Carnegie Hall had taken place the previous April 3. The sole work on the program was one central to the life and career of Robert Shaw: Bach’s Mass in B Minor. On this occasion, Shaw collaborated with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus—treasured colleagues during the latter part of his career. Shaw once commented, “If there is a heaven—and a God—the Mass in B Minor would surely be God’s favorite music.” And with this sublime music, two American icons—Carnegie Hall and Robert Shaw—bid farewell.

—Ken Meltzer is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s program annotator.

Robert Spano
Monday, February 23 at 8 PM
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

When Robert Spano conducted Britten’s War Requiem at Carnegie Hall in 2014, The New York Times called it a “gripping, organic, and sensitive performance,” and praised the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for its “rich, varied colorings.” Spano and the orchestra return to Carnegie Hall for the New York premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff's Zohar, commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of choral giant Robert Shaw and to honor his ties to the Atlanta Symphony and Carnegie Hall. The concert concludes with Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, in which the composer eschews fire and brimstone in this very personal work with texts from the Old and New Testaments of the Lutheran Bible. Gorgeous solo passages for soprano and baritone and heartfelt choral writing makes Ein deutsches Requiem a tender and unforgettable masterpiece.

4 months ago | |
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On May 5, 1891, Carnegie Hall opened its doors for the first time with Tchaikovsky ushering in a new standard for the presentation of live music and public events in New York City. Four decades later, another of New York's most iconic landmarks—the Empire State Building—was officially opened and remained the world's tallest building until 1972.

In addition to being two quintessential New York locations, both buildings have much in common. The skeletons of both buildings are comprised of steel forged in a Carnegie steel mill. Using advances in steel engineering, both buildings rose remarkably quickly. From start to finish, Carnegie Hall took just 51 weeks to complete, while the Empire State Building was built in less than 59.

Both emerged into less than ideal circumstances. In 1891, Carnegie Hall was considered to have been built in the boondocks—"Hogtown"—three and a half miles north of 14th Street, the Midtown of the day. The Empire State Building was completed in the depths of the Great Depression. Both buildings, however, overcame challenges throughout their history to emerge as two of the most recognizable and successful symbols of New York City.

If you are in New York City the evening of May 4, direct your eyes on Midtown as one great New York institution celebrates another. On that night, the Empire State Building will be lit up in "Carnegie Hall red" to celebrate the eve of Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary.

Carnegie Hall thanks the Empire State Building Company for the special lighting of the Empire State Building.

4 months ago | |
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On May 5, 1891, Carnegie Hall opened its doors for the first time with Tchaikovsky ushering in a new standard for the presentation of live music and public events in New York City. Four decades later, another of New York's most iconic landmarks—the Empire State Building—was officially opened and remained the world's tallest building until 1972.

In addition to being two quintessential New York locations, both buildings have much in common. The skeletons of both buildings are comprised of steel forged in a Carnegie steel mill. Using advances in steel engineering, both buildings rose remarkably quickly. From start to finish, Carnegie Hall took just 51 weeks to complete, while the Empire State Building was built in less than 59.

Both emerged into less than ideal circumstances. In 1891, Carnegie Hall was considered to have been built in the boondocks—"Hogtown"—three and a half miles north of 14th Street, the Midtown of the day. The Empire State Building was completed in the depths of the Great Depression. Both buildings, however, overcame challenges throughout their history to emerge as two of the most recognizable and successful symbols of New York City.

If you are in New York City this evening, May 4, direct your eyes on Midtown as one great New York institution celebrates another. On that night, the Empire State Building will be lit up in "Carnegie Hall red" to celebrate the eve of Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary.

Carnegie Hall thanks the Empire State Building Company for the special lighting of the Empire State Building.

4 months ago | |
| Read Full Story
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