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 April 22, Carnegie Hall will present a Neighborhood Concert with Matuto at Flushing Town Hall, which has partnered with the Neighborhood Concert series for the past seven seasons. We interviewed Sami Abu Shumays—deputy director of Flushing Town Hall and Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts—about the history of the building, the neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, and Flushing Town Hall’s relationship with Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts.
The performance by Matuto on April 22 will be streamed live on ABC News. Access to the live stream will be available at abcnews.com/live.
Flushing Town Hall was built in 1862 as the seat of government for the still-independent town of Flushing. It had a ballroom where parties were thrown for returning Civil War soldiers; Frederick Douglass spoke there in 1865; and New York Community Bank was started in what is now the gift shop. After the incorporation of the five boroughs in 1898, Flushing Town Hall served as a courthouse until the 1960s. After that it had a number of uses—including a brief stint as a dinner theater in the early 1970s—but it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It would have been demolished if it weren’t for the efforts of community leaders and elected officials who were determined to save the once-beautiful building. In the 1990s, they selected Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts (FCCA)—a local arts non-profit founded in 1979—to restore the building. The interior was renovated and the building was converted into a cultural facility with a 308-seat theater on the second floor (where some of Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts take place, as well as other music, dance, and theater programming), an art gallery on the first floor, a gift shop, classroom space, and administrative offices. In 1996, Flushing Town Hall joined New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), along with Carnegie Hall. It is also a Smithsonian Affiliate institution.
Flushing Town Hall is a beautiful Romanesque Revival–style brick building, with arched windows, turrets, and an elaborate wood portico, which was recently restored. Some Flushing residents have commented that it looks like a magic castle!
Our artist dressing room is a former jail cell, and the jail door is still attached. According to some visitors, Flushing Town Hall has ghosts who like to party and dance.
We are multi-disciplinary, so in addition to great music programs—with a lot of jazz and world music—we present dance, theater, and film programs, and have rotating visual arts exhibitions in our first-floor gallery. We also present many high-quality arts education programs, bringing in schools from across the city to learn about Native American dance traditions, Taiwanese puppetry, or music from Mexico.
Concerts have been taking place since the early 1990s. The first-floor gallery was the first section of the building to be fully renovated, so we hosted jazz concerts there starting in 1993 while renovations to the second floor continued. Concerts started in the second-floor theater in 1999 after the full renovations were complete.
Photography: Sean Choi
Our executive and artistic director Ellen Kodadek—who had worked with Neighborhood Concerts when she was at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in the 1990s—reached out to Carnegie Hall in 2009, about a year after she assumed the post. Carnegie Hall’s staff came out for a site visit and immediately fell in love with the building and the facility, and we’ve been hosting around two Neighborhood Concerts per year ever since.
Every one of them has been amazing. The artists are top notch, and Carnegie Hall’s presence helps us build new audiences. If I had to choose one, it would be Kesivan and the Lights, an amazing South African jazz ensemble led by Kesivan Naidoo, whose music resonated not only with our celebration of jazz at Flushing Town Hall, but also with issues of race and multiculturalism in a way that was very contemporary and forthright. Plus it was such a fun, energetic show that got everyone on their feet! Ellen’s favorite Neighborhood Concert was a Carnegie Kids show with Elena Moon Park.
Food! There is so much amazing food in Flushing, especially if you’re a fan of Asian cuisine. You can find food from practically every region of China, as well as food from Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and more, right in the downtown area between the Main Street station and Flushing Town Hall. There’s excellent South Indian food near and at the Hindu Temple—a little farther out from downtown Flushing—and if you feel like hopping off the seven train in Elmhurst or Corona (a stop or two before Flushing), you can find amazing Mexican, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Dominican cuisine.
Attending a Carnegie Hall concert is a quintessential New York experience, but like many things in the city, the Hall’s roots were planted in foreign soil—specifically in Dunfermline, the ancient capital of Scotland and the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie.
Carnegie, a Scot, embodied the classic rags-to-riches American story. He was born in 1835 in Dunfermline, a town known for its home-woven materials that fell into difficult times with the advent of industrial weaving mills.
Carnegie’s generous spirit as a philanthropist was likely influenced by his father and maternal grandfather, Thomas Morrison, who was a shoemaker and political reformer. Morrison, along with Andrew’s father, Will, joined the Chartists. This working-class movement fought for parliamentary reform and rights for laborers. When the movement died out in 1848, the Carnegies sold their possessions to pay for passage to America.
The family traveled to Glasgow, where they boarded the SV Wiscasset on June 28 for the trip across the Atlantic. They arrived in New York City on August 14 and made their way to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, an industrial city that was eventually swallowed up by Pittsburgh. Over the years, the enterprising young Andrew worked his way from lowly “bobbin boy” in a Pittsburgh steel mill to amass one of the great fortunes in American history.
Another Atlantic crossing, nearly 40 years after Andrew Carnegie arrived in America, figures prominently in the history of Carnegie Hall: the honeymoon voyage Andrew took back to Scotland with his bride, Louise, and their onboard encounter with the young conductor Walter Damrosch. The Carnegies invited Damrosch to visit them in Scotland, and the conductor shared a vision for a concert hall that Andrew agreed to fund. For 125 years, that concert hall has been the destination of excellence, and, as Carnegie said at its dedication, “is built to stand for ages, and during these ages it is probable that this Hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” And it all started in Dunfermline, Scotland.
To commemorate Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary, we are sending one lucky couple to where our founder was born, the beautiful town of Dunfermline, Scotland.
Watch the superstar team of pianist Evgeny Kissin, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and cellist Mischa Maisky perform an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50.
This performance was captured on December 3, 2015 in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.
Watch more performance videos captured on Carnegie Hall stages.
I’ve been tuning pianos since 2001. I sort of fell into it.” Joel Bernache is a concert technician, the man who tunes those great black engines that resound through Carnegie Hall whether in solo recitals, the intimate exchanges of chamber music, or in the give-and-take of the piano concerto.
“I apprenticed with a technician for about a year,” he says. “He sent me off to school in Boston, and I landed a job at Steinway. I’ve been tuning the pianos in Carnegie Hall ever since.
“My job is very anonymous. For the most part, people don’t care who I am or what I do to fix a problem. But when there is a problem, everyone notices.
“When we get a frantic pianist or a stressed-out pianist who has some problem with the voicing or the keyboard, I’m the one who is there and who can help.” Among the tricks Joel uses: “strategic needling of the hammer felt,” which can alter the tone of the piano drastically. “I get specific requests regarding pianos – it needs to be bright and on the edge for a solo recital and more muted for chamber music when you’re looking for something more subtle. And for a concerto, you have to pay particular attention to the pitch.
“The biggest challenge is scheduling, of course, and the humidity (or lack thereof) in Carnegie Hall, especially in the wintertime. Forced hot air from the heating system is a big problem when it comes to piano tuning.” His favorite backstage moment: “Keith Jarrett. He gave a solo recital some years ago, and he can be very particular. But as he exited the stage, he took one look at me and just said, ‘Thank you very much.’”
This article first appeared in Carnegie Hall: 125 Years of an Iconic Music Venue’s Most Remarkable People and Memorable Events, available at carnegiehall.org/125th_Anniversary_Magazine.
As part of The Somewhere Project, Carnegie Hall’s citywide exploration of West Side Story, inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility are composing and performing original music inspired by the themes of the timeless musical. Take a look inside Carnegie Hall’s work at Sing Sing, now in its eighth year, through the video below and the words of Paul Grankowski, associate for Community Programs.
In Carnegie Hall’s work at Sing Sing Correctional Facility through the Musical Connections program, participants work to build a positive sense of self and strengthen bonds to family and community. The current project at Sing Sing is a yearlong composition residency led by James Shipp in which professional musicians and a group of 27 men at Sing Sing write and perform original music. Over the course of this season, the group performs their work in three concerts for more than 600 of their peers.
Last fall, as a part of The Somewhere Project—Carnegie Hall’s citywide exploration of West Side Story—Sing Sing’s musicians were asked to reflect upon themes found in West Side Story to incorporate into their own music. One overarching theme present in the resulting songs is the idea of finding a place in the world, this city, or behind those walls. Some of these songs have been later presented in free Neighborhood Concerts taking place throughout New York City.
One Sing Sing musician, Kenyatta, performed with Grammy Award–winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in Sing Sing’s auditorium on a song he wrote called “A Place for Us.” Kenyatta explains that before being incarcerated, “we think of home as a single place … but in here, when we talk about going home, we mean anywhere but here. All of a sudden, home is the entire world.”
Joyce DiDonato sings the song “Somewhere” from West Side Story with members of Decoda and performers from Sing Sing.
Standing backstage at this Somewhere Project–themed concert was a different experience from other Musical Connections events that I have helped produce in the past. On my right, there was a gorgeous view of the Hudson River just beyond a fortress of steel bars and concrete. On my left was a stage full of musicians who had managed to find a place for themselves in the bleakest of spaces—on stage performing for a full auditorium of their peers who thanked them with thunderous applause.
Gearing up for that concert involved four five-hour sessions over the course of several months, during which I witnessed a flurry of sights and sounds similar to many other Musical Connections songwriting projects taking place at various locations around the city. Jam sessions, idea sharing, and score studies were interrupted by few, yet startling reminders of the environment in which we were working. The mid-session break for the “count” and announcements that echo throughout the facility presented significant challenges to the music-making process, but the effort and determination of this group of musicians have made every one of my journeys north to Ossining so very worth it.
Vladimir Horowitz Hadn’t played a concert in almost 12 years when he decided to test the waters. To get the feeling of being on stage again, the legendary pianist arranged to rehearse in Carnegie Hall, the scene of great New York triumphs from his 1928 debut to his 25th anniversary recital in 1953 when he last performed in public. At his suggestion, Columbia Masterworks recorded some of the sessions. After one run-through, Horowitz looked out from the stage to the late Julius Bloom, then Carnegie Hall’s director, and said “Not so bad today!” Bloom retorted, “Not so bad? You should have had an audience!”
The earliest surviving live recordings from Carnegie Hall concerts stem from broadcasts, beginning with a fragment of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Willem van Hoogstraten on Dec. 17, 1923, and excerpts from Willem Mengelberg leading the ensemble in Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration on April 2, 1924. By the time electrical recording had been firmly established, RCA Victor set out to record the orchestra live in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with its then studio-shy music director Arturo Toscanini. Unfortunately, the Maestro rejected both recordings, although Carnegie Hall broadcasts eventually would provide the source material for future Toscanini releases with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
However, the first fairly complete Carnegie Hall event to be commercially released on a major label was Benny Goodman’s groundbreaking concert of Jan. 16, 1938. At first Goodman hesitated: Would jazz go over in New York’s most hallowed classical venue? Yet he worked hard to create a strong and well-organized program that not only sold out, but also paved the way for future Carnegie Hall jazz events. Pioneering engineer Albert Marx had the foresight to preserve the concert and sent microphone feeds over a broadcast telephone line to various recording machines. Goodman’s copies remained stored away until his sister-in-law stumbled upon them in 1950. The brand-new LP medium made it possible to release the concert more or less in its entirety. John Hammond’s 1938-1939 “From Spirituals to Swing” concerts, Duke Ellington’s annual 1940s appearances, the September 1947 Dizzy Gillespie Big Band show with special guest Charlie Parker, and the 1957 benefit featuring Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane also yielded important archival recordings that would gain commercial release.
Many popular singers and entertainers equally benefited from albums bearing the “Live at Carnegie Hall” imprimatur. In the aftermath of The Weavers’ McCarthy-era blacklisting, original members Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman reunited on Christmas Eve 1955 to a sold out and wildly enthusiastic house. Producer Don Friedman’s Nov. 10, 1956 show tied in to Billie Holiday’s recently released “autobiography” Lady Sings the Blues, which found the singer in precarious health yet in great voice. Holiday died in 1959, the same year that Harry Belafonte made his Hall debut as a headliner in a meticulously produced show and recording that still allowed for carefree audience interplay and participation. No one would have suspected that Judy Garland, sidelined by ailments and personal demons, would shortly work her way back to health and the height of her career in a 1960-1961 concert tour, culminating in a two-hour tour de force at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961.
The recording vividly showcases not only Garland’s newfound power and authority, but also the celebrity-packed audience’s genuine enthusiasm and love. One wonders if this album’s mega-success started a trend, with Tony Bennett’s two-LP 1962 Carnegie Hall release and a less heralded yet equally riveting disc from the up-and-coming Nina Simone just around the corner, along with the legendary encounter between Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews that was both recorded and televised. Certainly it had an enormous impact on Rufus Wainwright, who galvanized the audience in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage in 2006 with his note-for-note re-creation of Garland’s concert.
Yet Carnegie Hall plays host to more than just music, from an extensive lecture series presented by the Urania Astronomical Society of Berlin and a 1901 talk by the young Winston Churchill, to its role as a latter-day showcase for comedians and satirists. On Feb. 4, 1961, the controversial comedian and counterculture icon Lenny Bruce had the stage all to himself for a midnight concert. Braving two feet of snow, a blizzard, and a driving ban, nearly 3,000 people showed up, inspiring Bruce to the peak of his verbal and creative prowess (“You know, working Carnegie Hall, I dig it. I had a lot of fantasies with it … Maybe they don’t know we’re here!” he crows on the recording). Following Bruce’s death in 1966, United Artists issued an LP of excerpts, and, later, the entire concert.
By the 1950s, specially produced live recordings from Carnegie Hall by classical artists began to grace the catalog in earnest, with at least three featuring operatic icons. To benefit the Symphony of the Air, the legendary Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad came out of retirement on March 20, 1955, performing the Wesendonck Lieder and signature excerpts from the Ring cycle and Tristan und Isolde. A limited edition recording came out four years after Flagstad’s death. RCA Victor culled a treasurable LP’s worth of material from tenor Beniamino Gigli’s three April 1955 farewell Carnegie Hall recitals. By contrast, tenor Jussi Björling was in prime voice for his Sept. 24, 1955 concert (listen to the effortless coloratura in Mozart’s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni), and its first complete appearance on CD in 2011 was long overdue. So was American soprano Leontyne Price’s magnificent and eclectic Feb. 28, 1965 Carnegie Hall recital debut, rediscovered and mastered for release for the first time in 2002.
Release Date: April 29, 2016
“Comebacks” occupy the grey area between debuts and farewells, and no “comeback” generated so much excitement and anticipation as on May 9, 1965, when Vladimir Horowitz returned to the stage with Columbia’s engineers in tow. The award-winning recording sold fabulously, although there was some critical controversy over post-production editing. Although Horowitz left in some wrong notes—such as the exposed clinker at the start of his opening selection, the Bach/Busoni Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue—he corrected other mistakes. The complete unedited concert eventually saw the light of day in 2003. Ten years later, Sony BMG issued a 42-disc box set devoted to live and unedited Horowitz
Carnegie Hall concerts, including recitals and concerto collaborations, plus the 1976 “Concert of the Century” benefit to commemorate the Hall’s 85th anniversary that brought the pianist together with Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yehudi Menuhin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Leonard Bernstein, Lyndon Woodside, the Oratorio Society, and the New York Philharmonic.
Horowitz likened recordings to photographs, as “remembrances of things past.” After all, a picture postcard of a mountain range might remind you of its beauty, yet it’s not the same as seeing it in person. All the more remarkable, then, how such a wide range of recordings still manages to capture the Carnegie Hall experience, to preserve the singular sense of occasion, and to convey the intangible yet palpable communication between artist and audience that transcends the performance itself.
In celebration of Carnegie Hall's 125th anniversary season, the Shop has been carrying some unique gifts. Take a peek at some of the items available in the Shop, and don't forget to browse through all the items during your next visit!
The Carnegie Hall Shop is located off the First Tier level (second floor) of Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, next to the Rose Museum. It is also accessible from the entrance at 154 West 57th Street.
Carnegie Hall’s Link Up continues to reach more and more classrooms around the world. This elementary school music program, which pairs students with local orchestras, has now taken root in Nairobi, Kenya. English-speaking students are participating in The Orchestra Moves this year and preparing for a concert facilitated by the Art of Music Foundation. Paul Asiyo, a Link Up teacher in Kenya, answers some questions about the program below.
The schools that were chosen are government-run, and most of the students come from families with low to working class incomes. The schools have embraced the project and have provided as much assistance as possible, including rooms for the lessons and a teacher on duty to help manage the students. They have also allowed the students to be taken on small outings, including a trip to watch rehearsals by the Safaricom Youth Orchestra. The students themselves are very excited about learning music. When we gave them recorders, it was a struggle to get them to stop playing. They are resilient as well, as some have to travel a long distance to get home and are willing to stay because of the lessons.
Most of the schools do not have existing music departments. All of the equipment (recorders, stands, and pianos) has been supplied by The Art of Music Foundation, and the schools house them for us. We have three main teachers who handle two schools each, and each teacher has an assistant for each school. The lessons are treated as an extracurricular activity and occur weekly.
Since The Art of Music Foundation does not solely focus of the musical aspect of a student but rather on the student as a whole, the lessons cover more than the Link Up curriculum. They also seek to empower the students, showing them what to adhere to and what they can and should aim to attain in life, and showing them that they can be more than what society expects them to be.
The teachers are loving it! The students are amazing and grasp concepts quickly. The singing is going really well, and the students are learning the recorder at a good pace. The students are happy. You see them during the lesson as they try to grasp the concepts that are being taught, and the positivity that they have—how they push each other and correct each other—is just amazing.
Take a look into the classroom through these photos from Link Up’s inaugural year in Nairobi:
“This is one of the schools we will be teaching in. It’s a tiny school in an area called Dandora Phase 5, right next to Nairobi’s dumpsite. 300 students attend classes in this tiny space. They have a lovely music room and I know the music will really make a difference.”
—Elizabeth Njoroge, Executive Director, The Art of Music Foundation
It’s a wonderful environment—the music, the people. It’s a nice, warm, cordial relationship and you meet a whole cross-section of artists and visitors.” Dexter Oliver has been cleaning Carnegie Hall since 1986, and he’s seen it all. “I even met Kenny Rogers once,” he says. “I said to him, ‘I usually use your songs to fall asleep, but I’d better not fall asleep on the job!’
“I am responsible for ensuring the theater is properly cleaned and ready for the next performance. Sometimes I do it at night if there’s a matinée. We have a team of 18.”
For him, Carnegie Hall is literally a “dream” job. He explains: “One night I dreamt—and this is a true story—of being in a place that I’ve never been before. A week after I got the Carnegie Hall job, I looked and it was what I’d dreamt about. It was the exact place I’d seen in my dream. It’s really strange—I don’t know how to explain it.”
If you lose something in Carnegie Hall, Dexter might be the man who finds it. “I remember once it was in the middle of the winter, and somebody left their winter coat. To me it was very strange because it was a very cold day—once you’re outside, you’d realize you’d left something like that behind! I think once somebody even lost their wedding ring. The team found it, and they got it back.
“One of my favorite orchestras is Boston. Seiji Ozawa [their former music director] is an amazing guy. My family is Caribbean—I’m from Grenada—and this kind of music is not part of our culture. When I started, my family was like, ‘What kind of music is that?’ But you just lose yourself in it. I just listen to the music. Now most of the time when I’m driving, I’m listening to classical music. It’s such a wonderful art and you just have to put yourself in it and enjoy. That’s one of the things I’ve gained just working there.”
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