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Carnegie Hall (History)


The idea of a new concert hall in New York was born in 1887, when Andrew Carnegie (the rich industrialist), met the young conductor Walter Damrosch, musical director of the Symphony Society of New York and the Oratorio Society of New York.

The Hall opened in 1891, with a five-day opening festival that attracted the cream of New York society (including the Whitneys, Sloans, Rockefellers and Fricks) who came to hear performances by the Symphony and Oratorio societies under the directon of Damrosch and Tchaikovsky himself. The opening of the Music Hall (as it was called until the 1894–1895 season) was a real success: It was clear right away that Andrew Carnegie had built a concert hall that was as pleasing to the ear as it was to the eye. Journalists called it "the most beautiful Music Hall in the world."

The Hall quickly attracted the world's leading artists. Tchaikovsky's appearance on the opening night set an auspicious precedent for the array of classical musicians in those early years who would make Carnegie Hall the essential venue in the United States. In over a century of existence, Carnegie Hall has hosted such legendary pianists as Ignace Paderewski, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Horowitz, Maurizio Pollini, Leif Ove Andsnes, Mitsuko Uchida, Martha Argerich, Evgeny Kissin and Lang Lang. The early years of Carnegie Hall also saw celebrated violinists such as Fritz Kreisler, Eugène Ysaÿe, Jascha Heifetz (who made his debut at Carnegie Hall at only 16 years old), Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Gil Shaham, Midori, Christian Tetzlaff and Joshua Bell. The greatest cellists of the 20th century, including Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, Mstislav Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma, have also graced the stage on numerous occasions. Over the years, countless singers have appeared in recital at Carnegie Hall, including such luminaries as Enrico Caruso, Plácido Domingo, Maria Callas, Paul Robeson, Lily Pons, Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Montserrat Caballé, Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, and more recently Thomas Quasthoff, Ian Bostridge, Dawn Upshaw, and Renée Fleming.

The newly born New York Philharmonic made its home at Carnegie Hall (until it eventually moved to Lincoln Center), attracting such great conductors as Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein. On December 16, 1893, one of the red-letter dates in American musical history, the orchestra gave the premiere of Antonín Dvorák’s "New World" Symphony in the Main Hall (now Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage), with the composer in attendance. Gustav Mahler, Arthur Nikisch, Willem Mengelberg, Sir Thomas Beecham, Pierre Monteux, Fritz Reiner, Charles Munch, Leopold Stokowski, George Szell, Bruno Walter, Sir Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, Riccardo Muti, James Levine, Valery Gergiev, Michael Tilson Thomas and Gustavo Dudamel, among many others, have also conducted performances at Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Hall has also been a home to jazz greats (Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane and Miles Davis among others), folk music (Joan Baez and Bob Dylan), popular entertainment (Nat King Cole, Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett), and pop music (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Elton John, David Bowie and Stevie Wonder, to name but a few).

Learn more about the amazing people and memorable events that have enlivened Carnegie Hall since its opening in 1891.

Read about the young conductor who convinced one of the world’s richest men to build a music hall in an undeveloped section of upper Manhattan, the performers who brought Carnegie Hall to prominence, and the crisis that helped shape Carnegie Hall into the dynamic non-profit music organization it is today. If you’re a researcher, take a look at the list of materials available in the Carnegie Hall Archives.

More information: Carnegie Hall Then and Now (PDF) | Notable Events | Building History