Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An Inside Look at Carnegie Hall

This Saturday, American Public Media’s special “Carnegie Hall Live” series continues on KPAC with a vocal recital featuring soprano Karita Mattila, accompanied by Martin Katz. Mattila dazzled audiences at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of “Salome,” and she’ll be bringing that same intensity to works by Poulenc, Debussy, Marx, and Aulis Sallinen live from the stage of Carnegie Hall, which is celebrating its 120th season this year.

Earlier this fall, TPR’s Nathan Cone traveled to New York to experience the hall for himself, and took along his trusty hand-held microphone recorder. As you read on below, click the hyperlinked text for audio from his tour, and more links.


Despite having visited New York on a number of occasions, I had never been to a Carnegie Hall performance before attending the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique on November 16. Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner led the ensemble in an all-Beethoven program with the Egmont Overture offering a taste of grand things to come—the Seventh and Fifth symphonies of Beethoven followed.

Gardiner’s handling of the Seventh was terrific; the final Allegro movement almost had me leaping out of my seat! Never have I heard such energy in a live performance. Furthermore, individual parts in the ensemble were easily discernable to the ear. It gave me a deeper appreciation for Beethoven’s mastery. Gardiner also breathed new life into the Fifth Symphony, emphasizing its rhythmic propulsion. If you missed it, you can listen to the whole concert at this link, and read a full review online from the New York Times.

Following the concert, I spoke to many audience members who remarked on the sound of the hall. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique easily filled the 2,804 seat auditorium with their performance.

Later that night, I visited for a short time with Fred Child (at left, APM) and Jeff Spurgeon (WQXR), co-hosts of the broadcast. Their broadcast booth is a tiny room up a winding staircase on the opposite side of the recital hall. Their monitor? A 13-inch closed-circuit television feed. But the sound mix is great!

The next morning, our tour guide, Elliot Kaback, a college librarian, singer, and longtime supporter of Carnegie Hall, enthusiastically shared the history of Carnegie Hall with our group. He recounted how he used to come hear concerts at Carnegie Hall as a young man, and how there used to be storefronts along the lower level at one time, alongside the entrances to the hall.

The main hall that everyone knows simply as “Carnegie Hall” is just one of three recital halls at the 120-year-old venue. Weill Recital Hall is a 268 seat auditorium that often features debut performances by musicians just finishing their schooling at Julliard or other music schools. Zankel Hall was actually the first hall to open to the public in 1891, but was converted into a movie theater in the 1950s. In the late 1990s, that operation was shuttered, and now the 599-seat hall offers cutting edge performances. According to Kaback, the hall always sells out its bookings, because New Yorkers love new ideas. But Zankel is also wired as an online classroom, and students from around the globe can experience lectures and performances live from Zankel.

Carnegie Hall is unique in its construction. It’s one of the last large buildings built in New York to use masonry construction, and there is very little wood in the hall itself. The structure is all iron and steel, because Andrew Carnegie was a steel tycoon, and “this was all his stuff,” as Kaback noted. Carnegie was also futuristic; in the 1880s, he had the foresight to place his hall in between 56th and 57th streets in Manhattan. Although you might have seen animals wandering the streets in the early days of the hall, less than a decade after it was built, Carnegie Hall was in literally in the center of New York, an area we now know as Midtown. The two towers on top of the hall used to be rented out to artists, musicians, and teachers; now they are being renovated into rehearsal and administrative space.

The Main Hall was designed by a man named William Tuthill, an architect and cellist whose assignment by Carnegie was to study the great concert halls of Europe. What Tuthill did was to basically take the European halls he saw, and – in an eminently American move – super-size it. Carnegie Hall’s Main Hall holds 2,804 patrons, and though its height can seem intimidating, it still feels intimate inside.

Incidentally, although we can thank Andrew Carnegie for footing the bill for Carnegie Hall, it was actually a family of German immigrants, the Damrosch family, who initiated the idea of a permanent concert hall. Walter Damrosch conducted the first performance at the hall on May 5, 1891.

One auspicious debut performance at Carnegie Hall came in 1943, when Leonard Bernstein stepped in to conduct the New York Philharmonic after Bruno Walter came down with the flu. Bernstein, who had been up partying the night before, was asked by the musicians to simply keep time and let them do the work, but they – and the audience – soon realized they were in the presence of greatness.

Carnegie Hall has played host to a variety of performers over the years, including the Beatles, Dave Brubeck, Benny Goodman, and countless classical premieres. I could really feel the history in the hall while visiting. It is our pleasure to share the Carnegie Hall Live series in this special 120th anniversary season with you on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM. Live broadcasts are an important part of radio history in the making, and we hope you’ll join us!

--Nathan Cone, Director of Classical Programming

Future Carnegie Hall Live concerts on KPAC 88.3 FM:

Saturday, December 10, 2011, 7pm: Karita Mattila, soprano
Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 7pm: Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
Saturday, February 25, 2012, 7pm: Berlin Philharmonic, piano
Saturday, March 3, 2012, 7pm: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Thursday, March 15, 2012, TBA: L’Arpeggiata
Sunday, March 25, 2012, 1pm: Les Violins du Roy
Friday, April 27, 2012, TBA: Pavel Haas Quartet
Wednesday, May 23, 2012: Cleveland Orchestra
Tuesday, May 29, 2012: Lang Lang, piano

No comments: