“Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception: Carnegie Hall enhances the music, ” said Isaac Stern. Violinist Stern rescued Carnegie Hall in 1960 when it was about to be demolished. As the result of his efforts, the main hall, which seats 2,804, was renamed the Isaac Stern Auditorium. There are 2 other, much smaller venues in the building that we didn’t see on our tour. Stern was correct about Carnegie Hall’s acoustics. They have amazed audiences since 1891.
Carnegie Hall was named for Andrew Carnegie, who funded its construction. Carnegie was born in Scotland. Mimi, our tour guide and an enthusiastic concert goer, told us that he was VERY poor and left school at the age of 13 to work. However, his luck improved. He eventually moved to New York City to build bridges and developed a new method of steel production. When he sold his steel interests to J. P. Morgan in 1901 for $480 million, he became the richest man in America. However, he dedicated the rest of his life to spending his fortune and became famous for building 3,000 libraries. 80% of his money went to education. He founded CIT, which is now Carnegie Mellon University. I didn’t know until Mimi told me that Carnegie loved church organs and was a profound pacifist who married for the first and only time at the age of 52 because he had promised his mother that he wouldn’t wed while she was alive.
Carnegie Hall cost him one million dollars, and he hired a cellist named William Tuthill to design it. Tuthill avoided corners because sound might hide in them. His main hall is full of curves and has no chandeliers to interrupt sound. Nothing is amplified. Even the mohair in the seats helps the sound. Tuthill used concrete, plaster, and, of course, steel in the construction plans. He also included a large ice room to cool the building, a clever early form of air-conditioning. Carnegie is Tuthill’s only concert hall.
Carnegie Hall isn’t just a venue for classical music. Our tour ended in a museum with tributes to the many performers who have graced its stage like Judy Garland, Bruce Springsteen, and Jay Z. When the Beatles sang there in 1974, some greeters mistakenly called him John, but he signed the program Paul McCartney anyway. I know because it’s on display in the museum.
Mimi insisted that I couldn’t photograph the stage when someone was on it, so I had to wait for the piano tuner to finish before I took the picture below. A committed New Yorker, she emphasized the fact that Carnegie Hall, when built, was the only structure besides the Dakota that existed this far north on Manhattan Island. Aghast at the horse manure that must have collected in New York’s 19th century streets, Mimi spoke of this hall’s renovations, its threatened closings, the thrill of attending performances, etc. I highly recommend this guided tour and hope you get to meet Mimi too.