How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer to this old joke about the most famous concert hall in the United States used to be “practice, practice, practice.” Today the answer for tourists and New Yorkers alike would be “bus, subway, on foot or by bicycle.”
Located in the heart of Manhattan at West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, Carnegie Hall has been a magnet for great musical artists from all over the world for more than a century. Tchaikovsky conducted a program of his own works when the hall first opened in 1891. The Beatles played here on their first trip to the U.S. in 1964.
In Your Bucket Because…
- It’s the most famous concert hall in America.
- Its acoustics are considered world-class.
- It has three separate venues for presenting concerts.
- Good for music lovers of all persuasions.
In its current incarnation, since a $60-million renovation in 1986, the “hall” includes three different spaces for public events – Carnegie Hall itself, known officially as the Isaac Stern Auditorium and Perelman stage, which seats 2,804; Zankel Hall, a 599-seat smaller space built underground mostly for chamber music and solo recitals, which opened in 2003; and Weill Recital Hall, a 268-seat space that is often used for young musicians making their debuts.
The home of the New York Philharmonic orchestra for many years before it moved to Lincoln Center, Carnegie today is frequently the home away from home for illustrious visiting orchestras from Vienna, Berlin, Russia and London, as well as the venue for major concert debuts for stars like conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Lang Lang. Unexpected pleasures await adventurous concertgoers. My personal favorite was a thrilling lecture about and performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila by conductor David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony back in 2008.
Where are the Best Seats?
You must be prepared to spend liberally for the best seats, which are those in the first row of the first tier of boxes, or the center Parquet section toward the front of the stage. But I often have been happy to spend less by settling for side Parquet seats on the orchestra floor, or even the “Dress Circle,” which is better than the wide and distant balcony. Good partial view tickets are often sold at a 50 percent discount.
As for Zankel, there is not a bad seat in the house. In both halls, people with extra tickets often return them to the box office late or hawk them outside right before a performance.
Taking a Carnegie Tour
Come early and take a tour of the hall with a knowledgeable docent. You’ll learn that it was originally subsidized by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to the tune of $1.1-million. The design by architect William Tuthill was Italian Renaissance style on the outside. Inside, the hall’s acoustics have long been proclaimed to be among the best in the world. On a recent tour, my group was taken to one of the upper rows and could hear the discussions of stagehands working on the actual stage floor. Visitors learn about famous concerts, composers and performers and see some of the tools of their trade (batons, signed posters, scores) at the Rose Museum, which is located on the second floor. The museum is one corner of Carnegie that many concertgoers don’t realize is available.
The first to tell the “practice” joke? It might have been violinist Mischa Elman. As the story goes, he was not pleased with one rehearsal. Leaving Carnegie Hall by a backstage door, he was approached by two tourists looking for the hall’s entrance. Seeing his violin case, they asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without looking up and continuing on his way, Elman simply replied, “Practice.”
The primary season for Carnegie Hall concerts runs from October through May, although there are some events in September.
To reach Carnegie Hall take the N, Q and R subways to Seventh Ave., the F to 57th and Sixth Ave., or the A,B,C,D, 1, 2 or 3 to 59th St. and Columbus Circle. A limited number of partially obstructed view tickets are available at the box office for $10 on the day of every concert in Stern Auditorium. Go early; lines sometimes form before 9 a.m. Students with I.D. can get tickets for as little as $15 in advance with a subscription. Buying tickets online is easy, but there is service charge for online and phone purchases. If you can, avoid this charge by buying tickets at the box office.