The finest acoustics concert hall in the world, Carnegie Hall is home to over 250 seasonal concerts and an additional 500+ independently produced events every year. It’s not considered an opera hall (no operas are performed) nor is it a performance center (no ballets or Broadway shows- find out by playing I Spy below), but Carnegie Hall does offer world class concerts featuring every genre of music and spoken word. During the late nineteenth century Concert Halls were quite popular, as places to listen to a concert, as opposed to theaters, which were places to watch a performance.
Scottish native and steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie (properly pronounced “Car-nAa-gie”) and his singer wife Louise Whittfield were inspired by the conductor of the Oratorio Society, of which Louise was a member, to build a new venue for music in New York City. The Carnegies bought the property for the bargain price (due to its location in New York City) of one million dollars and spent another 1.2 million dollars to have it built in less than one year from May of 1890 to when it officially opened on May 5, 1891 as the “Music Hall” by Carnegie Hall (the inscription can still be found today on the building). Carnegie Hall has the distinction of being the first concert to be built with electricity and the world’s first “air cooling” system.
The “28 Week Miracle” closed the Hall for the first time in 1986, for a complete restoration of the Hall including the addition of a box office, museum, and elevators to make the Hall accessible.
Today, Carnegie Hall (the building) is owned by the City of New York and managed by a nonprofit that oversees programming. The Hall has three total stages: Isaac Stern Auditorium/ Perelman Stage (5 tiers and 2,800 seats), the Zankel Hall (located two floors below ground with 600 seats), and the Weill Recital Hall (located on the fourth floor with 268 seats). To see the current seasonal schedule, check here.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Carnegie Hall and would recommend it for upper elementary aged children and older. (Although, children five and under are free)
Playing “I Spy” while on the tour of Carnegie Hall:
- Watch out for low overhangs on the staircases between each tier. Some overhangs are as low as five feet, four inches!
- Look for evidence of the 1986 restoration indicated by the more modern design features like square patterns in the balconies and rails.
- Count the containers of Ricola lozenges located on every tier (a subtle hint to guests who might be prone to coughing fits during concerts).
- See two microphones that hang from the ceiling; they’re used to marking key moments in timing a program, like coordinating when the musicians start playing and when to send in ushers for intermission.
- Check out the level of the raised stage. Guests sitting in the first few rows will notice that the stage is raised higher than eye level to make it easier for sound to travel without interference.
6. See the American flag on all three stages; Carnegie Hall is the only hall in America where all three stages have an American flag on permanent display.
7. Look into the mirror (and find the coat rack) inside the vestibules of most of the private boxes on the 1st and 2nd tiers, which were private boxes with 8 distinct chairs. Going to Carnegie Hall was considered a version of a fashion show, and everyone could see the ladies (and gentlemen) in the private boxes.
8. Find the only photo not autographed on display on the tiers. Long time House Manager John J. Totten, who began his employment at Carnegie hall as a doorman in 1903, had a tradition of asking each performer to sign two photographs- one for his personal collection and one for the Hall. Today, many of the signed photographs displayed throughout the tiers are from his personal collection. There are so many signed photographs from both Totten and the Hall’s collections that only 3% of them are displayed at one time (the Hall staff rotates sign photos every so often). The one, unsigned photograph (always displayed) is a photo of composer Gustav Mahler, who died before Totten became House Manager and could have asked for Mahler’s signed photograph.
9. Search the Al Hirschfeld caricature (on the second tier, near the entrance to the Rose Museum) for his daughter’s name (found in every single one of Hirschfeld’s sketches) hidden in the drawing. Bonus: if you want to know more about Al Hirschfeld, check out our post on the Museum of Broadway).
10. Three mistakes in the display featuring the Beatles performance at Carnegie Hall in 1964. The Rose Museum (the last stop on the tour) features exhibits showcasing the history of the building, the history of famous performances, and honoring Isaac Stern, a violinist who helped save Carnegie Hall from demolition in the 1950s. Displays include tickets, programs, records, conductors’ batons, and photographs. The memorabilia from the Beatles concert includes three very silly mistakes.
Five Things You Won’t See at Carnegie Hall:
- An orchestra pit: Orchestra pits are most often used for operas and other performances.
- “Flys and Wings”: Used in ballets (which are not performed at Carnegie Hall), flys and wings help move both sets and ballerinas safely and efficiently during performances.
- Angles inside the Isaac Stern Auditorium/ Perelman Stage: There are only curves which help with the acoustics.
- Chandeliers or decor on the walls of the Halls: Again, to preserve the acoustic perfection of Carnegie Hall, there are no chandeliers nor any decorations on any of the walls.
- Special guests and dignitaries sitting on the left side of the theater. It’s a superstition, dating back to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, to avoid the left side of the theater to prevent misfortune.
Looking for more family fun in New York City? Check out our index of New York City posts here, and check out our tours of the Boston Symphony Orchestra here and Radio City Music Hall here. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.
Disclosure: I was given two media passes to explore Carnegie Hall; all opinions expressed are my own.