First Audience Fills Zankel at Carnegie Hall



A rendering of the interior of Zankel Hall

A crowd of media personnel and industry professionals filled the newly completed Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall yesterday for its inaugural concert. A diverse selection of repertoire performed by Emanuel Ax, Renée Fleming, the Kenny Barron Quintet, the Fula Flute Ensemble, and a group of young performers under the baton of Carnegie Composer Chair John Adams demonstrated the versatility of the Hall and offered a sampling of the programming that is in store for its opening season.

In a brief speech, Carnegie Executive and Artistic Director Robert Harth congratulated the audience for having “lasted through the last speech about Zankel Hall.” He continued, “From now on it is just music.”

The opening of Zankel Hall represents the completed restoration of Andrew Carnegie’s original vision, which was to have 3 stages in one great hall, a theme that was apparent throughout the event. In fact, when Carnegie Hall opened in 1891, there were three stages dedicated to music: the large, Main Hall (now Isaac Stern Auditorium), an intimate Chamber Music Hall (Joan and Sanford I.Weill Recital Hall), and an intermediate-sized Recital Hall on the lower-level. The first performance to be presented under the auspices of Carnegie Hall actually took place where Zankel now resides, a piano recital by Franz Rummel that took place one month before the building’s official opening.

But within less than 5 years of this performance, the intermediate stage was already being used for non-musical purposes, and was rented out to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, who renamed it the Carnegie Lyceum. In the century that followed, the space was converted to an off-Broadway theater, an art film house, and a commercial movie theater. In order to be reclaimed for music, serious renovations were needed including burrowing through 6300 cubic yards of bedrock and designing a stage area that had suitable acoustics for music.

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Construction on the Hall began in 1999.
Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall

Under the initiative of former Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Judith Arron and Isaac Stern, a campaign began in 1997 to restore the lower-level space into a music venue. With significant financial support from Judy and Arthur Zankel, as well as state and federal funding, Polshek Partnership Architects, Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Inc., and the Tishman Construction Company of New York were enlisted and work on the space began in 1999.

Just four years later, the Hall opened its doors to a welcome its first audience. “Today is a great day for Carnegie Hall in history as we realize the dream that thousands of people have embarked on for the past five years,” remarked Harth.

Indeed the opening festival, two-weeks of diverse programming curated by John Adams, is a celebration. With music ranging from the highest quality chamber ensembles playing the classics to extensive new music offerings and an array of jazz and world music, the festival is set to establish Zankel as a flexible space that is capable of great eclecticism of programming. With three different seating configurations and extensive multimedia capabilities, the Hall seems particularly suited to contemporary works that stray from traditional concert hall set-ups. And certainly American composers are well-represented in the opening season. In the opening festival alone, a diverse range of American music is being presented, including works by Charles Ives, Lou Harrison, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Ingram Marshall, Steve Reich, Frederic Rzewkski, Meredith Monk, Ned Rorem, Elliott Carter, Peter Lieberson, and Bill Frisell.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In October, the Hall hosts “When Morty Met John…“, a tribute to Morton Feldman and John Cage that includes a concert of Feldman’s six-hour 2nd String Quartet performed by the Flux Quartet and John Cage’s complete carillon works, performed by George Steel. (Actually, this one will be performed in partnership with Carnegie Hall from St. Thomas’s Church on Fifth Avenue and heard outside.) “The Creative Process” is a series of discussions with John Adams talking to Frank Gehry, Peter Sellars, and Bill Viola. “Signatures” and “Fast Forward” are also series dedicated to new music and will feature performances by Maya Beiser, Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish, David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness!, the Kronos Quartet, the American Composers Orchestra, and the New World Symphony.

In his statements, Harth admitted that while being involved in the building of the concert hall was a fascinating process, “nothing is as exciting as planning the music that will bring this hall to life.” And for eager music fans, the fruits of the labor are finally ready for picking. The first public performance, a concert titled “From the Steeples and the Moutains” featuring works by Ives, Harrison, Adès, and Salonen conducted by Adams, will be at 7 PM on Friday, September 12.