|Should you go?
|Best thing I saw or learned
|When they laid the cornerstone for the Music Hall, Andrew Carnegie himself said that “here all good causes may find a platform.” Remarkably, that statement evolved into a policy of openness to anyone who wanted to take the stage (and could afford to rent it). So even in times when many venues were closed to, say, African American performers, Carnegie was open.
Two Carnegie-related places in a row. First the Cooper Hewitt in Andrew Carnegie’s former home, now the museum of the history of the eponymous Hall. I feel I should open with a joke:
Q. How do you get to the museum at Carnegie Hall?
A. Just head toward the First Tier restrooms at intermission.
The Rose Museum is a small space telling the story of Carnegie Hall, twice actually: once from a building/Carnegie perspective, the other more from an artistic perspective. But they run together and get a little redundant. It is indeed between the auditorium and the First Tier restrooms, as well as the patrons’ lounge.
It’s got some artifacts: various conductors’ batons, Henny Youngman’s clarinet, Ella Fitzgerald’s glasses. And a great display of LP sleeves from some of the myriad records produced “live at Carnegie Hall.” And a number of original or facsimile documents relevant to the place. I found it pretty engaging. But for all that music can help bring museum exhibits to life (e.g., at the Museum at F.I.T.), it’s a tough task making music the subject for a museum.
Carnegie Hall is an absolute treasure. The city would be immeasurably poorer without it. But for a long time its survival was extremely doubtful. The thing I liked least at the Rose Museum was a reproduction of a 1959 article from Life Magazine about what would replace Carnegie Hall. The Life story makes it sound like demolishing it (in favor of a hideous fire-engine-red skyscraper) was a done deal. Happily for the city, the developer couldn’t raise the money, and Carnegie Hall survived. But it got me thinking.
The loss of Carnegie Hall would have been a disaster, but nothing happens in a vacuum. The original, glorious Penn Station was torn down in 1964. What if they had succeeded in demolishing Carnegie Hall 5 years earlier? It’s fair to speculate that that event would have galvanized the historic preservation movement. Which might then have raised sufficient hue and cry that maybe, arguably, plausibly, the effort to save Penn Station would have succeeded.
So that raises a fascinating thought experiment. Which New York would you prefer?
- One with Carnegie Hall and the terrible ordeal that is Penn Station today.
- Or one with no Carnegie Hall, but the McKim Mead and White Penn Station.
For all that I love the music hall, I might make that trade.
If haven’t yet, you really should attend a concert at Carnegie Hall! They program a diverse set of performers, something there is bound to attract you. Architecturally and acoustically it’s a treasure.
But treat the museum as someplace to kill time during an intermission, not a destination for a special trip.
If you love performing arts and can’t attend a concert there, go take the tour–actually stand on the famous stage! And if you can’t do THAT, then, as a third-best option, do take a spin through the museum.
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