Dear Finely Tuned Friends,
As my daily musical diet has expanded to embrace live performances of discordant sounds emanating from my joints, I’ve concluded that I’m unlikely to find myself in Box 33 on March 7, 2075, when Carnegie Hall will presumably pull out all the stops to celebrate Maurice Ravel’s 200th (and my 125th) birthday.
In an effort to face down this existential challenge, I’ve elected to include a bequest in my will for Carnegie Hall. I do it in the hopes it will enable a discriminating group of sentient music lovers to act as my proxies in savoring the pleasures of that and other future transcendent evenings at the Hall—assuming, of course, the corner of Seventh Avenue and 57th Street remains above sea level at that late date.
An unanticipated consequence of this act of generosity was my prompt elevation into the ranks of the Isaac Stern Society (informally known as the “Orpheus in the Underworld Association”), which is populated by other far-sighted, lugubrious music lovers who have also decided to express their appreciation for Carnegie Hall with their dying breaths.
Recently, my friends at Carnegie Hall asked me whether I could put into writing those circumstances that prompted me to make my bequest, presumably “to encourage others,” as the French are fond of saying following a guillotining. This latest assignment seems the natural progression from my having been previously tapped to deliver welcoming remarks to fellow Patrons at selected dinners before Carnegie Hall concerts that have featured works such as Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, or Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem.
At its simplest, of course, my decision to make a parting gift is a public declaration that my relationship with Carnegie Hall has been one of the longest, most passionate, and least contentious love affairs of my life. Although it often feels as if this romance, as in any good National Geographic episode, dates back to “time immemorial,” my overflowing box of Playbills suggests that my introduction to the Hall took place on November 26, 1963—a notable evening in which The Philadelphia Orchestra, under Eugene Ormandy, did a quick change of programming and performed Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem as a tribute to slain President Kennedy.
At the concert’s conclusion, there was, by design, no applause, and the audience members filed out of the Hall in a silent, orderly manner. It was only later I came to learn that a typical evening at the Hall includes not only a stunning concert, but also vigorous applause, cheering and shouting, occasional foot-stomping, and, predictably, New Yorkers shoving one another as they frantically head to the exits.
In the four decades following that first encounter, whether pursuing academic studies or my career, I increasingly spent more memorable afternoons and evenings at Carnegie Hall. But, following the arrival of the new millennium and, shortly afterward, my early retirement, the relationship took on a whole new complexion. Each succeeding season found me subscribing to additional series, for despite having attended concerts for decades at the Hall, the arrival in January of each season’s new brochure left me excited and amazed that, despite any carping by The New York Times’s dyspeptic classical music critic, the artistic team had once again managed to assemble another season of fresh, imaginative, and compelling programming.
Apart from the concerts themselves, after several years as a card-carrying Patron, I was invited to join the Patrons Council and given the privilege of co-hosting, each year, a handful of convivial pre-concert dinners in the Shorin Club Room, where I often had the pleasure of meeting many like-minded devotees of Carnegie Hall and, occasionally, delivering the welcoming remarks (frequently peppered with some seemingly erudite comments on the evening’s musical program, acquired earlier that afternoon through the magic of Wikipedia).
I also had the great privilege, during the decade that preceded the lockdown, of hosting a string of eight annual soirées at my home for Carnegie Hall Patrons, at which members of Ensemble Connect or the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America rapturously performed leading works of chamber music repertoire in the sort of intimate setting for which much of that music had been composed, without a single complaint about seating or sight lines.
And so, having witnessed and experienced Carnegie Hall up close and personal over a lifetime, what do I think and how do I feel?
Even allowing for my natural hyperbole, it’s clear to me that after 130 years, Carnegie Hall remains the greatest concert hall in the world, and we have the good fortune to be in the midst of one of its golden ages.
The awe in which the Hall is held by performers and public alike is not just the result of its great physical beauty, remarkable acoustics, and historical importance, but also because, year in and year out, its programming is unmatched in terms of creativity, variety, and quality. Its stages are home to an unending number of wide-ranging and sublime concerts, performed to the highest standards by the greatest orchestras and musical artists in the world.
Watching their faces as they scan the Hall, I have the impression that the superb artists who come to perform there are clearly awed by the experience and play their hearts out. More than one performer has said to me that there is only one Carnegie Hall, which I assume is meant to convey an insight beyond the merely numerical.
Finally, of great importance to me is the warmth and camaraderie that appear to infect almost everyone who works at the Hall, right through to the most charming and skillful ticket takers and ushers in New York City, who embrace everyone, apart from those audience members who seem determined not to leave Carnegie Hall without having electronically captured a flawless recording of the highlights of the evening’s performance.
With so much to be grateful for, it seems obvious to me that when the time comes to swap my seats for a harp and a halo, I want to try to repay a small portion of the large debt I’ve incurred to Carnegie Hall over six decades of inspired entertainment and education.
Of course, it’s never been a one-way street. Those of us who regularly fill Carnegie Hall’s seats and coffers with generous annual gifts have been essential in enabling it to remain at the summit of the world’s most treasured cultural institutions. And yet, despite the frequency with which I’m warmly thanked by Carnegie Hall for my support, I’m sure a proper accounting would confirm that I’ve always gotten the better part of the deal. Quite simply, it’s impossible to place a price on rapture and transcendence. Other Patrons have frequently shared similar sentiments with me.
If “thank you” seems like more than a good enough reason to leave money to Carnegie Hall in my will, I also like to think that, if my pessimistic assessment of my long-term posthumous prospects proves to be ill-founded, perhaps my friends at the Hall will be good enough to treat a portion of my bequest as a down payment on subscription tickets to eternity.
Wishing you all good things, including your preferred seating, for many years to come,
To learn more about how you can follow in Neil’s footsteps and create your own legacy at Carnegie Hall, contact Susan J. Brady at 212-903-9624 or email@example.com. We would be delighted to find a giving solution to fit your needs.