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Rockefeller, Drucker Look Back as Lincoln Center Turns 50

06/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The recent kick-off of the 50th anniversary celebration of New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts brought back memories to some of the complex's 1959 ground-breaking ceremony.

At a special program at Alice Tully Hall hosted by Tom Brokaw, New York Philharmonic music director-designate Alan Gilbert conducted orchestra members in a performance of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," which was conducted at the ground-breaking by Leonard Bernstein, then the orchestra's music director.

Stanley Drucker, the Philharmonic's principal clarinetist, who is retiring in June after 60 years with the orchestra, said he remembered "the first symbolic shovel" 50 years ago. Lincoln Center, he said, "was a big, open construction site that had a makeshift stage, with Leonard Bernstein conducting a short program. John D. Rockefeller was there, and Ike. There was a fringe of buildings around it, tenement-style buildings with police on top, security looking down from every direction. It was quite a moment, a very exciting time."

David Rockefeller, the former chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank and youngest brother of John D. Rockefeller 3rd , first president of Lincoln Center, said he was "delighted" to attend the 50th anniversary celebration, "only sad that my brother, John, who was really the one in the family who was the most involved, is no longer with us. But I think he would be absolutely thrilled."

Rockefeller said his late wife, Peggy, "was very much involved with the Philharmonic for many years, so that between my brother and my wife, I've been closely connected and an enthusiastic supporter for many years."

Also celebrating the 50th anniversary was the singer and actor Audra McDonald, who performed. Noting she was not yet born 50 years ago, she said she had spent "the last 21 years of my life in and around Lincoln Center. I went to school here, and I have performed on every single stage in this entire complex." Her third and final song was "Somedays," with music by Steven Marzullo, based on a poem by James Baldwin; she said it represented "all of the different experiences I've had in this blessed place."

Lincoln Center's 50th anniversary programming will extend an entire year and take place not only on its own campus, but also in other venues throughout New York City. Upcoming events include a free concert by the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma in Damrosch Park on June 9, which will be broadcast on PBS; a Midsummer Night Swing twist party with Chubby Checker on July 8; and the free, opening night performance in Damrosch Park on August 5 of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out @ 50. The Metropolitan Opera's 2009-2010 season will feature 17 operas that have been in its repertory for 50 years or more, while the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's 2009-2010 season will present three complete Beethoven cycles.

In addition, there will be an exhibit in June in the Time Warner Center of works by contemporary artists from the Lincoln Center List Poster and Print Program; Lincoln Center is also publishing a book on its complete art collection, which includes works by Calder, Chagall, Moore, Johns and others. In July, Lincoln Center Theater will publish a double issue of its review, looking back on 50 years of theater there.