On the corner of 57th and 7th Avenue sits the most famous concert hall in the world. No less a figure than when Tchaikovsky led the first performances in 1891. Virtually every major artist has performed there. There is simply no place like it.
The first time I stepped foot in Carnegie Hall was in 1964. I was a student at the Juilliard School and had bought a ticket to what I thought was going to be a performance of music by Benjamin Britten. It turned out that I did not check the date and wound up at a Beethoven recital by Wilhelm Backhaus.
You feel the sense of history upon entering the hall. The horseshoe shape makes it seem larger than life and perhaps it is. In those days, the sound was rich, warm and like velvet. It covered up many sins and in some cases made the musicians sound better than they were. And of course the great ones were made even more astonishing.
I listened to Horowitz, Heifetz, Rubinstein, and Fischer-Dieskau. The orchestras from Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Berlin and Vienna were regular visitors. Jazz and pop music were also part of the agenda with concerts by Sinatra, Brubeck and Streisand very much on my radar.
In 1965 I stepped onto the stage for the first time. My debut was with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra and we played a piece by William Schuman. On that occasion I thought the hall must have seated 15,000 people, so overwhelming was the perspective from the podium. The ghosts of the greats haunted the dressing room and it was with a certain amount of fear that I walked to the center of the platform.
A very kind attendant said something that perhaps allayed some of my trepidations. "You know, there have been numerous concerts here, some good and some bad. Just enjoy the moment."
And I did.
Over the years it has been my privilege to lead performances with Saint Louis, the National Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and so many other wonderful organizations. Now, I will bring my Detroit Symphony to Carnegie, the first time in 17 years for the orchestra. We will perform two concerts, with vastly different repertoire.
Two years ago, the hall started a project that is called, "Spring For Music." The idea was to present a week of programs featuring orchestras that have innovative concepts. The first of ours, on Thursday, May 9, will feature music by Rachmaninov, Weill and Ravel, composers who had to come to grips with creating music in the 20th Century, even though their musical leanings tended to reflect a 19th century ethic.
The second program, on Friday, May 10, will present the four numbered symphonies by Charles Ives, the first time this has ever been done. Over the course of 20 years or so, the composer can be seen as a naïve and somewhat amateur creator, eventually emerging as the most original force in American music. The world premieres of his second and fourth symphonies were given in Carnegie and I was actually in attendance for the latter in 1965.
There will be almost a thousand people coming from Detroit to hear us in New York. Yet another sign of the continued growth of the artistic culture in Motor City. Hopefully we will look and sound distinct, with a musical profile that makes this trip special for our own audience as well as those from New York.
And the answer to the title question? Practice, practice, practice! Oh, and when we leave the hotel we make a left and go two blocks.