Tchaikovsky in New York: The Opening of Carnegie's Music Hall

Classic Arts Features   Tchaikovsky in New York: The Opening of Carnegie's Music Hall
 
After conductor Walter Damrosch convinced Andrew Carnegie to build what would become the famed Music Hall, he needed aname draw for the Hall's opening festivities. At the time, there were certainly very few names bigger than Tchaikovsky's.


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The Russian composer loved traveling, and the lure of the New World was exciting for him. He had a small notebook that he titled Trip to America, which was found in one of his suit pockets after he died. On the first page, he wrote, "Things to ask. Is it safe to drink the water in America? What kind of cigarettes do men smoke in New York City? What kind of hats do they wear? Can I get my laundry done there? Check acoustics of the new music hall."

When Tchaikovsky arrived in New York in 1891, he was wined and dined everywhere he went. He couldn't say enough about American hospitality. In his diary, he noted that "in other countries, if somebody comes up to you and they're nice, you suspect, 'What do they want?' Here in America, they don't want anything. They just want to be nice."

Tchaikovsky conducted five of his works during the Opening Festival of the Music Hall, starting on Tuesday, May 5. He wrote that he was besieged by people asking him for an autograph everywhere he went. His image was all over the papers, and people would cut out his photo and ask him to sign the other side. He usually included a musical quote, quickly notating a phrase from his Suite No. 3, which he conducted during the Opening Festival on May 7: his 51st birthday. "People in the United States know my work better than they do in Russia, in my own home," he remarked. At Carnegie Hall, here was Tchaikovsky in the flesh, conducting his own music.

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Gino Francesconi is director of the Carnegie Hall Archives and Rose Museum.

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