A Hall for Singing

Classic Arts Features   A Hall for Singing
Carnegie Hall Archivist Gina Francesconi looks back at the role of New York's Oratorio Society in the creation of Carnegie Hall.

This month almost two dozen events at Carnegie Hall feature the voice. The concerts range from the gospel-inflected sounds of Sweet Honey in the Rock to Act III from Wagner's Parsifal with The Philadelphia Orchestra, from Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth with the Cincinnati Pops to the Carnegie Hall Festival Chorus led by Helmuth Rilling. They even include a festival celebrating the vocal recital, The Marilyn Horne Foundation's The Song Continues…

Vocal performance of all types has had a long history at Carnegie Hall; in fact, the Hall was initially built for a chorus‹the Oratorio Society‹as a hall for singing. The Oratorio Society, founded by Leopold Damrosch in 1873, was one of the most important choruses in the city in the late 19th century. Without a concert hall of its own, the Society performed at locations throughout the city, such as Steinway Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, the Academy of Music, and even the Seventh Regiment Armory.

Leopold Damrosch‹and later his son Walter, who took over the Society after his father's death‹had a long-cherished dream of having a permanent home for the chorus. But it took the help of a woman singing in the chorus, Louise Whitfield, and the man who was courting her, Andrew Carnegie, to make that dream come true. Carnegie would ultimately demand that his hall be more than just a stage for vocal events, but it was the Oratorio Society‹whose relationship to Carnegie Hall continues to this day‹that set it all in motion.

‹Gino Francesconi
Archivist and Museum Director, Carnegie Hall

Visit the Rose Museum to find out more about Carnegie Hall's rich and diverse history.

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