by Dean Olsher
Here’s what it’s like to play Carnegie Hall. There are ghosts all around you. You look at the podium and think: Let’s see, on opening day in 1891, that’s where Tchaikovsky was standing when he conducted his Marche Solennelle. And in the years that followed, it’s where Dvořák stood, and Mahler, and a phenomenally long list of boldfaced names.
New York City is afraid of ghosts. We know this because the city has worked extra hard to chase them away. To live here is to sit atop layers of history that vanish daily. But everywhere you look, there are quiet allusions to that history and to the usually benevolent ghosts who made it.
The name of the park where you stand in long lines for a burger is a reminder that the original Madison Square Garden—a monument to the Gilded Age—used to stand there. And for older New Yorkers, walking into Penn Station is the insult added to the mortal injury suffered by the glorious transportation palace it replaced.
Carnegie Hall itself came within a hair’s breadth of being demolished. Its Stern Auditorium is named for the friendliest ghost of all. The legendary violinist Isaac Stern led the fight to protect this architectural gem from “urban renewal.”
For the past 125 years, Carnegie Hall has been home to the top rung of musicians from around the world. But—and this is a remarkable thing—its green room is accessible to others as well. Musicians who work fiercely at their art, but who happen to not get paid for it, are given the chance to take the stage.
And this year that opportunity is being given to both ensembles that make up the Metropolitan Music Community. The Brooklyn Wind Symphony made its Carnegie Hall debut on April 13, and the Grand Street Community Band will do so on June 6.
It is near impossible to take an experience such as this for granted. For many of us, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be connected to the larger universe—of music, the city, and its history—and to step, for a brief moment, into a parade of legendary ghosts.