If you ever wondered what it feels like to perform at Carnegie Hall…
First, the sound and energy on the stage are not to be believed. When we played three mighty chords near the end of the first movement of the Beethoven 8th, the following measure rest was not silence—not silence at all, but a shimmering resonance vibrating the embers of the harmony back, forth, and around the entire hall. The energy from the orchestra to the audience, and from the audience back to the orchestra was a palpable wave. You could feel it build throughout the program, igniting the audience to an instant standing ovation after our final piece, Manuel De Falla's Ritual Fire Dance.
Our debut—the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall—was this past Monday February 25, 2013. Those world-renowned Carnegie Hall acoustics imparted nuance to our sound and inspired the orchestra to play beyond itself. Besides the Beethoven Symphony No. 8 and the De Falla ballet pieces, we featured two world premieres of my recent compositions—Carnegie Overtureand EveStar. I intended the overture to kind of blow the roof off the hall with lots of energy, dance rhythms, and an all-out percussion cadenza. Well, the roof stayed on. But the audience went from an initial polite greeting to cheers of surprise and enthusiasm.
EveStar was written in memory of my dear friend, genius mathematician, violist, chamber music aficionado, and orchestra Program Director Eve Cohen, who passed away last October. Most fittingly, the violas play the final notes of this quiet piece. After the concert, dozens of people approached me to say how touched they were particularly by EveStar. That meant a great deal. I so wish she could have been there to play with us. But Eve’s spirit was absolutely present. With her love for the orchestra, she certainly would have been proud of their performance, and she would have been satisfied that we connected in a meaningful way with the deep tradition of Carnegie Hall, one that stretches all the way back to Tchaikovsky conducting the hall's opening concert in 1891.
That tradition is part of the magic of the place. All along the corridors on the first floor are framed manuscripts of compositions that have been premiered or performed there, with handwritten notes. You pass Dvorak, Mahler, Strauss, Copland, Bartok, my teacher Leon Kirchner…the list goes on. On the second floor there are rooms with framed letters and telegrams from the greatest performers of the last century. Many of the most touching are from violinist Isaac Stern’s successful campaign to save Carnegie Hall from demolition. I was quite taken by a letter from legendary cellist Pablo Casals, who pleaded that for history’s sake alone, the hall should be spared. He wrote about his own Carnegie Hall debut in 1904 with the premiere of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Quixote on that very stage, conducted by the composer! He then went on to say that all his colleagues had similar stories to tell about Carnegie.
Playing and listening in Carnegie Hall makes for a brief but powerful connection with eternity.