Rough Times for a Resilient Carnegie Hall


Carnegie Hall Last Tenant

Carnegie Hall, 56th Street and Seventh Avenue. Photo: AP

As the story goes, a pedestrian on 57th Street stopped violin guru Jascha Heifetz one day and inquired, “Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”  To which Heifetz replied, “Yes. Practice!” – Carnegie Hall remains a beacon for musical mastery in NewYork City, but are New Yorkers still wondering about “how” to get to Carnegie, or are they dwelling on the “Why”?

In 2011, Carnegie hall hosted only 180 concerts, down from 200 the previous year,  and after a steady yearly 3 percent increase. In a an article published in July of 2011 detailing a series of cutbacks at Carnegie, Bloomberg News reported that Carnegie’s net assets dropped by a total of 17 percent, or $70 million, during 2009 and that annual expense charts demonstrated an 8 percent reduction in operating expenses for the season ending in June 2010. Additionally, Bloomberg also reported that many workers, including renown executive art director Clive Gillinson, experienced salary cuts of up to 7.5 percent during the year.

“In so many ways, Carnegie Hall today is not the same institution it was two years ago,” wrote the chairman of Carnegie Hall’s board Sanford Weill in the 2010/2011 annual report. “We have learned much from the recession, growing leaner and more efficient because of it…but clearly, economic recovery is still a work-in-progress.” Carnegie Hall may be a not for profit organization, but the noose is tight around the necks of its executives that must be able to come up with at least $100 million in ticket sales to help fund a $200 million renovation project due for completion in 2014.

Beatrice Livinski from Brooklyn believes that Carnegie’s future will be saved by its history. “Many people come because Carnegie Hall is a landmark,” she says. Livinski has been a volunteer at the Weill Recital Hall (named after Weill and his wife, Joan) since 2004. “This year has been a little bit slower,” Livinski says, “but Christmas concerts are always packed.”   The recent drop in ticket sales does not surprise Livinski. “Tickets are so expensive. The cheapest ones sell for $50 and the most expensive for $75 or more, nowadays the cheaper tickets sell out so quickly, only the expensive ones get leftover.” In the past, she admits, “tickets were much cheaper. We sold out all the time before, now that only happens during the holidays.”

Down at the Weill ticket office, Roy Feldheusen, a singer in the Collegiate Choral group, worries about the drop in ticket sales. The Collegiate Choral group performed at Carnegie recently and Feldheusen was leaving four tickets at the ticket office for his sons and friends. “Our choir chief has instructed each one of us members to sell at least four tickets so we can fill up empty seats,” he explains. “At the choir we have felt the pinch.”

Synneve Carlino, director of public affairs at Carnegie, declined to provide recent sales figures but claims that “Carnegie Hall is doing well despite the economic recession.”  To help ease the economic recession Carnegie is investing in cheaper tickets and a wide variety of new discounts to lure New Yorkers back to its halls. “We are offering a variety of discount programs, including student subscriptions and student rush tickets,” Carlino says. “Our low-cost Notables membership program for young music enthusiasts in their 20s and 30s starts at $20 which is a great price.”

Carnegie Hall also offers limited public rush tickets with discounted partial view seats as well as discounts for Bank of America members and military veterans. “ We understand that programs like this are especially important when people are having to make harder decisions economically,” says Carlino.

A surprising 16 point hike in the consumer confidence index this month may also provide some welcome breathing room. Consumer confidence improved to 56 points in November up from 40.9 in October, according to the United States Economic Portal,; the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index is based on consumer expectations of business outlooks, income and employment conditions for the coming six months. The index is based on an average of 3,000 questionnaires and is believed to have a positive correlation with consumer spending.

For avid concert fans like Adele from the Upper West Side – who preferred not to give her last name – this is good news. Is Adele one of those fortunate few who can still afford luxury entertainment this year? Not at all, she says, but Adele refuses to give up her musical therapy. “I have cut down on eating out at restaurants,” she says, “but not this. I will not cut down here.”“I like unusual concerts,” Adele says. “Philip Glass will be playing here, that is very unusual.”

Glass tickets range from $50 to $75.99 each.

Executive director Gillinson hopes that the renovation will motivate more people to experience a show at Carnegie Hall at a time when the government art budget has been decreased and investors are cutting down on superfluous spending. “It’s not that great orchestras won’t come,” he said. “They’ll come less often. As a result, we have to provide the best of everything.”

Will Carnegie Hall pull through the recession and be able to maintain its renovation plans? Probably so, if its cutbacks and special prices continue to be successful. Aside from dedicated fans, Carnegie has historically been helped by several private donors – including the Weill family – in times of need. So far the hall has received a $25 million lead gift from Weill as well as over $56.5 million from city backed bonds to help cover renovation expenses.