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Carnegie Hall. Host to musical legends from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles, America's premier concert hall has been restored with an eye - and ear - toward maintaining its famous `sound'

By Carleton Knight IIISpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 26, 1986

New York

APPROPRIATELY, given the holiday season, New Yorkers have a new miracle to behold. This one, however, is not on 34th Street, but rather 57th. The legendary Carnegie Hall has been restored, at a cost of $30 million. The extensive work was accomplished in the incredible span of just of 29 weeks. As Lawrence P. Goldman, Carnegie Hall's director of real estate planning and development, notes, ``In New York City, you can't do anything in 29 weeks. But they did, and the glorious interior looks even better now than it did originally.''

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Closed last May, Carnegie Hall reopened Dec. 15 with a gala concert starring, among others, violinist Isaac Stern, pianist Vladimir Horowitz, composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, the New York Philharmonic, opera singer Marilyn Horne, and Frank Sinatra with Peter Duchin's orchestra. Such varied offerings were designed to show the full tonal range of the 2,800-seat hall.

The sound - conductor Serge Koussevitsky said the hall has ``a sonority like a Stradivarius'' - brought Carnegie Hall its stellar reputation.

The neo-Italianate design was by architect William B. Tuthill, and Andrew Carnegie, for whom the hall was named (the source of the magnate's fortune may help explain the extensive use of steel in the hall's balconies), picked up the tab. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducted the opening concert in 1891, and was followed by nearly every famous musician since. Sergei Rachmaninoff made his American debut at Carnegie in 1909, as did Horowitz in 1928 and the Beatles in 1964. Gershwin's ``An American in Paris'' was first performed here; Benny Goodman's jazz was heard here.

Over the years, Carnegie Hall came to exemplify musical success. Says Isaac Stern, the hall's president, ``This is where they separate the men from the boys.''

Despite its pedigree, Carnegie Hall suffered no little abuse over the years. During the depression, portions of the space were sold to commercial ventures to subsidize the hall. A glass-fronted coffee shop, for example, occupied the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue (in the just-completed work, it was removed and the original brick and terra cotta fa,cade restored). In addition, Carnegie Hall never had a true lobby. Patrons entered the hall on a wide set of stairs leading directly from the street. A tiny box office was tucked at the side. With no elevator, the handicapped were denied access.

There were other problems. During the making of the movie ``Carnegie Hall'' in 1946, a gaping hole was cut into the acoustical shell over the stage to allow room for lights and ventilation. Subsequently, the hole was hidden by a teaser curtain over the proscenium and a false ceiling on the stage. Gold radiator paint was applied repeatedly to the plaster decoration over the years, so that the details were lost.

Perhaps the final indignity was an ill-conceived plan to replace Carnegie Hall in 1960 with a high-rise office building, a project featured in Life magazine. The threat of demolition spurred action, led by Isaac Stern, who, days before the wrecking ball was to swing, persuaded the New York Legislature to approve purchase of the hall by the city, which subsequently leased the operation to a newly established nonprofit corporation. Since the rescue, Mr. Stern has remained in the forefront, and he oversaw restoration of the landmark.