Tribute to Carnegie Hall greats - past and present

Carnegie Hall: The Grand Reopening CBS, tomorrow, 9-11 p.m. Special taped Dec. 15, 1986, featuring musical performances, historical background, personal reflections. ``There's something that goes on between the audience and a performer,'' says violinist Isaac Stern at the beginning of this absorbing and sometimes moving show, ``and that something is what we call `the magic of Carnegie Hall.'''

These two hours are themselves about the magic of Carnegie Hall. On Dec. 15 last year, a triumphant and nostalgic evening of music celebrated the reopening of this ``Stradivarius of concert halls.'' It was about to be razed some years ago, but through the remarkable efforts of Mr. Stern - and the many who responded to his personal crusade - it was saved from progress. The reopening celebration took place only after years of fund raising and a multimillion-dollar renovation.

The show attempts, quite successfully, to put the reopening in the context of the hall's uniquely brilliant and memorable history. All kinds of personal anecdotes - along with an evocative archive of old stills and film clips - are woven around celebratory performances by artists ranging from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to Frank Sinatra.

The hall was ``a place of beginnings,'' says Stern. He tells of the time ``one young man, the assistant conductor for Bruno Walter of the New York Philharmonic, got the call: The conductor is ill; you must conduct tonight. Barely 25 years old ..., he whispered to himself a Hebrew prayer. ... The career of Leonard Bernstein had begun.

``Tonight, 43 years later,'' Stern continues, ``he has come back to lead us in this new beginning with an opening [musical] prayer he has written expressly for this evening, one that echoes the spirit of that first evening and that special prayer.''

Use of clips of an earlier Bernstein leading one of his renowned Young People's Concerts - before we see him take the podium for this show - is typical of the way the production adds historical resonance. Words, sounds, and images - sometimes mere glimpses - conjure a vista of musical excellence reaching back to encompass all the legendary names. ``Since the day it was opened by Tchaikovsky in May, 1891,'' notes Stern, ``every major figure in the history of music ... has been on this stage.'' Mahler conducted there; Heifitz, Horowitz, Rubinstein played.

Actually, any attempt at sampling the list tends to minimize it. What the hall has meant to America's - and especially New York's - musical culture is probably best told through the comments of the artists themselves. Their words, ironically, say as much about the spirit of the place as the many snatches of historic musical performances scattered meaningfully throughout the show.

``When you perform at Carnegie Hall, you become part of her tradition,'' says Liza Minnelli. That's right - the show does not neglect the parade of pop-music greats whose place in the hall's history is so indicative of its character. Miss Minnelli's 12-night engagement was one of the hall's biggest hits.

``The cream of show business performed here,'' she explains. ``It was the sign of having arrived.''

Viewers see the Beatles, Duke Ellington, and a snatch of Benny Goodman's ground-breaking 1938 concert.

There are also lots of comedians in the hall's past. Robert Klein says, ``Being a stand-up comedian is hard enough, but doing it in Carnegie Hall can be terrifying.''

Actor John Rubinstein talks of how he ``sort of grew up here,'' when his pianist father, the great Arthur Rubinstein, performed there so often.

``The clarity, the fullness of the sound brings the music in focus,'' he says. ``The audience feels closer to the musicians, and they seem to feel closer to their music. My father played his first concert here in 1906 and his last in 1979. This year he would have been 100 years old, and I don't think he could have had a better birthday present than to see the old place looking so good.''

But Lena Horne may have said it best: ``When Carnegie Hall loves you, you're truly loved.''

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