Carnegie Culture

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Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. Photo credit: A. Ciavardini

Making our way to Carnegie Hall, a venue once at risk of closing due to competition from nearby Lincoln Center
Photo credit: A. Ciavardini

The Brawny Sherpa and I bring along a couple of our youthful adventurers for some cultural acclimation. I don’t know what I think I will experience at Carnegie Hall, but traipsing up the flights of stairs to our upper balcony seats on a sweltering Friday reminiscent of New Orleans gives me an indicator that the evening will be intense. How had I lived in Manhattan for five years and in New York State for much of my life without ever ascending this specific staircase?

Having chosen Russia Day to descend upon Manhattan, we anticipate some brooding melancholy and fierce military drumming in the program of Tschaikovsky and Shostakovich played by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. The kids should like this. We push toward the front doors of this historic building. I am surprised elderly patrons hawk tickets outside and protestors of a sort support Ukraine.

We’re whisked through the entrance by the crush of the crowd. I am always amused by how pushy the 70-plus set can be. No one is easing into the elevator in this lobby. Jump the line and suffer the consequences.

We’ve purchased the cheap seats for this one. Up this high, we have fantasies of launching paper airplanes toward the stage. We are quickly reminded that people in 1891, the year of the hall’s opening, were pretty much the size of today’s seventh graders, and possibly smaller. All of those antique costumes on display in museums are tiny for a reason. The chairs on the balcony seem not to have expanded over the decades to accommodate evolution. In short, your knees will be making physical contact with the person seated in front of you. If you’re super-tall, be prepared to make new and intimate friends with several people. Lean back, and you’ll become physically acquainted with your neighbor.

Moments before the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra enters the stage at Carnegie Hall on Russia Day. Photo credit: A. Ciavardini

A distant but unobstructed views from Carnegie Hall’s balcony
Photo credit: A. Ciavardini

We appreciate the grade of our elevation, though; no matter how tall the person in front of you, his head will be no higher than your lap. It feels a bit strange to become quite so close to so many strangers so quickly, and we are amused when a man in our vicinity chastises a woman behind him. She is not chastened. One “get over it!” later, and the complainant acquiesces to the reality of this place: Her knees will be touching his head throughout this performance. He’ll need to lean in. We can all only hope that no one will need to head to the restroom except at intermission; once lodged in our seats, slipping out of them, quietly, to allow someone to pass just is not going to happen easily.

The place is packed. Be certain to pick up a program; you’ll need it to fan yourself. Tensions rise as ticketholders pack into their assigned places. Finally, the music begins: we are transported. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic does not disappoint, even this far away. Our knees ache, our legs tingle, these seats are so small they pain us, yet we stay in place, rapt, enthralled. This venue has been worth saving, worth waiting for, worth the flights of stairs.

If you go, dress lightly and be prepared to make new friends.

—Lori Tripoli

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