New York for classical music lovers

Telegraph opera critic Rupert Christiansen offers his take on the landmark classical music venues of New York

Carnegie Hall

‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ runs a venerable New York joke. ‘Practise!’ is the answer that gets the chortle, but ‘Get off the subway at 57th & Seventh’ is the more useful response. And it’s worth the detour: this Manhattan landmark is an oasis of brick-built Victorian elegance in a forest of steel and glass, as well as one of the world’s greatest venues for classical music.

Enhanced by its superb acoustics, it’s in splendid shape, with its spacious Stern Auditorium complemented by the smaller Zankel and Weill recital halls. When the music stops, you can plump for either borscht and blinis in the opulently gilded Russian Tea Room or the buzzing Greek seafood joint Molyvos, both only a stone’s throw away.

Lincoln Center

Since the mid 1960s, Lincoln Center has been another focal point of the city’s culture. At the centre of its paved plaza sits the white marble ‘Met’, otherwise known as the Metropolitan Opera. Except on first nights and at weekends, you can almost always buy inexpensive seats there on the day, with last-minute bargains available to callers at the box office.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when you look for somewhere to eat near the Met: its in-house Grand Tier restaurant provides traditional fine dining, but for a more informal atmosphere and a smaller bill, make your way across Broadway to Café Fiorello, where Pavarotti found his favourite pizza.

Avery Fisher Hall

To the right of Lincoln Center is Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Jaap van Zweden, the 26th Director of the orchestra continues his tenure through the 2019-20 season in seven World Premieres and symphonic cornerstones. The venue plays host to a lively chamber programme including jazz and avant-garderie as well as classical singers and instrumentalists. Just underneath, on Amsterdam and 66th, is another sort of musical mecca: The Juilliard Store, New York’s best emporium of scores, instruments and CDs.

Park Avenue Armory

A short walk across Central Park brings you to the Park Avenue Armory – a converted nineteenth-century army barracks which aptly describes itself as ‘part palace, part industrial shed’, and a place which sets out ‘to blur the boundaries between high art and pop culture.’ The beautifully restored historic rooms are well worth a look, but the dazzler is the enormous vaulted Wade Thompson Drill Hall.


Outside mid Manhattan it’s hard to find much of interest, but there is one exception – Bargemusic, which, as its name suggests, is housed in the lounge of a converted barge, floating on the Hudson River under Brooklyn Bridge. The venue is managed by a remarkable character called Mark Peskanov, who will meet and greet you personally for one of Bargemusic’s year-round chamber concerts, which have developed a fanatically loyal following. There’s no food or beverages on board, but you can eat afterwards at the neighbouring River Café, and ponder the twinkling lights of the Manhattan skyline.

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