By Robin Cohn
Seems like the Naumburg Bandshell (located south of Bethesda Terrace around 72nd Street) has been in Central Park forever. Well, maybe not forever, but it turns 100 years old this summer. At the same time, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts (NOC), a nonprofit, is celebrating its 118th year of providing five free orchestral concerts in Central Park. It is the oldest continuous concert series in the world.
The first concert will take place on June 13th at 7:30 p.m. Check here for details and a complete schedule.
In 1905, philanthropist and music lover Elkan Naumburg (right) established the free classical music concert series for all New Yorkers. In 1923, he commissioned the Bandshell and donated it to Central Park. In 1924, the Naumburg Bandshell opened with an audience of 10,000. The famous band piece, On the Mall, by Edwin Franko Goldman premiered at the inaugural concert. (Many think it refers to the Washington, D.C. Mall, but it was written for Elkan Naumburg.) The Bandshell’s neo-classical design became the template for outdoor music venues across the United States.
The Bandshell has entertained generations of New Yorkers with an incredible variety of music and festivals. Famous past performers include John Philip Sousa, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, the Grateful Dead, B.B. King, and the Jefferson Airplane. Martin Luther King spoke there and it’s where John Lennon’s memorial service was held.
Historically, NOC’s focus on diverse talent was also groundbreaking. The New York premiere of Ella Belle Davis in her 1940 performance launched her career as a solo vocalist and Decca recording artist. The concerts showcased refugee conductors, composers, and soloists throughout the1940s. And, the series produced the first offering of a complete opera, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, in Central Park in 1964.
To mark this special season, NOC has commissioned “fanfares” for each concert in homage to On the Mall.
The concerts are free but seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit naumburgconcerts.org for more information.
Have favorite NOC memories? Let us know!