The Great­est Song of All: How Isaac Stern Unit­ed the World to Save Carnegie Hall

Megan Hoyt; Katie Hick­ey, illus.

  • Review
By – November 7, 2022

New York City has always been a mec­ca for the arts. One of its most renowned venues is the world-famous Carnegie Hall, built by Andrew Carnegie in 1891. Singers such as Mar­i­an Ander­son and lec­tur­ers like Albert Ein­stein have graced its glo­ri­ous stage, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky him­self con­duct­ed a con­cert dur­ing the Hal­l’s open­ing night.

Isaac Stern, an inter­na­tion­al­ly laud­ed vio­lin­ist and the son of Ukrain­ian refugees flee­ing the Holo­caust, per­formed at Carnegie Hall often and con­sid­ered it one of his favorite venues — a sec­ond home, even.

In 1960, Isaac got word that Carnegie Hall was slat­ed for demo­li­tion. City plan­ner Robert Moses had his own vision for New York that did not include the ele­gant Carnegie Hall. Incensed and dri­ven to action, Stern gath­ered musi­cians, dancers, for­mer audi­ence mem­bers, and any­one he could find who appre­ci­at­ed music to stage a protest. He spoke to influ­en­tial politi­cians, and even enlist­ed Eleanor Roo­sevelt’s help. He cir­cu­lat­ed a peti­tion among the many celebri­ties who graced Carnegie Hal­l’s stage over the years. But vast amounts of mon­ey were need­ed, and achiev­ing Isaac’s goal seemed impos­si­ble. Then he had a cre­ative idea. Carnegie Hall, he decid­ed, could become a cen­ter for music edu­ca­tion with the best, most tal­ent­ed music teach­ers in the world edu­cat­ing chil­dren and hav­ing them per­form on the his­toric, mag­nif­i­cent stage. Isaac spoke to every­one influ­en­tial he could reach, raised funds, and final­ly pre­vailed. With the help of Jacob Kaplan, an own­er of Welch’s grape juice com­pa­ny, he formed a com­mit­tee that drew up a plan to make Carnegie Hall a self-sup­port­ing, invalu­able asset to music edu­ca­tion. Stern’s com­mit­tee had to race against the tick­ing clock; city laws had to be changed quick­ly to pre­vent the destruc­tion of the build­ing. They pushed the nec­es­sary changes just in time, and Isaac’s dream came true. Amer­i­cans from all walks of life, includ­ing immi­grants like Isaac’s own fam­i­ly, would be able to share in this spe­cial resource for music edu­ca­tion for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Megan Hoyt tells the sto­ry of Stern and his beloved Carnegie Hall with dra­ma, flair, and sus­pense. Katie Hick­ey’s art, with its rich tones, reflects the majesty of the build­ing and the vibran­cy of the city. This spe­cial book deserves wide dis­sem­i­na­tion and can also find an impor­tant place in school cur­ric­u­la fea­tur­ing both the arts and the his­to­ry of New York City.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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