The Naumburg Bandshell: A New York Icon

This post was originally published July 9, 2010 and has been updated for 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011 - 10:39 AM

The Naumburg Bandshell The Naumburg Bandshell (peterjr1961/flickr)

Have you ever been to a free concert at The Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park? If you haven’t, you should plan to go before the summer is over. It’s one of most unique experiences New York has to offer.

As it so happens - classical music lovers -- There are four free concerts at the bandshell this summer. The first takes place on Monday at 7:30 pm as the young and very talented musicians of The Knights take the stage to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. On Tuesday, July 26 it’s the Matt Herskowitz Trio and on Tuesday, August 9, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players. The Knights will return on Monday, August 22 to close out the series with Schubert and Liszt.

The Naumburg Bandshell is one of New York City’s great cultural icons.  It has entertained generations of New Yorkers with an incredible variety of performances. Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and The Grateful Dead have all performed on the stage. Martin Luther King once stood there and John Lennon was eulogized from that very spot.

The bandshell was donated by philanthropist--and classical music lover extraordinaire!--Elkan Naumburg. In 1905, Mr. Naumburg had begun a series of free, classical concerts in Central Park known as the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts. When it was completed in 1923, the bandshell became the series’ new home. Thanks to the generosity, dedication and hard work of Elkan Naumburg’s descendants, all of whom have also been unbelievably committed to classical music, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts series is celebrating its 106th anniversary this year. And, yes, the performances take place in the bandshell. Though the bandshell continues to feature other kinds of performances, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts are the centerpiece of the season.  

As has been the case with many of New York’s iconic structures--Carnegie Hall and Grand Central Station to name two--there was a time when the bandshell was facing the wrecking ball. Fortunately, the tide turned and the bandshell was saved. But, concern continues about its future.

I recently spoke with one of Elkan Naumburg’s great-grandsons, Christopher London. Christopher is the President of the volunteer board of trustees which manages the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts.   

He shared some of the details of his family history and talked about his hopes for the preservation of the bandshell. Listen to our conversation.

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Comments [7]

philip foster from NYC

I am an art dealer with a wonderful painting showing one of the Goldman concerts and the maestro himself in the Bandshell; if anyone is interested in further details please email me at oddsandends@earthlink.net. Thanks!

Aug. 11 2011 10:40 PM
Mary Heller from Poughkeepsie

We attended the Naumberg concert Tuesday night.....up until the downpour. The trio was fantastic! We are "friends" of these concerts and intend to remain so. Thank you for a great opportunity!

Jul. 29 2011 03:45 PM
Dianne Fisher

Maestro Vincent LaSelva, Conductor of the New York Grand Opera, is in his 38th year of bringing "free" fully-staged operas in Central Park to thousands in the tri-state area. Why have these performances not been announced by your radio station? Other Naumburg performances are announced every day on your PUBLIC radio station. What do we need to do to get our performances announced?

Dianne Fisher-Chatten-NYGO Guild Chair.

Jul. 25 2011 05:26 PM
Rev Trask

"As has been the case with many of New York’s iconic structures--Carnegie Hall and Grand Central Station to name two--there was a time when the bandshell was facing the wrecking ball."

I wonder if Ms Woolsey meant Penn Station, instead of Grand Central Station. Sadly, Penn Station indeed did face the wrecking ball.

Jul. 12 2011 09:06 PM
Andy Pease from NYC

In the tradition of the Goldman Band (mentioned in Mr. Meltzer's comment above), the Columbia Summer Winds, an 80-member concert band from NYC, is playing in the bandshell on July 23 at 1pm. Why did this not make your list of free concerts in this space? Also, does anyone know when the last actual band concert happened in this bandshell?

Jun. 30 2011 05:09 PM

How about a ROUSING Sousa concert?? (Its almost the 4th of JULY!!) Stars & Stripes Forever....

Jun. 20 2011 08:53 PM
Michael Meltzer

As one who grew up in New York and can recall a lifetime of bandshell concerts, I am puzzled to read a history of the bandshell with no mention of the Goldman Band, for many New Yorkers the great highlight of every summer's outdoor music making.

Jun. 20 2011 02:46 PM

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