In 1978, mayor Edward I. Koch invited Aaron Copland to Gracie Mansion after hearing that the composer had never been there. "But you were born in Brooklyn and are one of our great composers," Koch exclaimed. "I am shocked!"
Copland, it seems, was a composer with whom the former New York mayor — who died Friday morning at age 88 — took a particular interest.
The brief story is recounted in Howard Pollack's biography, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man.
Koch invited Copland back to Gracie Mansion in November, 1983 to award him with the New York City Seal of Recognition, an honorary award the mayor instituted in 1980 to recognize outstanding individuals in all fields.
The invitation-only event featured a performance of Copland's chamber music (by artists including flutist Paula Robison and pianist Charles Wadsworth) as well as remarks by Koch.
"We honor Aaron Copland tonight not only because he is one of the most recognized composers of the century, but also because he is 'our own' – a man who is not only an American composer but the American composer," he said, according to a New York Times report.
In his remarks, the mayor had complimentary words for WQXR's sister station WNYC, which was broadcasting the event. He called it a "cultural treasure," and praised what he called its innovative programming of contemporary music.
Koch was never known for his advocacy of the performing arts, but he was a frequent presence at the New York Philharmonic, said Barbara Haws, the orchestra's archivist. The mayor frequently turned up at parks concerts, opening night galas and Radiothons with WQXR. The orchestra's digital archives include photos of him meeting with musicians and conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Edo de Waart and Zubin Mehta.