Maestro of Memories
A conductor’s unexpected path to Carnegie Hall
Jeff Goldberg / Esto
When Gino Francesconi arrived in New York to study conducting in 1974, one of his first stops was Carnegie Hall. “Because this was where I was going to make it. I wanted to see this hall,” he recalls.
But when the San Francisco native entered the lobby, he was sure he was in the wrong place. “It was dark, it was dingy, there was litter on the floor, and it was small. I didn’t realize that it was bigger than most Broadway lobbies,” he says, laughing, “so I walked into the box office, and, talk about green, I said to the guy, ‘Excuse me, is there another Carnegie Hall around here?’ And he said, without missing a beat, ‘How many Carnegie Halls do you want, buddy?’ And it’s just kind of funny, because there it was, it was all you needed to hear. I didn’t know what it looked like, but I knew what it meant.”
Francesconi has since become intimately familiar with nearly every nook and cranny of Carnegie Hall. Its first and only archivist, he is the concert hall’s walking encyclopedia, a catalog of everything from encounters with legendary artists and landmark performances to obscure facts about the building and behind-the-scenes trivia. But the position is one that he never would have envisioned for himself when he came to New York with dreams of performing on the stage.
After enrolling in a Juilliard class taught by conductor Vincent La Selva, Francesconi applied for a job as an usher at the hall. He was hired and soon became the backstage artist attendant, a position he describes as aggrandized gofer. But it gave him one-on-one time with artists ranging from Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
Francesconi worked backstage for nine seasons while continuing his studies as a conductor. Then a post-concert conversation with conductor Riccardo Muti led Francesconi to pursue his conducting studies full time. Muti asked him, “If you had your way, what would you do?” Francesconi answered that he would study with the Italian conductor Franco Ferrara in Siena. To which Muti replied, “Well, he’s not waiting for you! He’s getting older.” So Francesconi left Carnegie Hall in July 1984.
He found studying with Ferrara to be everything he’d always wanted. But Ferrara died in September 1985, and although another of Francesconi’s favorite conductors, Carlo Maria Giulini, was to replace Ferrara the following summer, he needed a job in the interim. So he returned to New York.
“I came back to Carnegie Hall hat in hand, because they had thrown a big going-away party for me and it was wonderful. I was embarrassed, because they’d said, ‘Don’t come back unless it’s to perform onstage!’” But he arranged a meeting with the late Judith Aaron, then the hall’s executive director, and on his way out of her office, he noticed some old program books on a shelf. He realized there were fewer of them than there used to be, and he told her she should lock the books up, because people were taking them. “And a few weeks later, she called me up and said, ‘I have a job for you. You lock ’em up.’”
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