Live From Lincoln Center Brings the Arts to the Airwaves

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This is a medium shot of Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. He is wearing a white-tie tuxedo. His arms are outstretched wide, and he holds a white handkerchief in his left hand.

In Live From Lincoln Center, the world-renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti dazzled millions of public broadcasting viewers in a telecast from the Metropolitan Opera House.  Photo: Francesco Scavullo

1976On January 30, 1976, public television viewers nationwide had the best seats in the house at New York City's Lincoln Center as PBS broadcast the first episode of Live From Lincoln Center. Nominated for three Emmy awards, the two-hour program featured Andre Previn conducting the New York Philharmonic, with guest pianist Van Cliburn. The repertoire included Berlioz, Grieg, and Strauss, and at intermission New York Philharmonic President Carlos Moseley interviewed Previn backstage.

The National Endowment for the Arts supported the creation of Live From Lincoln Center--in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting--with a public media grant of $200,000. Since then, the Arts Endowment has continued to support the series, giving the public front row views of performances by legends such as tenor Luciano Pavarotti, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, NEA Jazz Masters Ron Carter and Slide Hampton, and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. The NEA's support for the series has not been limited to programming. With assistance from an NEA grant, John Goberman, the series's executive producer, developed cameras sensitive to low levels of light. These new cameras allowed each show to be lit for live performance rather than with the high wattage required for television broadcast. "We're not here to turn the stage into a studio," said Goberman. "We're actually bending the technology to fit the performance. The less interference with the performance, the better . . . so it doesn't feel there's a third presence in the house." Produced in cooperation with Thirteen/WNET in New York, Live From Lincoln Center is the only live performing arts series on television, reaching millions of viewers per broadcast. For 30 years, the series has broadcast live productions by Lincoln Center's 12 constituent organizations, including the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Lincoln Center Theatre, the New York City Ballet, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the Mostly Mozart Festival.

A male dancer holds a white-costumed ballerina above his head in a graceful pose while two lines of ballerinas in white bodices and knee-length tutus, with their arms outstretched and heads bowed, stand diagonally in front of a painted forest backdrop

Live From Lincoln Center's presentation of American Ballet Theater's Swan Lake won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Classical Program in the Performing Arts.  Photo courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

Approximately six major Lincoln Center performances are televised each year. Live From Lincoln Center episodes have ranged from "Great Performers" with soprano Dame Joan Sutherland and mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne (1979) to the New York Philharmonic's celebration of composer Aaron Copland's 85th Birthday (1985) to the Mostly Mozart Silver Anniversary concert with conductor (and National Council on the Arts member) Gerard Schwarz (1991) to the Lincoln Center Theater's production of CONTACT (2002). Through Live From Lincoln Center programming, the broadcast audience has witnessed many historic performances including the farewell recital of famed opera diva Beverly Sills and the Centennial celebration of the prestigious Juilliard School. In the program's first season, on June 30, 1976, Live From Lincoln Center presented American Ballet Theater's Swan Lake, the first live telecast of a full-length ballet on American television. In 2005, Live From Lincoln Center televised "Higher Ground," a Gulf Coast hurricane relief benefit. Hosted by Beverly Sills with actor Laurence Fishburne and PBS commentator Tavis Smiley, the star-studded fundraiser featured performances by soprano Renee Fleming, musician and composer Herbie Hancock, singers Elvis Costello and Norah Jones, and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra with Arturo O'Farrill and NEA Jazz Master Paquito D'Rivera. The television audience also has heard from Live From Lincoln Center artists—such as conductor Lorin Maazel, Broadway divas Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald, and tenor Placido Domingo—through interviews by program hosts conducted during intermissions. These interviews aren't limited to performers—New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York Governor Hugh Carey, and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have all shared their arts views on-air. The list of the series's hosts is as impressive as the guest list, having included, in addition to Sills, Hugh Downs, Wynton Marsalis, Dick Cavett, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Ed Bradley. In addition to its nine Emmy Awards and 47 Emmy nominations, Live From Lincoln Center has won two George Foster Peabody Awards, two Grammy Awards, three Monitor Awards, a Television Critics Award, and many others. Live From Lincoln Center continues to expand its audience; in a new partnership with National Public Radio, Live From Lincoln Center will produce original content for the Internet. Available at each partner's Web site, the segments will include interviews with musicians appearing on Live From Lincoln Center about the music featured in upcoming concerts.