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Man with beard in a tuxedo holding a handkerchief in his left hand

Live from Lincoln Center offered a live telecast of a historic solo recital at the Metropolitan Opera House by Luciano Pavarotti, the first vocal artist to have a solo recital at the Met. Photo by Francesco Scavullo, courtesy of Live from Lincoln Center

On 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' 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 like there's a third presence in the house."

Approximately six major Lincoln Center performances are televised each year, produced in cooperation with Thirteen/WNET in New York. 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.