HISTORY OF BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC
Since its first performance in 1861, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has grown into a
thriving urban arts center for global, national, and New York-based performing arts and film. The
first BAM facility at 176-194 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights provided the Philharmonic
Society of Brooklyn with a home for its concerts. BAM presented amateur and professional
music and theater productions, including performers such as Ellen Terry, Edwin Booth, Tomas
Salvini, and Fritz Kreisler.
After the building burned to the ground on the morning of November 30, 1903, the value of the
Montague Street site was such that the BAM stock price, ironically, went up. Plans were quickly
made to rebuild at the edge of Brooklyn’s business district in the fashionable neighborhood of
Fort Greene. The cornerstone was laid at 30 Lafayette Avenue in 1906. Opening celebrations in
the fall of 1908 culminated with a grand gala featuring Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso in a
Metropolitan Opera production of Gounod’s Faust. During the final Met season at BAM in 1921,
Caruso, while performing in L’Elisir d’Amore, suffered a throat hemorrhage and coughed blood
into several handkerchiefs before quitting the stage. Two weeks later, he gave the last
performance of his career.
After World War II, Brooklyn shared the same growing problems as other urban centers
throughout America, and as the BAM audience and support base declined, its grand spaces
were used for language and martial arts classes. Harvey Lichtenstein was appointed executive
director in 1967, and during his 32-year tenure, BAM experienced a renaissance. It is now
recognized internationally as a preeminent, progressive cultural center. The BAM Endowment
was established in 1993 to ensure that the institution continues to thrive in future years. In July
1999, Karen Brooks Hopkins became BAM’s president, and Joseph V. Melillo became executive
producer. Both have been with the institution for more than 25 years.
The facilities at BAM include the Howard Gilman Opera House (2,109 seats) and the Harvey
Lichtenstein Theater (874 seats), named in Lichtenstein’s honor in 1999. In the planning stages
are the BAM Richard B. Fisher Building, a 250-seat black box theater and mixed-use building
adjacent to BAM, and the BAM Hamm Archives, a publicly accessible facility located on the
ground floor of the Forté building next to the Harvey Theater.
Current programming at BAM consists of the Next Wave Festival each fall, showcasing since
1983 the world’s most innovative artists, and a Spring Season of international opera, theater,
dance, and music. It also includes a comprehensive Education & Humanities curriculum, a slate
of community programs, eclectic live music, and a restaurant, BAMcafé, which opened in 1997
in the Lepercq Space. BAM Rose Cinemas, a four-screen theater, opened in 1998. One screen
is devoted to BAMcinématek, which offers daily screenings of repertory classics, frequent guest
speakers, and festivals and series, including BAMcinemaFEST. Art exhibitions regularly hang in
spaces around BAM, including interactive installations as part of Takeover, an all-night
celebration throughout BAM, with films, music, a DJ dance party, beer, and amusements.