In the first half of the twentieth century, the American violinist and educator David Mannes (1866–1959) conducted the Symphony Society of New York, which frequently performed at events and openings hosted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The group's first performance at the Met was held on November 15, 1906, to welcome the Museum's second director, Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke, and it performed intermittently at the Museum until 1918, when an annual season of free concerts was developed. Free concerts took place on Saturday evenings in January and March, for a total of eight events. No tickets were required; on concert days, the Museum was open continuously from 10:00 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. "in order to enable those who attend to visit the collections conveniently" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 12, Dec. 1922). In 1921, total attendance for the eight concerts was 60,515. Record-breaking attendance was set on January 22, 1921, when the audience for a single concert reached 10,800 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 16, No. 4, Apr. 1921). Attendance in 1922 was slightly lower (53,391), perhaps due to the weather; three out of the eight evenings experienced some of the worst weather of the winter with "storms of snow, rain, and high winds" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 4, Apr. 1922).
In an essay entitled "Music in the Museum," which appeared in the April 1922 Bulletin, Mr. Mannes noted:
It is inspiring to think that audiences numbering as many as ten thousand at one time have attended the concerts, and have been perfectly orderly, standing for hours to listen in rapt silence to the great masters, maintaining among themselves the most beautiful discipline for the preservation of the priceless treasures about them, without the restraint of officers of the law.
The concert series ended in 1947, when the eighty-one-year-old conductor was "unable to bear the burden of arranging and conducting these events, which had been for thirty years landmarks in the Museum program" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 1948). Mr. Mannes was made an Honorary Fellow for Life and a portrait of him by Joy Buba was purchased for the Museum's collection.