Leadership / 09.15.20
The New York Philharmonic Once Again Lets the Music Play
New York City may still be alive with the sounds of honking horns, clanking subway trains and various street protests, but thanks to the New York Philharmonic, there have also been the sounds of live music throughout this pandemic.
The creativity began earlier in the year after New York’s Lincoln Center went dark in mid-March. America’s largest arts center began hosting a series of mini concerts for essential workers such as teachers, firefighters and health care providers. Each mini concert featured one or two volunteer musicians from the New York Philharmonic and a maximum of five audience members.
Adam Crane, Vice President of External Affairs for the New York Philharmonic, attended several of them as part of his job. They were on the Lincoln Center Plaza campus, which has been closed for the past six months. “Our last concert in David Geffen Hall was on March 10,” he says. “We’ve been making online videos and we created a portal, but nothing replicates the live music experience. Our musicians had been looking for opportunities to perform safely.”
Crane loved to watch the interaction between the musicians and the teachers, security guards and other personnel who were their small audiences. “The campus was closed to the general public, but we had a spot in one of the outdoor areas of the campus near a grove of trees and by a reflecting pool,” he says. “Just having that level of intimacy was a real ‘Thank you!’ to the essential workers. Acoustics outside can be challenging, but they ended up being really lovely experiences. Just to hear live music again was very moving — even powerful. It was the Lincoln Center’s initiative, and we were one of the first groups to participate. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do more. We’ve talked about safely bringing small concerts to hospitals and other facilities.”
Lincoln Center had contacted some of the hospitals and other venues and facilities and asked who would like to attend. The various essential workers were then assigned slots. Between sets, each of the seats were sanitized. “There were very strict protocols,” Crane says.
As this past summer droned on, though, the New York Philharmonic started to think bigger. The brainchild of countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a new Philharmonic initiative called the NY Phil Bandwagon was born that will be running into October. Costanzo, Crane and various colleagues started by turning a truck bed into a makeshift riser.
Learn more about the NY Phil Bandwagon with this video.
“Anthony came up with the idea, and he called our president and CEO Deborah Borda, who was also a friend and mentor,” Crane says. “The two were talking one night over some Zoom drinks, and Anthony brought up this idea, and Deborah was excited. Finding opportunities for our musicians to play has been top of mind. And just the idea of a truck with musicians either on it or standing by it and driving through New York — it was hard to visualize initially. It sounded crazy. But with Anthony as producer, we went to work and came up with concepts. Identifying the truck was a process. I think it’s a rental from Enterprise. It all came together very fast.”
He continues, “So, then the question became: Where do we perform? Anthony and a group of people from the operations and artistic teams went out and scouted locations. Anthony was riding his bike all over the city. We decided to call them ‘pull-up concerts’ and not ‘pick-up concerts.’ We came up with a wish list, and we had to get permits for everything. We were successful for the most part because we identified all the health and safety procedures that would have to take place. We had a doctor who works for Mount Sinai Hospital and is an infectious disease specialist. He’s been helping us throughout the entire shutdown period giving us advice and what we need to have happen to put on concerts in any form safely.”
The Bandwagon’s extremely strict protocols include getting all involved tested twice a week. “Once we’re cleared, we stay in this sort of bubble,” Crane says. “If we are the ones who go out with the bandwagon group that day, we are the ones who have been tested. Our temperatures are checked on the afternoon of each concert. And then we go out into the city, and there are other protocols once we’re out, like sanitizing the equipment at every stop.”
There are as many as three performances a day. The first one is usually 4 p.m., but it’s hard to stick to a timetable that is exact because the truck can get stuck in city traffic. Then, there is the possibility of bad weather. A pull-up concert can be derailed by a pop-up thunderstorm.
“We’re used to performing in David Geffen Hall,” Crane says, “where the environment is controlled. This is more about expecting the unexpected but realizing you can’t plan for everything. I’m Type A, and I try to think of every scenario. There were protests nearby on the first day, so we had to adjust the location on the fly. But the good thing is, no one knows we’re coming. The truck pulls up, we set everything up — lights, music stands and so forth — we play, we interact and then we hit the road.”
He continues, “It’s really something watching how this comes together. We did a trial weekend before the official launch around various parts of the city. We’re learning as we go. We don’t announce where we’re going. It’s a surprise. We don’t want crowds to gather in advance, so we don’t say where we’re going. Performances vary location to location. We’ll have one musician play on the truck for 20 to 25 minutes. Anthony will also perform and serve as the emcee. We also have a representative from the League of Women Voters on hand registering people to vote.”
The trick is to pick spots in and around the city where they’ll get a crowd but not too large of a crowd. Crane believes New Yorkers have been craving a return to normalcy. Many have Zoom fatigue. “In many cases,” he says, “we’re reaching people we wouldn’t ordinarily reach. Our goal is to go to all five boroughs. The musicians are loving it. They want to play live for people again. This is our way of doing that safely. Hey, we’re out there performing live again, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing!”
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Tags: Music , Venues , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus