With concert halls shut, NY Philharmonic takes to sidewalk

With concert halls shut, NY Philharmonic takes to sidewalk

NEW YORK — With performance halls shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, the best concert venue a violinist could hope for one recent October Friday was a sidewalk in the Bronx.

Fiona Simon tuned her instrument as she prepared for one of her only public performances with the New York Philharmonic in months.

The setting was a far cry from the orchestra’s usual home at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Traffic hummed and sirens wailed as a crew laid cables and unloaded speakers from the back of a double-parked pickup truck.

But Simon said the pop-up concert — one of several the Philharmonic has been playing around the city this fall — filled a need she’s had since indoor performances stopped in March, depriving musicians of not just a paycheque, but a sense of purpose.

“You’re not a complete musician if you’re just playing for yourself,” Simon said.

Simon, a native of England who joined the New York Philharmonic in 1985, says she has struggled to cope with not having an audience, sometimes performing for friends virtually over the phone.

“I think it’s a fundamental human need,” she said.

The Philharmonic came up with the idea for a series of outdoor, pop-up performances over the summer, even as it was forced to lay off or furlough nearly half its staff as it faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

On that Friday, Simon and a few colleagues played three corners of the city as part of the series they’re calling the NY Phil Bandwagon. The first show of the day was outside a Bronx school, the second outside a public library in Queens and the final one in a Brooklyn park.

The bandwagon itself — a red Ford pickup truck — rolls up to the curb carrying a sound system, music stands, lights and orange traffic cones to keep the audience socially distant. The musicians follow in a van.

The Philharmonic plans to hold its final Bandwagon concert of the year this weekend, and then resume the program in the spring.

New York’s street life has always been vibrant, but these days, the city’s outdoor spaces are more important than ever as many residents are stuck in small apartments working from home.

“There’s this whole myth that New York is dying, but it’s only dying in the places that were built for people not from New York — the people in New York are thriving,” said Curtis Stewart, a Grammy-nominated violinist who joined for a guest performance with the Bandwagon.

As the group began its final performance of the day, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo kicked off the show from the bed of the truck.

“We’re going to play you a little concert,” he said as people began to linger in the warm glow of an early autumn sunset.

The set lasted 20 minutes. A trio of violins preformed well-known tunes from George Gershwin and Charlie Parker, as well as Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” — a sorrowful piece that Costanzo said “responds to the moment in a more emotional way.”

As the audience swelled to dozens — couples, families, dogs and their owners — it became clear that the concert is as much an emotional outlet for the crowd as it is for the musicians.

“I think as we’re closeted up in our homes dealing with the storm that is current events we need an outlet. We need a place to put our feelings, we need a place to feel safe,” Stewart said. “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

Robert Bumsted, The Associated Press

Classical music

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Chasetin Morin
Photo from RCMP
Three men accused of assaulting Blackfalds RCMP officer going to trial

RCMP officer shot and wounded one of alleged attackers in December 2019

The Cenovus Energy Inc. logo seen at the company's headquarters in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
One-time costs of Husky takeover expected to be about $500 million, says Cenovus CEO

One-time costs of Husky takeover expected to be about $500 million, says Cenovus CEO

This drum circle was one of a multitude of activities held at The Hub on Ross in downtown Red Deer. The facility was permanently closed by the provincial government his week. (Advocate file photo.)
Many Red Deerians react with anger, dismay at closure of The Hub on Ross

Many disabled people can’t afford other recerational options, says guardian

Award-winning Calgary developer Brad Remington stands with Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the site of three multi-family condo complexes that are planned for Capstone, west of Carnival Cinemas. (Photo by LANA MICHELIn/Advocate staff).
$36M condo project on its way to Capstone development

Calgary developer plans to create 180 housing units to open in 2022

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Workers at Olymel's Red Deer pork processing plant are among those eligible for a $2-an-hour bonus because of the pandemic.
Red Deer Advocate file photo
Two Olymel workers test positive for COVID-19 in Red Deer

Two workers at Olymel’s pork processing facility in Red Deer have tested… Continue reading

Ryan, Falcons avenge earlier loss to Panthers, 25-17

Ryan, Falcons avenge earlier loss to Panthers, 25-17

FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2015, file photo, former world boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. shows off his Russian passport during a news conference in Moscow, Russia. Mike Tyson and Jones got permission from California's athletic commission to return to the boxing ring next month because their fight would be strictly an exhibition of their once-unparalleled skills. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
Mike Tyson, Roy Jones promise a fight in “exhibition” return

Mike Tyson, Roy Jones promise a fight in “exhibition” return

David Hearn watches his putt on the seventh hole during the first round of the Wyndham Championship golf tournament at Sedgefield Country Club on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Greensboro, N.C. David Hearn, like everyone, has been deeply effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Chris Carlson
Canada’s Hearn looks to shake off poor 2020 results with more consistent play

Canada’s Hearn looks to shake off poor 2020 results with more consistent play

Malnati birdies half of holes to take 1-shot lead in Bermuda

Malnati birdies half of holes to take 1-shot lead in Bermuda

Penny Oleksiak swims the 200 metre race during the 2018 Team Canada finals in Edmonton on Wednesday July 18, 2018. The number of young swimmers in Canada is dwindling because of barriers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Swimming Canada urges pools to accommodate youth, says can be done safely

Swimming Canada urges pools to accommodate youth, says can be done safely

Canada's Meaghan Mikkelson (12) and Marie-Philip Poulin (29) defends against United States' Hilary Knight (21) during the third period of a rivalry series women's hockey game in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada's director of women's national teams, hopes a Rivalry Series against the United States can happen this winter.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer
Canadian women’s hockey team yearns for international competition

Canadian women’s hockey team yearns for international competition

Most Read