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After Pandemic Closures, a ‘homecoming’ Set to Reopen New York Philharmonic

After the 556-day cancellations and unconventional concerts due to the pandemic, the new season was reopened on Sept 17 by the New York Philharmonic. This is the “homecoming” for the affected musicians who turned to play live streams, one-off and outdoor gigs for more than a year.

One of America’s oldest musical institutions, the Phil, reopened its subscription season with a program featuring Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms, Aaron Copland’s Quiet City, and George Walker’s Antifonys, after going through the grueling months of crisis. 

The renowned symphony orchestra had no choice but to cancel its 2020-21 season because of the pandemic. This resulted in a ticket revenue loss of more than $21 million. 

Scores of viewers lined up outside the Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan’s Upper Westside in their evening wear, presenting the compulsory proof of vaccination to be able to get inside and enjoy a night of orchestral music.

One of the excited viewers, Catherine Colson, came with friends early to what she expected to be “a memorable night of phenomenal music.”

“It was a really long year. I feel rejuvenated,” she shared. “It’s like a rebirth in a way.”

Another viewer, Adam Baltin said he wanted to “celebrate the city and the arts” by attending the opening night.

“It’s been so long.”, he expressed. 

‘A homecoming feeling’

To add to the COVID-19 challenges, the Phil is without a home, since the major renovation of its longtime base,  David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center worth the US $550 million. 

The two other venues where most of the 2021-21 season will be played great are the  Lincoln Center arts complex on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In spite of all that has happened, the orchestra’s principal trumpet player, Chris Martin, shared that the beginning of the fresh season “feels like coming home.”

“I’m very excited. It feels almost like a rebirth as a musician,” he said at a dress rehearsal ahead of the evening.

“We play 130, 140 concerts a year, and you never take it for granted, but sometimes you think, ‘Oh, I’m a little tired today, I’ve got to play this again, but not anymore – I feel really such gratitude.”

Without Phil’s season last year, the members started to play in small pop-up concerts at surprise spots around the city, getting inventive for New Yorkers longing for live music. 

“To play outdoors is wonderful,” Martin said. He adds that it allowed artists “to connect with the city in a different way.”

“But to come back in this space… to have an audience again, that’s the part that really feels like a homecoming.”

‘Exhilarating Rebirth’

The show on Friday just followed after the news broke that Jaap van Zweden, Phil’s maestro since 2018, is stepping down when the 2023-24 season ends.

The famed conductor spent the majority of his time during the pandemic in the Netherlands, his home country, with his family. He mentioned that his decision resulted from the shift in his work-life balance priorities. 

“It is not out of frustration, it’s not out of anger, it’s not out of a difficult situation,” van Zweden told The New York Times.

“It’s just out of freedom.”

The violinist-turned-conductor was in his second season as a music director when the pandemic hit and caused a tragic and deadly blow to New York. 

This caused his isolation from fellow musicians as well as prevented him from traveling back to New York for months due to travel bans between Europe and the U.S.

Friday’ show joins the busy schedule for the arts in the city. A few days before the show comes the extravagant fashion-centric Met Gala and a few days after, the Governors Ball music festival is set together with the  Metropolitan Opera’s re-opening on Sept 27.

Kathy Greene, a Philharmonic violinist for three decades shared that she feels the orchestra members “are an important part of bringing New York back to normalcy, even though it’s starting very slowly, and it’s still very tentative.”

“We are aiming in the right direction – this is a very optimistic and exciting new beginning and we hope that things will grow from here,” she said.



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