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    New York Philharmonic Chooses Arts Veteran as Leader

    Gary Ginstling, executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra, will replace Deborah Borda as the orchestra’s president and chief executive next year.Come this fall, the New York Philharmonic will have a transformed home, when David Geffen Hall reopens after a $550 million renovation. In the not-so-distant future, the orchestra will also get a new music director to replace its departing conductor.On Friday, the orchestra announced another change: Gary Ginstling, the executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, will next year replace Deborah Borda, a revered, dynamic figure at the Philharmonic, as its president and chief executive.The appointment signals the start of a new era for the Philharmonic, America’s oldest symphony orchestra, which is working to attract new audiences as it recovers from the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. While the orchestra seems to have weathered the worst of the crisis, the pandemic has brought fresh urgency to questions about changing audience habits and expanding into the digital sphere.Ginstling, who will join the Philharmonic this fall as executive director before succeeding Borda next year, said he wanted to seize on the momentum of the Geffen Hall renovation.“This is a singular moment in time when the orchestra is coming out of a really difficult period,” he said in an interview. “This new home is going to be really transformational for the musicians, for the public, for orchestras everywhere and for the city. There’s a chance for the Philharmonic to make the most of this moment and set itself up for long-term success.”The appointment marks a generational shift at the Philharmonic. Ginstling, 56, will take the reins from Borda, 72, who led the Philharmonic in the 1990s and returned in 2017 to shepherd the long-delayed renovation of Geffen Hall. The return of Borda, one of the nation’s most successful arts administrators, who in the interim helped transform the Los Angeles Philharmonic into one of the country’s premier ensembles — moving it into a new home, stabilizing its shaky finances and appointing Gustavo Dudamel as its music director — was considered a coup for the orchestra, which at the time was struggling with deficits and fund-raising troubles.Borda said that with the hall reopening and the orchestra on firmer financial footing after the long pandemic shutdown, she felt it was time to step aside. She will leave her post on June 30, 2023, but stay on as an adviser to Ginstling and the Philharmonic’s board, assisting with fund-raising and other matters.Deborah Borda at the Philharmonic’s opening concert of the season in September 2021 at Alice Tully Hall.Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times“Those of us in my generation, we’ve done our best, but it’s time to really support and introduce a new generation of leadership who will bring new ideas about everything,” she said in an interview. “This was the right time.”Borda began working with the board last year to find a successor. They were looking for a leader who could help guide the institution in a time of momentous transitions. After interviewing five candidates, the Philharmonic in May offered the job to Ginstling, who has managed orchestras in Cleveland, Indianapolis and Washington D.C.“We wanted somebody who had the experience, but who was also young enough to have a long runway,” Peter W. May, co-chairman of the Philharmonic’s board, said in an interview. “He also impressed us in the way he’s done outreach in the community.”After joining the National Symphony Orchestra in 2017, Ginstling experimented with new ways of reaching audiences, including by holding concerts in a 6,000-seat arena designed for rock music. He was credited with helping drive up ticket sales, subscriptions and donations. He worked closely with Gianandrea Noseda, the music director of the National Symphony, whose contract there was recently extended through the end of the 2026-2027 season.In New York, Ginstling will face familiar challenges. Even before the pandemic, managing orchestras was difficult. Labor costs have risen. Ticket sales have declined as the old model of selling season subscriptions has died out. Robust fund-raising has become essential, as donations make up an ever larger share of orchestra budgets.The pandemic put new strains on the Philharmonic, which was forced to cancel its 2020-21 season, lay off staff and slash its musicians’ salaries by 25 percent. (The Philharmonic announced this week that it would soon reverse those cuts.)For all its devastation, the pandemic also brought an opportunity, allowing the orchestra to speed up the renovation schedule by a year and a half (the hall is now set to open on Oct. 7). Over the past year, the orchestra has been without a permanent home, roving among several different theaters, many of them smaller than Geffen.Ginstling, a clarinetist who has degrees from Yale, Juilliard and the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he would continue the Philharmonic’s efforts to present a diverse roster of composers and conductors.“If we are in a post-Covid world, and I’m not sure whether we are yet,” he said, “the biggest challenges are rebuilding audiences and then finding ways to connect with our communities and in new and different ways.”The Philharmonic is just beginning its search for a conductor to replace Jaap van Zweden, its maestro since 2018, who announced unexpectedly in September that he would step down at the end of the 2023-24 season. Conductors like Dudamel, Susanna Mälkki and Santtu-Matias Rouvali, among others, have been mentioned as possible contenders, though the field remains open.It is unclear whether the search will conclude before the end of Borda’s tenure. She said she was proceeding “full steam ahead” and would continue to offer advice if it is needed.In a statement, van Zweden, who last year said he would leave the orchestra because the pandemic had made him rethink his life and priorities, praised Borda’s stewardship of the orchestra.“The future and security of this orchestra is very important to me, and I am grateful to Deborah for leading with me from a position of strength,” he said. “I really look forward to welcoming Gary and to working with him.”The appointment is something of a homecoming for Ginstling, who grew up in New Jersey, the son of a Juilliard-trained pianist and a tax lawyer. His parents subscribed to Philharmonic concerts and he attended concerts featuring giants like Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta. He took up the clarinet in elementary school and later studied with a Philharmonic player.“I’ve long had a deep love and passion for orchestras and orchestral music,” he said, “and that really started with the New York Philharmonic.” More

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    New York Philharmonic Agrees to Restore Pay for Musicians

    After a stronger-than-expected season, the orchestra said it would reverse pay cuts imposed at the height of the pandemic.When the coronavirus pandemic erupted in 2020, battering the cultural sector and forcing the New York Philharmonic to cancel a season, the orchestra worked to cut costs, slashing its musicians’ pay by 25 percent.The Philharmonic promised at the time to reverse those cuts, which provided more than $20 million in savings, once its financial outlook brightened. And on Monday, the orchestra announced it would do so in September, much earlier than expected.The decision to restore pay is a milestone in the Philharmonic’s recovery, and it offered some hope that the worst of the pandemic, which cost the orchestra more than $27 million in anticipated ticket revenue, had passed.“There’s nothing more important than our musicians,” Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive, said in an interview. “It was just a very important act to make.”Borda said government grants and loans, an increase in donations and better-than-expected ticket sales during the 2021-22 season made the decision possible. The orchestra is on track to finish its season without missing a performance, and it just concluded a series of concerts in Europe, at a time when many ensembles have been unable to tour.“We’re in a different phase of life now,” she said.Geffen Hall, seen here in March, will reopen in fall.Vincent Tullo for The New York TimesThe Philharmonic is at a pivotal moment. The $550 million renovation of its home, David Geffen Hall, is to be completed in the fall. And the orchestra is searching for a music director to replace its departing leader, Jaap van Zweden, who steps down in 2024.The pay cuts had been a source of distress among players as the Philharmonic prepared for its new chapter.In December 2020, the Philharmonic and its musicians agreed to a four-year contract that included 25 percent cuts to base pay, which was then around $2,900 per week, through August 2023. Under the deal, pay was set to gradually increase until the expiration of the contract in September 2024, though musicians would have been paid less at the end than they were before the pandemic.But as coronavirus cases fell last year and audiences returned, the Philharmonic’s fiscal outlook brightened. Ticket sales in the 2021-22 season have been better than expected: Attendance at subscription concerts was 90 percent, though the orchestra was playing in smaller halls with Geffen being renovated. Donations have been strong, rising by 11 percent to $31.5 million in 2020, the last year for which data is available. The Philharmonic also received grants and loans of more than $16 million from the federal government.In October, the Philharmonic began making payments to musicians to offset the pay cuts. But it was not until Monday that the orchestra vowed to fully restore musicians’ pay for the remainder of the contract.The trombonist Colin Williams, the head of the players’ negotiating committee, said the decision would help reassure musicians who have grappled with the uncertainties of the pandemic.“We’re feeling much more confident about our institution again — our place in it and our place in the city,” he said in an interview. “We somehow weathered this incredibly traumatic time and have come out of it stronger and more cohesive than we were before.”Borda said the Philharmonic still faced financial risks, including the possible emergence of new variants of the coronavirus. While the orchestra remains in what she called “a state of suspended fluidity,” she said it was important to stay focused on the future, including the opening of Geffen Hall, which she described as “light at the end of the tunnel.”“We improvise, we move forward,” she said. “We are placing our money on the fact that we are moving ahead.” More

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    Two Gems of June: Premieres at Carnegie Hall and Harlem School of the Arts

    The festival circuit may be getting underway but the city offers fine fare with programs of work by Sarah Kirkland Snider and Adegoke Steve Colson.This month, you might feel the momentum in classical music swinging to the domestic festival circuit, with splashy premieres and revivals coming courtesy of Spoleto, Ojai and the Opera Theater of St. Louis. But New York isn’t finished yet, either.Two premieres here over the weekend — one loudly trumpeted and one that enjoyed comparatively little fanfare — were newsworthy and enjoyable on their own terms, while also serving as reminders not to neglect the city’s June calendar.Along with the New York Philharmonic’s presentations Friday of Barber’s Violin Concerto — featuring the star violinist Hilary Hahn — and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the audience at Carnegie Hall heard the premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s 14-minute “Forward Into Light.”The composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, center, with the conductor Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on Friday, for the premiere of her work “Forward Into Light.”Chris LeeCommissioned by the orchestra as part of its “Project 19” focus on female composers, “Forward Into Light” was inspired by the suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. With music that was by turns fragile and ferocious — and that also boasted touches of mordant wit — “Light” ably communicated its story about new ideas struggling for space (and for longevity). Spare, ascending motives in the harp anchored some early sections. When the orchestra responded and added in new, consonant melody in turn, there was a sense of material developing through collaboration. Elsewhere, a brief song for clarinet spurred material for other winds. Subsequent interplay, with Minimalist pulses in the violins offset by glissandi in the cellos and basses, recalled the swooning call-and-response arrangements of past Snider works, like “Circe and the Hanged Man,” from her 2010 song cycle “Penelope.”The typically hard-charging Philharmonic music director Jaap van Zweden allowed these moments to breathe. Yet he also relished hairpin turns during which the music throttled into tutti writing. Late in the piece, he managed Snider’s quick dynamic shifts with a Hollywood sound-mixer’s feel for drama.Overall, “Forward” was packed but not overstuffed with historical references, both abstract and concrete. Sometimes Snider’s Sturm und Drang suggested early feminist boldness, or corresponding public sphere controversy. However, a prerecorded sample of Dame Ethel Smyth’s “March of the Women,” late in the piece, didn’t register as strongly as the rest of the music. But even in the densest moments, you could discern Snider’s feel for wry commentary. A few walloping brass passages seemed to offer knowing nods and the subtlest of eye-rolls — as though the characters who inspired this music were aware that the unshakable strengths of the suffrage movement could outlast early, noisy objections.The violinist Hilary Hahn performing Barber’s Violin Concerto on Friday, with van Zweden conducting.Chris LeeAnd so, just as in her ecologically oriented “Mass for the Endangered,” the composer’s intellectual concerns dovetailed smoothly with the lush, inviting score. (The Death of Classical concert series presents Snider’s Mass, Monday through Thursday this week at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.)It was the beginning of a fine night for the Philharmonic. In partnership with Hahn, the orchestra gave Barber’s violin concerto some thrillingly rough-hewed edges, cutting against its public reputation as lighter fare. And though van Zweden’s over-articulated grimness in the middle sections of Mahler’s symphony came at the expense of the composer’s more colorful twists, the conductor’s handling of the outer movements delivered undeniable galvanic thrills.While the Carnegie crowd received Hahn’s appearance with an ovation befitting her global-star status — and responded to the culmination of the Mahler with fever-pitch satisfaction — they also greeted the new piece with enthusiasm. It all made for a richly satisfying close to the orchestra’s challenging year outside its own auditorium.The next time we hear them indoors, it will be at the newly refurbished, redesigned Geffen Hall, inside Lincoln Center. What they’ll play there, over the next few years, is beginning to come into focus. And as the Philharmonic’s administrators continue to deepen their engagement with music by Black composers, they might have looked uptown on Saturday for a few more ideas.Adegoke Steve Colson’s “Suite Harlem,” a six-movement work, was dedicated to the Harlem School of the Arts and its founder, the soprano Dorothy Maynor.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesKendall McDowell and Jenelle Henry, performed a dance accompaniment in the third movement of Adegoke Steve Colson’s work.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesThe bassist Luke Stewart was part of the octet performing “Suite Harlem.” Each soloist had a chance to shine throughout the piece.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesOn the closing night of the second annual A Train Festival at the Harlem School of the Arts, the pianist and composer Adegoke Steve Colson — a veteran of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (or A.A.C.M.) — presented a 75-minute premiere of a six-movement work. Titled “Suite Harlem,” it was dedicated to the school, and presented in its 120-seat black box theater. Like Snider’s “Forward,” this work was also dedicated to a female pathbreaker: the soprano Dorothy Maynor, who founded this school in the 1960s.Scored for an octet of piano, vocalist, trumpet, bass clarinet, violin, vibraphone, bass and drums, Colson’s music occasionally felt like a thrilling update of the soul jazz tradition — particularly when the composer’s piano took a subtly swinging yet harmonically unpredictable background role. At other points the work had all the high-energy markers of the 1970s avant-garde. And thanks to some stirring playing from the violinist Marlene Rice, the music also proposed a lineage with some of Ellington’s chamber-adjacent music with Ray Nance on violin (as in “Dance No. 3” from the Liberian Suite).During “Searching Harlem,” the first movement of this premiere, the composer’s wife and longtime collaborator and vocalist Iqua Colson gave affecting voice to Maynor’s intentions in founding this institution. She brought crisp intonation to some mournful melodic lines that described the historical dearth of spaces for the neighborhood’s children “to sing or dance or act a part.” And later in the suite, during the explosive, uptempo penultimate movement, “Resilience,” she channeled the fiery sense of artistic expression made possible by the school, with an inventive solo of scat singing. It wasn’t supper-club-style scat, either — but an ingeniously shaped solo, concluding with some darting phrases that earned one of the night’s biggest rounds of applause. It brought to mind the couple’s long and fruitful collaboration, going back to 1980s releases like “Triumph!” and “No Reservation.”The interdisciplinary nature of the school — and of the A.A.C.M. itself — was brought into enjoyable focus thanks to contributions by students, during the third movement (“Our Beautiful Children”). Two dancers, Kendall McDowell and Jenelle Henry, provided fluid accompaniment to funk-inflected rhythms of the percussionist Pheeroan akLaff and the bassist Luke Stewart.Adegoke Steve Colson shined especially bright in the suite’s final half.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesEvery soloist had a chance to shine, throughout the piece. But Adegoke Steve Colson’s piano playing in the suite’s final half was a cut above this generally high standard: densely avant-garde and joyously singing in equal measure. This solo aspect of his art has been only rarely heard on recordings — like “Tones for” (2015) — so it was a treat to hear him in this manner, in the suite.The music of the Montclair, N.J.-based Colson, who is now 72, is not as well known as that of his A.A.C.M. contemporaries like Henry Threadgill. But there’s still time to give him more airings in New York. “Suite Harlem” was the climactic result of his time as an artist in residence at the school in Harlem. Given his pedagogical bent, perhaps Carnegie could commission a chamber work from him, for its young professional group Ensemble Connect. And a revival of his large-scale opus dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “ … as in a Cultural Reminiscence …” might also fit in Carnegie’s Zankel Hall space.For now, this weekend’s performances were reminder enough of the veteran’s long contribution to music, and of Snider’s emergent career. The back-to-back relationship of their premieres on the calendar was a reminder, too, of the city’s aggregate cultural riches. Even if relatively few concert halls are flexible enough to combine these complementary artistic communities under a single roof, sagacious concertgoers can still plot their own course through New York’s venues, in any season. More

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    Review: Beatrice Rana Plays Tchaikovsky at Human Scale

    The pianist made her New York Philharmonic debut with the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1, on a program with Shostakovich.The New York Philharmonic’s season isn’t quite over. There are a couple of chamber concerts coming up, and, next Friday, a one-off at Carnegie Hall, as well as the traditional parks programs in mid-June.But this weekend does mark a farewell. After its last events at Alice Tully Hall three weeks ago, the Philharmonic is now saying goodbye to the Rose Theater, its other main host during this wandering season while David Geffen Hall has been closed for renovations.Tully, built for chamber music, was a sonic adjustment for the orchestra. Though it’s not much bigger in capacity, the Rose, part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s home on Columbus Circle, has been a better fit. On Thursday, its acoustics admirably bore the grand onslaught of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 — with Beatrice Rana making her Philharmonic debut as soloist — and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, conducted by the ensemble’s music director, Jaap van Zweden.Not that Rana’s Tchaikovsky ever felt like an onslaught. Her take on this war horse is more of an embrace. Even when she’s muscular, she’s lyrical.From early on, the stylish use of rubato gave a sense of dreaminess to her performance. The sprawling first movement never felt lost, but it wandered: assertive; then suddenly reflective, translucent; then once again roiling. In the finale, her playing danced with appealing, almost sticky heaviness, but then the next line would take off with sparkling freshness.All this changeability never evoked anxiety, as it has in the hands of other artists. Rana projects an underlying calm command, a grounded quality, with the concerto’s different moods on human scale. Small corners were intimate communication: the notes touched, with perfect clarity, by her right pinkie as punctuation to her mellow left hand; her trills, lucid yet silky, a little melty.The orchestra played with panache in the third movement — and van Zweden supported artful details, like the double basses seeming to take up the resonance of the piano near the end. But it was hard to focus on anything but the central player. Even during a big flute solo in the first movement, you couldn’t take your ears off Rana. It was a truly memorable debut.Shostakovich is van Zweden country, the kind of repertory in which his characteristic clenched grip on the music helps rather than hinders it. This was a punchy, tightly played Fifth, an angrily grinning take on a work whose politics will always be ambiguous. (Its composer was desperately attempting to get in Stalin’s good graces, but as far as the score’s meaning, who knows?)The Philharmonic played well, with an almost choked grotesquerie in the march in the first movement, an eerie danse macabre of the second and bristling unsentimentality in the third. Van Zweden began the finale very fast, and the orchestra responded with clean ferocity. The progression to the climactic major-key explosion was grim, and its achievement, as Shostakovich may well have intended, was the very definition of an empty victory.New York PhilharmonicThis program continues through Saturday at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Manhattan; nyphil.org. More

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    New Effort Aims to Bring More Contemporary Music to Orchestras

    An initiative by the League of American Orchestras will enlist 30 ensembles to perform works by six living composers, all of them women.Many orchestras, eager to demonstrate a commitment to contemporary music, have taken pride in programming works by living composers in recent years. But when the glamour of the premiere fades, many of those works all but disappear from the standard repertoire, rarely to be performed again.Now a group of nonprofit leaders is working to make new music a more permanent part of the artistic landscape. The League of American Orchestras on Thursday announced an initiative that will enlist 30 ensembles over the next several years to perform new pieces by six composers, all of them women.“There’s too much great music that gets lost and is never heard after its premiere,” Simon Woods, the league’s president and chief executive, said in an interview. “We thought, ‘We need to solve that.’”While many orchestras are eager for the prestige of commissioning new works, Woods said they are not as focused on playing pieces that have premiered elsewhere.“Orchestras should be patrons of new work,” he said. “But still, the second performance and the third performance are really important. Because it’s only when one hears a work a few times that it sort of snowballs and it has a chance of getting a toehold in the repertoire. Building that momentum is really important.”The League, in partnership with the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and American Composers Orchestra, has been working since 2014 to bring more diversity to orchestral programming, including awarding commissions to female and nonbinary composers.The initiative announced on Thursday will build on those efforts, pairing each of the six composers with five ensembles. The program, which will cost at least $360,000, will be financed by the Toulmin foundation.The six composers are the British-born Anna Clyne, who works in the United States; Sarah Gibson, who is also a pianist; the Hong Kong-born Angel Lam; Gity Razaz, an Iranian American; Arlene Sierra, an American based in London; and Wang Lu, a China-born composer and pianist, who lives in Providence, R.I.Wang said in an interview that it was often difficult for contemporary composers to find orchestras interested in playing new works after they have premiered.“As a composer, I can’t just like knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, this is my music, why don’t you play it?’” she said.Wang, who is working on a new piece that the New York Philharmonic is to premiere in January, said the league’s initiative would give artists more opportunities to develop. “You can only get better by working with orchestras,” she said in an interview. “Only by listening can you improve.”The initial group of orchestras taking part are the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Kansas City Symphony and the Sarasota Orchestra. Those ensembles will begin to premiere and perform the works by the composers next season.In the coming months, the league will choose the remaining 24 ensembles that will take part in the program. More

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    Artists Are Putting Their Stamp on Lincoln Center

    In a partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Public Art Fund, works by Nina Chanel Abney and Jacolby Satterwhite will help reintroduce Geffen Hall this fall.When David Geffen Hall reopens on the Lincoln Center campus this fall, two new artworks — by Nina Chanel Abney and by Jacolby Satterwhite — will be splayed across the 65th Street facade and a 50-foot media wall in the renovated lobby.These highly visible pieces, commissioned by the performing arts center in partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Public Art Fund, are positioned to help reintroduce the longtime home of the New York Philharmonic to the city and will inaugurate a rotating program of visual artists invited to put their stamp on Lincoln Center.“One of the overriding goals of the new David Geffen Hall has been to find ways to connect more meaningfully with outside — not just to open up but to reach out,” said Henry Timms, president and chief executive of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’ve been very intentional about thinking about different voices, different audiences, more people seeing themselves at Lincoln Center. The Studio Museum was the perfect partner for that.”For the museum, which has been organizing temporary installations of public art since 2016 in Harlem while its 125th Street building is under construction, this collaboration was “a great opportunity to extend our engagement in site-specific commissioned artwork,” said Thelma Golden, the Studio Museum’s director and chief curator. It also allows the museum to complement the work at Lincoln Center “to broaden and deepen and expand their program and the ways in which they engage audiences.” Golden pulled in the Public Art Fund for the organization’s resources and expertise in implementing large-scale public projects.Together, the institutions developed the curatorial vision and identified the two prominent locations for the art — a 10,000-square-foot expanse on the north facade of the building and a new multiuse media wall running across the lobby. This space has been reconceived as a kind of living room, open to the public all day with beverages. Nonticketholders will be able to view the art on the media wall that will also broadcast the Philharmonic down to the lobby when it is playing upstairs. Abney, 39, known for her bold, large-scale paintings, and Satterwhite, 36, a multidisciplinary artist who combines digital media and painting, were selected from more than half a dozen artists of color invited to make site-specific proposals.A rendering of a multiuse media wall that will be at David Geffen Hall. Satterwhite’s commission will appear there, and concerts will be streamed, as well.via DBOX“That facade for so long was thought of as the blank back side of the building and is kind of hiding in plain sight,” said Nicholas Baume, artistic and executive director of the Public Art Fund. “It’s right there at that intersection of all these major streets and can express this concept that Lincoln Center wants to open itself up to the city and address some of that symbolic citadel-like podium elevation of the original ensemble of buildings.”In a dynamic constellation of colorful stylized figures, symbols and patterns to be printed on vinyl and applied across a grid of 35 windows on that north facade, Abney will pay homage to San Juan Hill, a largely Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the 14-acre federally aided Lincoln Center project, which broke ground in 1959.“I was interested to delve into the history and the amazing people who inhabited that neighborhood,” said Abney, who is working with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to study San Juan Hill, considered the birthplace of the Charleston and bebop, and home to musicians including the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. “It’s acknowledgment and celebrating what was there.”In tandem, Lincoln Center has commissioned the composer Etienne Charles to explore the neighborhood’s legacy in a piece, “San Juan Hill,” to be performed by the Philharmonic in the new hall for free on Oct. 8.“This is part of a necessary engagement with our history,” Timms said. “This isn’t a one-off.”In a poetic, digitally animated landscape that will unfold across the 50-foot media wall in the lobby, Satterwhite plans to tell a story about the past, present and future of the New York Philharmonic. “The history of Lincoln Center is very male and white — that’s what it’s perceived as,” Satterwhite said. He is working with archivists there to mine footage of conductors and performers of different races and genders working more at the margins of the Philharmonic, to be woven fluidly into a kind of pastoral concert with 100 student musicians and dancers from Alvin Ailey, LaGuardia High School and others that Satterwhite is filming.“I want to reanimate the timeline that may traditionally be told, without any kind of hierarchy,” Satterwhite said. The pandemic, he feels, has offered an opportunity for “culture and society to reconfigure and reflect on itself. I want this piece to be very much about moving forward.” More

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    Review: Igor Levit Arrives at the New York Philharmonic

    Levit, one of the world’s eminent pianists, appeared with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall eight years after making his New York debut.Eight years ago, a young pianist made his New York debut with a brazen program of Beethoven’s final sonatas.Baby-faced and wearing a bow tie, Igor Levit, then 27, took the stage at the Park Avenue Armory’s intimate Board of Officers Room and proved that age is no impediment in interpreting some of the wisest and most challenging music in the keyboard repertory. “A major new pianist has arrived,” the critic Anthony Tommasini wrote of that night.Since then, each return engagement has had the air of an important event: Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations with the artist Marina Abramovic at the Armory’s drill hall, recitals with premieres at Carnegie Hall that started in its chamber-size Zankel space before moving to its main auditorium.Levit, who lives in Berlin, hasn’t brought his most madcap programming to the city — his essential, standard-setting take on Ronald Stevenson’s “Passacaglia on DSCH” or his turn in Ferruccio Busoni’s extravagant Piano Concerto — but he has graduated from newcomer to New York fixture.One important debut remained, and it came on Friday: his first appearance with the New York Philharmonic.Now 35, more scruffy than smooth and trading his bow tie for a casual black shirt, he joined the orchestra at Carnegie in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1. It was one of those evenings — agonizingly, just one performance — that left you wondering whether the Philharmonic had found an artist to keep on speed dial for future seasons.Holding his own against the orchestra’s characteristic muscularity, Levit offered counterpoint in an expressive touch, an instinctual sense of shape and a gift for navigating the nuances of a piece that keeps one foot in the Classical era and the other in the Romanticism of its time.Like Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, also in D minor, the Brahms begins with a long orchestral introduction before the soloist’s softly singing entrance — passion turning into a plea. The Philharmonic, led by Jaap van Zweden, its music director, sounded more aggressive than ardent, and crisp where another ensemble might have been grand.Van Zweden’s reading didn’t necessarily register as problematic until it was brought into relief by Levit’s arrival, which achieved more tension with less force. His solos were similar to sonatas in their intimacy and breadth of expression (a sensibility that reached its height with his encore, a sonorous yet serene “Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland,” transcribed by Busoni from Bach). At the keyboard he was capable of conjuring not only thunder, particularly in the climax of the first movement, but also the troubling calm that can precede it and, as in the Adagio, something like the gentle parting of clouds that follows.Where soloist and orchestra most aligned was in the Rondo finale; Levit stated the first theme briskly, precisely, and the Philharmonic responded in kind. More here than elsewhere, van Zweden allowed the score to speak for itself, to build naturally toward its joyous D major coda. The piano part wraps up several measures before the end, but Levit’s skill and stage presence had been well established by then — and the audience reacted, the moment he moved to bow, with a swift standing ovation.The Philharmonic would have its moment, too, after intermission, in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. And if this work activates instruments like lights on a switchboard, then there was not a dull bulb on Friday. With brasses clear and heroic; winds eloquent and full of personality; and strings speaking as a single unit, this was an ensemble in excellent form. In the fourth movement “Intermezzo interrotto,” especially, the players found a sensitivity absent in the Brahms: lush in its folk-like melody, animated in the nightmarishly parodic interruption and, in the return of the folk tune, movingly soft, with Dvorakian wistfulness.As he did in Brahms’s Rondo, van Zweden led the Bartok Finale with a restraint that, after simply getting through the virtuosity of the breakneck pace and fugal writing, made way for an organic accumulation toward a lingeringly resonant final chord. It was a glimpse of an approach he doesn’t take often — but that would be welcome, like any appearance by Levit, with the Philharmonic going forward.New York PhilharmonicPerformed on Friday at Carnegie Hall, Manhattan. More

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    A Monkish Conductor Who Expressed His Faith Through Music

    A new 69-disc box of Dimitri Mitropoulos’s recordings are an opportunity to reassess a conductor who remains out of reach.When Dimitri Mitropoulos was putting together the programs that he would conduct in 1947 as a guest of the New York Philharmonic — the ensemble he later led in a fraught tenure from 1949 to 1958 — he likely could not have predicted which item on his typically eclectic lists would be the most controversial.One week, this “strangest and most curiously gifted” of conductors, as Olin Downes of The New York Times called him, preceded Gershwin’s Piano Concerto with the American premiere of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, at a time when Mahler’s works were regarded with incredulity. The week before, Mitropoulos, the Greek American music director of the Minneapolis Symphony, had offered firsts of Bartok and Barber. Before that, he had given a Thanksgiving premiere of Krenek’s Symphony No. 4, a serial work with “about as much savor to it as a pasteboard turkey,” the critic Virgil Thomson quipped.Yet none of that caused the caustic ire reserved for Strauss’s “Alpine Symphony.” “A composer would be a little embarrassed to confess to the authorship of a score like this today,” Downes railed after the Philharmonic concert on Nov. 20, joking that only an atomic bomb had been left out of its “sensational and expensive sounds.” If the parting of Strauss’s thunderstorm was “mellifluous,” he admitted, it was still “sentimental in the most bourgeois vein,” music “from which one would have expected Mr. Mitropoulos long since to have graduated.”Even so, the “Alpine Symphony” was the kind of gospel that Mitropoulos, a missionary for new and underappreciated music whose hair-shirt devotion and tall, bald figure evoked the monks he had thought of joining as a boy, could preach aflame in inspiration. Listen to a Philharmonic broadcast from Nov. 23, and you hear a Strauss not of banality but spirituality; what Downes dismissed as mawkish, Mitropoulos conducts as rapture.Strauss’s “Alpine Symphony”New York Philharmonic, 1947 (Music & Arts)Conducting was a calling for Mitropoulos, an alpinist who felt closest to God in the mountains but expressed his faith enduring trials of music. His aim, he wrote to his muse, Katy Katsoyanis, in 1947, was “to surpass the material, to annihilate it, reduce it to nothing, so that the spiritual achievement becomes an absolute morality.” It was also carnal, an act of metaphysical love between conductor and orchestra that this largely celibate gay man, as his exemplary biographer William R. Trotter portrays him, saw as “another expression my unlived sexual life.”Painstakingly committing the tiniest details of scores to memory, Mitropoulos seemed not to direct music but to emanate and embody it, fists flailing and feet flying. He was, on principal, a collaborator, one who worshiped the charitable example of St. Francis of Assisi and refused to wield a baton, which he saw as a symbol of subjugation. But his ability to unify gesture and tone paradoxically appeared imperious to some, even authoritarian, a denial of spontaneity and specificity of style.Either way, if Mitropoulos’s detractors granted that his erratic interpretations, driven tempos and taut, sinewy sound served some music spectacularly well, ministering to the downtrodden of the world’s (male) composers was not what his times demanded.Mitropoulos, an alpinist who felt closest to God in the mountains, in 1949.NY Phil Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital Archives“Mr. Mitropoulos conducts the wrong pieces magnificently,” Thomson surmised after his Philharmonic debut, in 1940; a reputation for coarseness in the canon of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms would undo him when New York critics sought blood over a decade later.The stature of “the most masterful of all modern conductors,” as the critic Neville Cardus anointed him, has since wilted in the egotistical heat cast by his erstwhile protégé, constant betrayer and eventual successor: Leonard Bernstein.A new, 69-disc Sony Classical box of Mitropoulos’s recordings might grant an opportunity to reassess the conductor, but if there is far too little of what Thomson thought of as the “right” music to be heard in it, there’s hardly enough of the “wrong” music to challenge the conventional wisdom either. The real Mitropoulos remains frustratingly out of reach.Sony is not at fault here. Releasing many of Mitropoulos’s recordings for the first time in the digital era, it has filled the last gaping hole in the discography of the Philharmonic’s post-Toscanini decades. The blame lies with the label that recorded Mitropoulos for much of his career, Columbia, whose executives chose Eugene Ormandy over interpretive insight and stuck Mitropoulos with the leftovers, deploying him as a concerto accompanist and offering him scant chance to fulfill his mission. The decision was commercial; the pity is lasting.Mitropoulos was born in Athens in 1896. He was young when he began to study piano; soon enough, if he wasn’t joining his uncles to pray in the monasteries of Mount Athos, he was spending his Saturdays leading scratch ensembles at home. At the Athens Conservatory, he trained as a keyboard virtuoso of firebrand talents and as a composer of Romantic tastes. Aside from some transcriptions, he rarely performed his own works later on, but he made his podium debut in 1915 with his tone poem “Tafi” (“Burial”).After a brief spell in Brussels, Mitropoulos went to Berlin to study composition with Ferruccio Busoni, then worked as an assistant conductor at the State Opera there. But the modernist impulses he came to feel in Weimar-era Berlin, influencing both his inclinations in the repertory and his formidable last compositions, were of little use back in Greece, where duty bade him return in 1924 to lead the Conservatory Orchestra in Athens, a poor ensemble he turned into a listenable one.His breakthrough came in 1930, when one of his patrons hired the Berlin Philharmonic for him to conduct a concert: After Egon Petri withdrew from Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, Mitropoulos took up the solo part as well. Repeating that shocking display of musical ability elsewhere drew the attention of Serge Koussevitzky, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s director, who invited him to be a guest conductor. Upon that debut, in 1936, the Boston Herald said that “his body, even more than the notes of the score, seems the source of the music.” Critics gossiped of finding Toscanini’s heir.Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3: Allegro ma non troppoRobin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia, 1946 (Sony Classical)When Mitropoulos returned to Boston in January 1937, he added a date with the Minneapolis Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra, which Ormandy had jilted for Philadelphia the year before. “Mitropoulos appeared to be a fanatic who had sold his soul to music” wrote a local critic, who described conducting “so full of blood, muscle, and nerves as to seem alive and sentient.” Mitropoulos was announced as the music director within a couple of weeks, and would stay for 12 years.Mitropoulos’s stint in the Twin Cities was radical in more than just repertoire, challenging the godlike halo of other conductors with his asceticism. He lived in dorm rooms at the University of Minnesota. Spending on little but his habit of catching a double feature, he gave his salary away, much of it to the players whose privations he shared on endless tours. His sexuality remained private, the closet one act of discipline among many; the summer of 1943 was spent doing exhausting manual labor for the Red Cross.Mitropoulos’s marked copy of Schoenberg’s “Erwartung.”NY Phil Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital ArchivesThere were tribulations in the music to which Mitropoulos exposed his listeners in the five-thousand-seat Northrop Auditorium, too. Alongside recent music from Rachmaninoff and Vaughan Williams came the dissonances of Schoenberg, Krenek and Artur Schnabel, the pianist whose First Symphony even Milton Babbitt described as “murderously complex” after hearing Mitropoulos’s unhappy performance of it in 1946.The Minneapolis recordings in Sony’s box give no more hint of such ambition than a pioneering Mahler Symphony No. 1. Mitropoulos chafed at the early recording process, but his style is audible through dismal sound. Dynamics are extreme, and accents are firm. If his Schumann Second suffers from his wrestling, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” — the only one of that composer’s symphonies that he recorded — sounds aptly brawny today. And his burly rhythmic insistence makes unexpected triumphs of Franck’s Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s “The Isle of the Dead.”Mahler’s Symphony No. 1: Stürmisch bewegtMinneapolis Symphony, 1940 (Sony Classical)The question was never whether Mitropoulos would leave Minneapolis, but for which ensemble and when. He took charge of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer concerts from 1945 to 1948, but Ormandy proved immovable. Boston looked likely until Koussevitzky’s homophobia — abetted by the ambitious Bernstein’s evident outing of Mitropoulos, his youthful crush, to his new mentor — ended that path. The last orchestra standing was the New York Philharmonic, an overworked, underpaid orchestra with a fearsome reputation.“I have to go,” Mitropoulos told his Minneapolis concertmaster, Louis Krasner, “even though I know I am probably going to my doom.”Doom awaited, although there was success before the fall. The repertoire was again catholic, ambitious, brilliantly risky. His “Elektra” and “Wozzeck” were historic. Plenty of Schoenberg’s scores received hearings; difficulties rehearsing the monodrama “Erwartung” led Mitropoulos to ask Katsoyanis whether his compulsion for “distorted and screwy beauty” was just an “egotistical occupation” with “the pleasure of self-destruction.” It almost was after Milhaud’s colossally challenging “Christophe Colomb” humiliated him in November 1952. He had a heart attack within weeks.Mitropoulos never drew the loyalty from the Philharmonic that he had secured in Minneapolis; the players took advantage of his financial generosity or publicly threw their parts of a Webern work at his feet. Snide remarks about his private sexuality were common, and Bernstein gossiped conspiratorially that it was wrong for a bachelor to hold such a post. Mitropoulos was reduced to tears before the orchestra’s hostility. Trotter writes that this saintly figure once grew so exasperated that he threatened the players with the tyranny of George Szell.Mitropoulos, center, with the conductor Herbert von Karajan to his left and his erstwhile protégé Leonard Bernstein to his right.Don Hunstein, via NY Phil Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital ArchivesThe standard account is that standards plummeted, that Mitropoulos’s fervent intensity inevitably generated rough playing; The Times remarked in 1955 that it was “a sin to let the Philharmonic play like this.” That decline is not wholly apparent in Sony’s box, though in Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” among other works, there are moments of horrifying playing.Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10: AllegroNew York Philharmonic, 1954 (Sony Classical)Dig through the criminal number of concertos — few of them as valuable as Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with David Oistrakh — and there are worthwhile records to be heard: consuming Mendelssohn; fierce accounts of Shostakovich’s Fifth and Tenth; an astonishingly brutal Vaughan Williams Fourth, Mitropoulos’s most exhilarating recording. Of Strauss, there is only a tired excerpt from “Salome.” For Mahler, you must turn to his stunning broadcasts, above all a Sixth from 1955.Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 4: Finale con epilogo fugatoNew York Philharmonic, 1956 (Sony Classical)Even as critics lauded Mitropoulos’s appearances with the Metropolitan Opera — his recording of Barber’s “Vanessa” from 1958 is gorgeous — they made him a scapegoat as they demanded the end of a dreary era in the Philharmonic’s history, dating back to Toscanini’s departure in 1936.“The Philharmonic—What’s Wrong With It and Why” ran a Times headline on April 29, 1956, as the critic Howard Taubman savaged its deterioration. Bernstein was announced as co-conductor for the 1957-58 season that October; it would be Mitropoulos’s last, though he returned for a Mahler Festival in 1960, while Bernstein began to profit from the repertory path he had blazed.By then, Mitropoulos was working himself into the grave after another massive heart attack. His last concert was in Cologne, Germany, a Mahler Third whose finale has an irradiant glow. He died as he sought to, falling from on high — not from a mountain, but from the podium in Milan, on Nov. 2, 1960. He was 64. More