New York Philharmonic: From the Archives to the Audience

Classic Arts Features   New York Philharmonic: From the Archives to the Audience
An introduction to James M. Keller, the Philharmonic's Program Annotator and, now, Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence. Monica Parks speaks to Barbara Haws, Theodore Wiprud and Mr. Keller himself.

There are many people who make up the New York Philharmonic. In addition to the musicians, there are many key figures behind the scenes. For years Philharmonic audiences have been reading program notes written by James M. Keller (center, in photo above), the Program Annotator, who has now been appointed the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic.

In the following conversation, Philharmonic Archivist/Historian Barbara Haws, Director of Education Theodore Wiprud, and Mr. Keller speak with Director of Publications Monica Parks about his many roles : some more visible than others : at the Philharmonic.


Monica Parks: Why did the Philharmonic create the position of the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence?

Barbara Haws: We've always felt that there were different ways of interpreting the information in the Philharmonic Archives : ways of looking at our history and seeing how it compares or contrasts with other cultural streams of history within the United States or the world at large. We thought it would be great to have a Scholar-in-Residence to think about the Philharmonic in a cultural context, in a worldwide context, and over a broad expanse of time since it has one of the longest experiences in existence today.

Theodore Wiprud: There's the public side to it, too, using information from the Archives, as well as from the scholar's own significant background, to flesh out what the tradition is that we bring to life here. The position was founded in 2005 to honor the legacy of our late Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein.

BH: There really is no more well rounded intellectual to try to honor than Leonard Bernstein.

Through his Norton lectures, and Omnibus and the Young People's Concerts on television, Bernstein celebrated the intellectual approach to music in a way that was scholarly but at the same time public : and popular. How did you decide on James to be the new occupant of this position?

TW: James was already part of our family. Why not make more of who he is and his relationship with the Philharmonic and acknowledge that he is a scholar in our midst here : and take more advantage of him? [Laughter]

Speaking of being part of our family, James, can you share a little of your history with us?

James M. Keller: Well, every family has a black sheep ... [Laughter] I've been part of the New York Philharmonic family since 1995, when I started working as the Program Editor. Then in 2000, I became the Program Annotator. I was very active with the pre-concert lectures, especially back in the 1990's. I became a telecommuter in 2001, so this was a wonderful opportunity to firm up my onsite involvement with the Orchestra.

How are you going to fill the various roles of this post?

JMK: Part of this bifurcated position is the public aspect, which has to do with the Philharmonic's humanities-oriented presentations. I'll be giving more pre-concert lectures than I have in recent years, and I'll be participating in and, in some cases, curating and hosting events in the Insights Series : lecture/ roundtable/performance events that enrich the concert experience.

Then there's also the research side of it that Barbara pointed to, which may be less visible but no less important. The New York Philharmonic Archives is truly an extraordinary institution within an institution : the information that resides there is truly astonishing. I particularly like that Barbara is part of the Archives. I have found that information is a very malleable thing, so having her only a holler away to bounce ideas off of is unusually valuable.

BH: There's a lot for me to live up to there, James.

JMK: But, Barbara, what I say is true. It's invaluable when examining a document to have you there to say, "Yeah but, you know, when you read that letter you have to remember ..."

BH: That's 25 years of my cumulative memory. I really look forward to your being there, too, because I have to say that what I know usually comes from all my researchers. There's this constant back and forth.

So there are two sides to this position, James, but you actually also wear a third hat, as Program Annotator. How do you feel the roles of annotator and scholar live together?

JMK: I suppose all three of these arrows in my quiver are basically expressions of who I am and what I do professionally. I am a musicologist by training, I do have a rather deep historical interest in music, and yet what has always brought me the greatest pleasure is being a generalist, and conveying my enthusiasm to people who are interested but who don't necessarily enjoy a background in the field.

How do you hope that the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence Program will benefit the public?

TW: We have basically three different audiences. There's the scholarly audience, for the work in the Archives. There's the pre-concert-talk audience, people whom we hope to help enjoy the concert more, assuming no particular musical knowledge on their part. The Insights Series is really aimed for the musically knowledgeable, who are ready for a much more in-depth kind of exploration of musical issues. Over all, ultimately, it's about enriching the musical experience of listeners of all kinds.

BH: I think it's about bringing another dimension to the musical experience.

TW: Yes, I also think that what the New York Philharmonic does is really part of the intellectual life of New York City. What happens here has a huge intellectual dimension. The great composers were enormous intellects : are enormous intellects : and represent the most advanced thinking of their time. The Philharmonic should be thinking on that level.

BH: It's continuing a sort of self-analysis of this institution's place and role within our greater society. Yes, you can come to a concert and appreciate it and love it, but a Scholar-in-Residence can help us ask, "What does this say about our civilization at this point in time? What's the Philharmonic's role in it?"

JMK: This position bridges serving the general audience and having some scholarly standing. One of the things that I'm going to be focusing on in the public programs : in the Insights Series, in particular : is to secure the participation of some really leading academic scholars in this field, to make them available to our audience so that they can also help to promote these goals. I think that this is a position that can help develop interest and understanding : really, a passion : among audiences for what we at the Orchestra are already interested and passionate about.

Monica Parks is the Director of Publications at the New York Philharmonic.

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