You can hear the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall more than 30 weeks out of the year, sometimes attending a program designed especially for children. And now, Philharmonic musicians are traveling beyond Manhattan to engage with children in their own communities. Take the Very Young People’s Concerts, traditionally presented at Merkin Hall, two blocks north of the Orchestra’s home. Beginning this season these concerts for preschoolers are also being presented in satellite venues in the Bronx and Queens.
It’s not just concerts, but education programs, that are bringing Philharmonic musicians across the rivers. Over the past couple of decades, school-aged instrumentalists from New York youth programs have descended on Lincoln Center for workshops, coaching sessions, and performances in which the youngsters play alongside the pros who have been mentoring them. This year, New York Philharmonic Youth Mentorship Program has moved beyond the Upper West Side by having the Orchestra’s musicians reverse the commute: to work in the Bronx with kids from UpBeat NYC, to Brooklyn for All-City High School Music Program, to Chinatown for the Harmony Program, and, now, to Queens, to instruct those served by the newest partner, Corona Youth Music Project.
Philharmonic Director, Education and Community Engagement (The Sue B. Mercy Chair), Gary Padmore explains that these remote-site programs sync with the institution’s commitment to being a presence throughout the city. “When we’re in the South Bronx or Brooklyn or Queens,” he says, “it sends the message that the New York Philharmonic is willing to invest its time in helping to amplify and support the work our community partners around the city are doing.”
Liza Austria, director of UpBeat NYC, believes that hosting musicians in the community allows many more individuals to be reached. “It was exciting for five of our kids to be selected to go to Lincoln Center last year, but we have a whole orchestra of kids who really benefit from this kind of coaching with musicians at the highest professional level. And because they’ll be in our space, all of the students and the families in our program will be impacted.”
Austria also looks forward to being able to share the vibrancy of their neighborhood with these distinguished visitors. “There’s excitement, always, for the kids to leave the neighborhood and experience a beautiful place like Lincoln Center,” she says. “But it means a lot to us that we’re able to give New York Philharmonic musicians a taste of the exciting musical things that are happening here, and for them to get to know more about where these young musicians are coming from and the hard work they’re doing day to day.”
Alvaro Rodas, director of Corona Youth Music Project, heard about the program and wanted in. And having Philharmonic musicians come to Corona makes a significant statement about his organization: “It’s a validation that shows us that what the kids are doing is worthy of the attention of this big institution, by having these very talented classical musicians come to our community to play with us.”
It’s a two-way street. The Philharmonic musicians who work with these students get a great deal of gratification themselves. Violinist Hae-Young Ham—a Youth Mentorship Program veteran who this season will go to its partners’ locations for the first time—says: “It’s been a rewarding experience to get to know some of these students over the years and watch them grow. Now, traveling out of my comfort zone and seeing kids in their own setting, I’ll get to experience their environment—their cultures, and any possible barriers.”
Padmore confesses his ultimate vision for this and all of the Philharmonic education programs: “A long, long, long- term goal would be for those kids who have the aspiration to become future members of orchestras around the country, perhaps even the New York Philharmonic.”
Music journalist and media consultant Gail Wein is a contributor to NPR and Voice of America and has written for The Washington Post, Musical America, and Symphony Magazine. She is also executive director of Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard, interactive concerts for children.