The Philharmonic’s Glorious Return to Prospect Park

07/12/2012 12:32 PM |


The Long Meadow was covered by a thousand blankets yesterday evening as thousands of people laid in the grass, played in the dirt, gazed at the clouds, and listened to the New York Philharmonic. It was the orchestra’s first parks concert after a year off, a controversy caused by poor planning and a subsequent lack of funds. But no momentum was lost; the crowd was big as ever, peoples young and old wining and picnicking ubiquitously, exploiting the perfect evening.

The music started off with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The program notes suggested a frontloaded piece, but each movement had much to offer: the first’s emotional roller coaster ride, the second’s regal melancholy, the third’s wily string arrangements, and of course that big, dramatic finale. In the park, the orchestra sounded like on an old record, like it had that dampened, filtered sound of primitive recording equipment. But, hey, it’s not like you can’t enjoy a Caruso CD because of the recording quality. As we accept certain sacrifices to dip into history, so too can we submit to others for a sky streaked in crepuscular pastels, for cymbal crashes that echo off the tree line, for birdsong counterpoint, for children with glow sticks playing conductor—for the communal appreciation of an art you don’t usually get to enjoy in the sprawled, casual company of your friends and neighbors.

Still, the sound quality hurts Tchaikovsky especially, whose music is all about overwhelming you with its thick textures and big sound. (This was evident earlier in the week, when the Philharmonic performed an all-Tchaikovsky program at Avery Fisher that nearly shattered the chandelier it was so loud!) Less affected was the second half of the program, Respighi’s Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome, a pair of colorfully orchestrated tone poems. They sound modern in their rambling structures but old-fashioned in their melodiousness—sort of Debussyian, but not so hushed. It’s whimsical music, bright in a magical sort of way, like the soundtrack to a Disney forest—an impression intensified by the two Lost Boys-age children wandering the crowd with wooden swords, one whispering to the other, “let’s sneak up on him!”

The parks concerts continue with the same program tonight in Queens, and Friday in Central Park. New programs continue into next week. Click here for more info.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart