Save the Brooklyn Philharmonic!

11/14/2013 11:20 AM |

In 2011, the Brooklyn Philharmonic reemerged as a vital musical force in the borough. The New York Philharmonic is a world-class orchestra, dispensing from its home in Lincoln Center great works classical and modern; no disrespect to them! But the Brooklyn Phil took a different approach, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, taking pieces from inside and outside the repertoire directly into Kings County’s communities. This didn’t mean just shoving Beethoven into the ears of Bed-Stuy residents. It meant devising creative programs that blended different musical styles to engage people who might be hesitant to attend an orchestral concert: for its first post-reinvention program, the Phil went into Brighton Beach with an evening of Soviet cartoon music by composers familiar and not, attracting an immigrant audience by indulging their nostalgia (as well as some hipster youths and blue-haired culture groupies); it went into Bed-Stuy with Mos Def and played a piece of Beethoven’s Third, had a DJ remix it, then played Beethoven’s Seventh while the hip-hop artist overlaid spoken word. This, it seemed, was a real way to connect audiences to music. This was relevant programming.


But this year, the orchestra had to call off most of its already short season after licensing problems forced the cancellation of one concert, which then lead to budget shortfalls that nixed a second. Its only performance this season was a two-night engagement at BAM featuring an arrangement of songs from Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)—which proved a revelatory evening encouraging serious reconsideration not just of an album but of an artist’s entire oeuvre. The second night was a benefit for the orchestra, Badu forgoing her fee so it could go straight to the organization.

Still, it wasn’t nearly enough: the entire administrative staff was fired in August, the very likable music director Alan Pierson was let go, and the whole thing will go “belly up” if it doesn’t raise several million dollars immediately, the Daily News reports. The board is still considering its options—including maybe merging with another organization—and it should be said the orchestra bounced back after canceling two seasons earlier this decade.

But with the recent closure of New York City Opera after several decades of serving the people of this city with more affordable, more adventurous, more American fare, what if something more serious is afoot. What if we’re turning into a city without the means or the will to support multiple classical organizations, a city with limited alternatives to cultural behemoths like Lincoln Center? If the Brooklyn Philharmonic goes kaput, it will be a small blow to our cultural landscape. But one that’ll be felt sharply.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart