Cancellation of Philharmonic's Summer Parks Tour Draws Mixed Reactions

A Cherished Tradition or Outlet for Bad Audience Behavior?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

POLL: What do you think of the Philharmonic's decision?

The New York Philharmonic's announcement on Tuesday that it is cancelling its annual round of free concerts in city parks this summer has been met with mixed reactions from fans, editorial writers and business owners who rely on the July tour. Some have called it the loss of a cherished tradition; others argue that the concerts had lost much of their initial purpose.

The orchestra cited unspecified scheduling conflicts as the reason for the cancellation and said that the concerts will return in 2012. In the meantime, a free concert is planned with tenor Andrea Bocelli in Central Park on September 15.

“It’s a definite loss, especially after the winter we’ve had in New York,” said Brooklyn borough historian Ron Schweiger, referring to the Prospect Park concerts. “To find something to replace it is going to be hard. Leonard Bernstein is probably turning over in his grave in Green Wood Cemetery right now.”

Caterer Amanda Smith, who has provided gourmet picnic baskets for audience members since 2002, said "as a New Yorker it’s a huge disappointment.” Last year, Smith supplied 300 picnic baskets for the patrons who sit in the VIP section near the stage and another 300 to 500 meals for fans sitting on blankets. She was notified of the cancellation two weeks ago.

“Yes, it will impact my business,” she explained. “We’d ordered all the bags and were on our way to programming it.”

The producers of the Grucci fireworks display, which has accompanied the parks concerts since 1969 expressed similar disappointment. "We do 300 programs a year but when you lose any of your programs it’s losing a tradition," said Philip Butler, a Grucci producer. "It’s disheartening of course.”

Others were less glum about the news. Sedgwick Clark, the editor of Musical America, the classical music industry directory, complained that the Central Park concerts are mostly excuses for New Yorkers to socialize. "The people there talked on cell phones, they played radios, they talked among themselves,” he said. “You could barely hear a note of music over the din. The reason for going to this concert has simply become a social event. This isn’t a musical event any more.”

In an editorial, the New York Daily News criticized the Philharmonic for cancelling the parks tour while continuing to perform at the Vail Valley Music festival from July 22-29. "New York taxpayers have already bought their tickets. And so the Philharmonic needs to fulfill its end of the bargain by playing as promised," the editorial stated. A Philharmonic spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Tradition with Roots in the Wagner Administration

The New York Philharmonic started its summer parks series in August 1965 at the urging of then-mayor Robert F. Wagner. The concerts, which were alternately conducted by William Steinberg and Seiji Ozawa featured Benny Goodman and Aaron Copland as soloists (the latter as pianist in his Piano Concerto). Milwaukee’s Schlitz Brewing Company sponsored the initial concerts.

The tradition quickly became hugely popular. Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to a record Central Park crowd of 75,000 in 1966. According to the New York City Parks Department, 110,000 people turned out for an all-Tchaikovsky performance in August 1973.

At its peak in the 1990s, the series drew between 50,000 and 75,000 patrons in Central Park and expanded to include venues in New Jersey as well as Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties.

Last year, with the orchestra reporting a $4.5 million deficit, concerts were shared in Central Park with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, in an effort to defray the costs. For budgetary reasons, the Philharmonic sent a brass-and-percussion ensemble to the City University of New York's Center for the Arts on Staten Island and the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture in the Bronx, instead of the full orchestra. A concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center, in Holmdel, N.J., was also dropped from its schedule.

“There’s something really special about sitting on a blanket in the middle of the Long Meadow on a summer night,” said Eric McClure, co-founder of civic group Park Slope Neighbors. “It certainly was a surprise and a disappointment.”


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Comments [20]

Helga from LI from LI, NY

This is unbelievably sad to not have the Summer Park Concerts! The concerts bring the classical music not only to the masses but also to the music-lovers, who enjoy the music with a picnic and a glass of wine and a happy summer spirit. They do not expect a concert hall experience! It’s summer, light classical music, and a happy gathering with family and friends, and exposure to our most treasured classical music! Do not take this tradition away!

Jul. 28 2011 02:45 PM
Susan from Queens

Classical music in the park is more than just a "tradition". Yes, there may be some inattentive people and problems with the sound system but it offers the opportunity to newcomers as well as music lovers who can't afford tickets or can't get into the city to experience the music we love so much. Can you imagine a world without classical music? Who couldn't love the "1812 Overture"? Do brides want to walk down the aisle to Lady Gaga's music? Maybe we should start educating our young people in school to appreciate this awesome music.

Jul. 01 2011 07:38 AM
Vincent from Massapequa

I went to a NYCP concert in Islip LI years ago -first and last. Unfortunately I was late and sat near the back. People had set up elaborate picnic suppers and then proceeded to eat drink and talk throughout the concert as if the musicians weren't there playing. The orchestra could have stayed home and just sent a CD and many people wouldn't have known the difference. Yes, some people "tried" to listen. I hope others have had better experiences.

Jun. 22 2011 10:19 PM

I have not gone (recently) -- I'm not big on huge crowds. Additionally, asking the audience to text their choices rubs me the wrong way.
Still, I'm sorry to see traditional ways of creating a new/larger audience go by the wayside.
I have wandered over for the fireworks (visual, not aural) a few times.

Jun. 11 2011 08:30 PM

This is so upsetting! What a wonderful tradition it was, I can't believe it is over..

Jun. 11 2011 01:30 AM
Ferenc from Queens


You say it best!

Jun. 10 2011 10:18 PM
Annette from North Bergen, NJ

Very sad news.

Jun. 10 2011 08:30 PM
jeff from MoHi

The Philharmonic may have cancelled but the concert could still go on with recorded music and with mannequins dressed up as musicians. Then we could crank it up to eleven, drink our wine, and talk on our cell phones. Real enough.

Jun. 10 2011 04:27 PM
Kim Salvo from Manhattan

What happened to The Schafer's and where did the $5million dollars go? My 11 year old son is going to be very upset with someone in NYC when he finds out our 6 year tradition is over! How can a memory like last year's Bolero playing under the shifting clouds just end? We were even captured in the cover photo of the Playbill a few years back. First The Met and now the Philharmonic - all of this taken away just like that! This was a venue for NYC to give back to New Yorkers. Maybe Mr. Benepe or somebody can pull some strings (no pun intended)!

Jun. 10 2011 02:56 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

So many services and amenities are vanishing from the public venue, all in the name of saving money and reducing taxes. But the taxes never go down and we get no benefit of the money saved. If we extrapolate this trend we will be paying everything and getting nothing.

Outdoor music has a vast history in art. How many pastoral views have we seen of a troubador singing to his love, over a basket of good food and fine wine, spread over a beautiful tapestry.

I doubt very much that they were concerned about the cost.

Jun. 10 2011 02:43 PM

I haven't attended a Parks concert in decades so this announcement doesn't truly effect me. One of my first instances of hearing the NY Philharmonic was in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The place was packed and me and my friends couldn't get close to the stage to see the orchestra. Nowadays, no one would come to that park to hear anything but Lada Gaga knock-off wannabes and boombox salsa. I too am a classical music necrophiliac.Classical Music is Dead! Long Live Classical Music!

Jun. 10 2011 10:40 AM
Peter from Queens

Why can't the choice just be Yes or No? You've already tainted the results by tying the choice to a (biased) statement. I dislike when surveys use this exclusive language to determine public opinion, but really to continue feeding a single viewpoint. Talk about LCD.... anyone making their assertion to the question above based on the reasons supplied is shallow.

Jun. 10 2011 09:14 AM
mamafishy from Long Island

All art must be presented to the public for it to completely fulfill its potential. Free concerts are a wonderful way to bring masses of people out and get them exposed to live classical performances. So what if the summer crowds were a little "disorganised"? The point is they came, and they knew why they came - to experience a LIVE classical music performance (for some, the only way, given the current ticket pricing). Confining classical music to a members-only vitrine is not acceptable.

Jun. 10 2011 08:43 AM

One wonders if the decision didn't stem from the Musicians' Committee, or perhaps the local 802 Union. The costs of putting on classical music are so prohibitively high, that to put on a free concert really requires one wealthy donor to fund the whole event. Perhaps the non-profit structure of the arts will make a turn towards a for-profit structure: and if it can't survive, then sadly, it will disappear. I have enjoyed many concerts in Central Park concerts for many, many years, but it has appeared that over the years the audiences have become less respectful of not only fellow audience members, but also of the event itself. Perhaps if it were a ticketed event, like Tanglewood, or Ravinia, people would be more alert. Amplification also has been hit or miss: I believe with more speakers spread throughout the Great Lawn, the volume could afford to be less, and that would increase the clarity of details. I was also personally very much looking forward to this summer being the first time when SMOKING would officially be prohibited at the concert!!! (Oh, that annoyed me to no end in previous years!) One closing idea, do you think the musicians really require bus transport from Lincoln Center to Central Park? Maybe that would save some money? Another Union line item which is "in the contract."

Jun. 10 2011 08:10 AM
Ferenc from Queens

I went to a concert last year and was terribly disappointed. Between the amplification, distracted crowd, and the hackneyed musical selections, I might as well have been in a bar populated by the aliens of Starwars. That being said, I am deeply saddened to hear of the cancellation. I am what some call a classical music snob, just because I have been playing the violin, listening to, and studying "classical music" for forty years. Yet I am not so old as not to remember my first Concerts in the Park when I was 10 or 12. The music made a profound impression on me (and yes, they did play the 1812 Overture). For me to dismiss it now, is just a sign of ennui, and nothing to be proud of. I am also saddened by WQXR's choices for their playlist, which in my opinion cater to the LCD of "classical" listeners; yet I remain a loyal member, because the 100th time of hearing Appalachian Spring is better than hearing Lady Gaga!

I have many times before, and will continue to side with Maestro Barenboim's assertion that Classical Music is dead, but like him, I will remain a necrophiliac to my dying day.

Jun. 10 2011 04:37 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Another sad end to a great institution - remember the glorious concerts played by the Goldman Band and whistling and singing to Goldman's "On The Mall" march? As a public school music teacher, we educators have been asked to kick in more for our health coverage and to cover assignments for free that in the past we received payment for. Perhaps, for the sake of the city and for the cause of good music, musicians would donate their services for at least one concert around July 4th? Maybe the real reason for the cancellation is the concerts violate the new "quiet zone" ordinance!

Jun. 09 2011 07:09 PM
Evan from NJ

This is a sad announcement... But then again... classical music isn't appreciated anymore and isn't what it used to be back even 10 years ago.

Jun. 09 2011 05:43 PM
Marie from Manhattan

Is this is the end of summer in New York City as we know it!

I remember coming to New York at the age of 21, and the first thing I did that evening was attend a free concert at the old Lewissohn Stadium at City College. They were performing a concert version of "Madame Butterfly."

This is the mecca of culture...and this is how some people are introduced ro classical music.

What are they thinking?

Jun. 09 2011 05:26 PM
Michael Meltzer

"Scheduling conflicts" are hardly what one would call an Act of God or "natural disaster." One gets very tired of hearing incompetent management laying off the blame for its blunders on outside factors and things "over which we have no control." Bull-bleep!!
When there are deficits and shortfalls in endowments, we hear the same kind of "explanations." The not-for-profit sector has to rediscover the pink slip.

Jun. 09 2011 03:05 PM
DiAnn from Manhattan/ Riverdale

I'm so disappointed!! These concerts have been a highlight of my summer for many, many years. I sincerely hope some angel will come forward to salvage this tradition!

Jun. 09 2011 12:58 PM

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