We have covered the wonderful work done by People’s Symphony Concerts in these pages before. The series was founded in 1900 by conductor Franz Arens. The goal of People’s Symphony was to bring the best music to students and workers at affordable prices. In its first year, more than 7,000 people squeezed into the old hall at Cooper Union to hear Arens, the son of an immigrant farmer, conduct the first series of People’s Symphony Concerts. As a music student in Europe, Arens was too poor to attend many concerts in his youth. When he returned to New York, Arens was determined to find a way to bring music to students, teachers, workers, and others unable to pay high ticket prices. Since those early years, hundreds of thousands of Peoples' Symphony Concerts audience members have heard the world's foremost concert artists and ensembles at the lowest admission prices of any major series in the country. During the first season, subscriptions for the five concerts ranged from $.25 to $1.25 and single tickets went for as little as $0.10 each.
Current manager Frank Salomon, ably assisted by David Himmelheber, continue a tradition of incredible (and increasing) value to New Yorkers who are serious about music. The duo run the program, which includes two different series that play Saturday night at Washington Irving High School, near Gramercy Park, and a third series which runs Sunday afternoons in Manhattan’s Town Hall. The auditorium at Washington Irving has just been fully renovated, with new seats, refinished floors and an upgrade of the doors and trims.
Each year, some of the most prestigious names in classical music participate in People’s Symphony Concerts. In more than 20 years your correspondent has attended PSC, I have seen such leading lights as the Guarneri String Quartet, Garrick Ohlsson, the Julliard String Quartet and Richard Stoltzman.
The 2013 season started last Saturday with a wonderful performance by French pianist Lise de la Salle. La Salle, 25, has emerged as one of the most acclaimed artists of her generation. She began playing piano at the age of four and gave her first concert at nine in a live broadcast on Radio-France. At 13, she made her concerto debut with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Avignon and her Paris recital debut at the Louvre before going on tour with the Orchestre National d’Ile de France. At 16, she came to international attention with her Bach/Liszt recording for Naive which was selected by Gramophone as "Recording of the Month."
De La Salle has given recitals in Berlin, London and Paris, as well as New York, and has made concerto appearances in Lisbon, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg and Lyon, and is equally renowned for her frequent performances in the Far East. She will soon make her Philadelphia Orchestra debut and her first appearance at Carnegie Hall as soloist with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
In her first PSC concert, de la Salle played the Bach/Busoni Chaconne with perhaps an expertise that was a bit too cold-blooded to be emotionally moving. The 6 Preludes by Claude Debussy was played with a sure hand, richly conveying the delicate, solitary notes that resounded throughout the hall. (Washington Irving has, perhaps, the best acoustics outside of Carnegie Hall.)
De la Salle was most masterful in her playing of Robert Schumann’s Variations on the name "Abegg" in F major, and his Fantasie C Major, Op. 17. Her understanding of the rich vein of romanticism and feeling to be found in Schumann was quite remarkable – I have seldom heard Schumann done with such empathy and virtuosity.
The pianist made a fetching impression in her gold and purple evening gown, and her regal bearing set the right tone for the evening. All-in-all, it was a wonderful start to what promises to be another sterling season of People’s Symphony Concerts.
Jade Sphinx readers interested in tickets for this year’s season can log onto: http://pscny.org/home/index for more information.