If New York is the classical music capital of the world, then perhaps the best bargain in the world for music lovers is the series of concerts presented by People’s Symphony.
The Peoples’ Symphony Concerts series was founded in 1900 by the conductor Franz Arens to bring the world’s finest music to students and workers for minimum prices. That winter, more than 7,000 people jammed into the old hall at Cooper Union to hear Arens, the son of an immigrant farmer, conduct his series of five Peoples' Symphony Concerts. Subscriptions for the five concerts ranged from $.25 to $1.25 and single tickets went for as little as $0.10 each.
Arens himself started out a poor student in Europe who had been too broke to attend many concerts. When Arens returned to New York, he was determined to find a way to bring music to students, teachers, workers, and others unable to pay normal 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.
Your correspondent has been going for nearly 25 years, and has heard such world class masters as Richard Goode, Garrick Ohlsson, and Marc-Andre Hamelin. There are three concert series, two taking place on Saturday evenings at the spacious (and newly-renovated) theater at Washington Irving High School in Gramercy Park, and one on Sunday afternoons at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan.
The season opened last week with a magnificent performance by the Musicians From Marlboro, the touring extension of the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. This group is comprised of exceptional young professional musicians together with seasoned artists in varied chamber music programs. Each program is built around a work performed in a previous summer that Artistic Directors Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida and their colleagues felt was exceptional and should be shared with a wider audience. The resulting ensembles offer audiences the chance to both discover seldom-heard masterworks and enjoy fresh interpretations of chamber music favorites.
The concert opened with a relatively new work by Svervánszky, the Trio for Flute, Violin and Viola. This piece was filled with a rich, folkloric, Middle European flavor, and was played with great brio by the troup.
The was followed by the Sonata for flute, viola and harp, L. 137 by Debussy. This was, perhaps, my favorite piece of the evening – offering a lush, yet limpid, interval of pure aural pleasure.
The evening progressed with Officium breve in memoriam Andreæ Szervánszky, Op. 28 by Kurtág which, frankly, went in one ear and out the other. However, as with most contemporary pieces, mileage varies depending on user.
The concert ended with a gripping rendition of Beethoven’s String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29, which was greeted by the crowd with long, loud and lusty applause.
Artists for the evening included David McCarroll, violin; Nikki Chooi, violin; Kim Kashkashian, viola; Wenting Kang, viola; Karen Ouzounian, cello; Marina Piccinini, flute; and, Sivan Magen, harp. These are exceptionally talented young people.
Many of my readers support the New York Metropolitan Opera, WQXR and/or Tanglewood, but few seem to know this wonderful reasoure for people who are serious about music.
There are still tickets available for this season; visit http://pscny.org or call (212) 586-4680 for more information.