By Hannah Reimann
The Peoples’ Symphony Concerts has been producing classical music concerts at Washington Irving High School and Town Hall for 120 years. After a front page spread in the Arts pages of the New York Times on October 18th with glorious photos of its manager, Frank Salomon, the organization landed 400 ticket orders for its modestly priced series of concerts. For as little as $8.33 per show, audiences can hear Musicians from Marlboro, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and numerous other soloists and ensembles. Mr. Salomon has managed the series for 48 seasons.
I interviewed audience members who attended a concert by excellent performers of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Washington Irving High School on November 9th to understand the appeal of these concerts to the local and extended community. Pianist Wu Han, veteran violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Clive Greensmith and violinist, Arnaud Sussmann excellently performed works by Suk, Beethoven and Faure, dazzling the audience who demanded an encore. Led by Neubauer who stood as a soloist, they played Georges Boulanger’s, American Vision, a humorous Gypsy number.
Jeffery Cole, who lives on 13th Street and Avenue of the Americas was influenced by the Times article. The date happily coincided with his parents’ visit from San Francisco and said he could not have thought of a better way to spend that Saturday night than with his family at this concert
Frederick Demont, a 97-year-old gentleman from Newark, New Jersey, has been driving by car to the series at Washington Irving High School for over 40 years. “Price has nothing to do with it,” he told me. “The quality of these concerts is superior. Nobody gets away with anything. This is a very sophisticated audience who know classical music, the hall has good acoustics, Dvorak even conducted here!” he said, referring to the hall’s original identity with New York Conservatory of Music founded in 1885. Mr. Demont attends over 25 concerts per season. A physicist, it’s possible that his concert habit may be one reason he has aged so gracefully.
On the opposite end of the age demographic, Sarah and Giulia, two lovely law students in their 20’s, received a pair of tickets from Sarah’s parents, subscribers who were out of town. Both said they would attend more classical concerts.
Richard and Bonnie, who sat near me in the balcony, said they were happy to make the two-hour round-trip commute from Midwood, Brooklyn to attend the concert. They plan to purchase subscriptions.
“Price, proximity and the top-level musicians,” two couples I spoke to told me when I asked why the came to the concert. One couple lives in the Village and has been attending the concerts for over 40 years. They discovered Peoples’ Symphony from a music teacher at Greenwich House Music School 40 years ago when their daughter was studying there. The informal, unstuffy setting appeals to them.
Florence, who lives a few blocks away from Irving Place, discovered the concerts via the recent Times article and was delighted to know she could walk to get to them and pay a fraction of the price she is used to as a Lincoln Center regular. She decided to subscribe to the series as soon as she read about it.
Long before the Times article was printed, the fiercely devoted community around these concerts shows no signs of quitting. New audience members have either bought subscriptions or plan to. Many people I spoke with describe these concerts as “quintessentially New York” making the city more beloved to them.
Attending WestView News concerts at St. John’s and concerts at St. Veronica’s plus The Peoples’ Symphony are affordable ways to hear great classical music in our area. Please support both and check all our listings.
For an extended version of this article, please go to our website http://westviewnews.org/2019/12/120-years-of-classical-music-on-irving-place