The New York Philharmonic had just finished a 90-minute concert and backstage at Alice Tully Hall, Lawrence Tarlow, its senior librarian, quickly got to work, sorting out piles of sheet music from works by Beethoven, Copland, Anna. Clyne and George Walker in four of the trunks, each almost as tall as Tarlow himself, ready to be loaded onto a truck. Machinists rushed to pack cellos, basses, timpani, pianos and other equipment.
With the Philharmonic’s home, David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, in the midst of a $ 550 million renovation, the orchestra is embarking on its new season as an orchestra without a hall of its own. With a few good-humored grunts – “It’s like being on tour for a whole concert season,” said Tarlow, entering his 37th season at the Philharmonic – the orchestra has left Alice Tully at Lincoln Center and gone. is prepared to conduct at his next temporary home: the Rose Theater, a few blocks south.
âWe are nomads,â Jaap van Zweden, the orchestra’s musical director, said a few days later as he stood in his (temporary) dressing room at the Rose. âYou always have to adapt. It’s like putting on a new coat and you never know how it will fit.
âCome in and that’s it,â van Zweden said. “That’s it!”
Was it that simple. This 2021-2022 season promises to be a military exercise in logistics, dexterity and programming. For each move, during 86 concerts at four main venues, six crew members will have to pack up to 30 cases of instruments and equipment and load them into a 24-foot-long truck for transports ranging from five blocks (from Tully to the Rose) three miles (Riverside Church) and later in the season to his old home, Carnegie Hall.
The shipment includes eight cellos, six double basses and six timpani. A specialist contractor from Steinway & Sons was hired to carefully transport two concert grand pianos. Musicians who play smaller instruments will move them themselves. The mighty Philharmonic crowds into venues built for smaller ensembles as it introduces its own performance program into open windows it might find in long-running programs in other venues.
Even for an orchestra that has toured the world – playing over the years in North and South America, Europe and Asia, with stops in Abu Dhabi, Russia, India, Australia, Korea. North and Stillwater, Okla. – always being on the road at home is “boring” as Tarlow put it.
âA big business,â that’s how Deborah Borda, President of the Philharmonie, described the season after leading a rooftop tour of the lobby of the Geffen Hall construction site. âIt’s logistics. It’s programs. It involves moving things. It involves the library. It involves telling people, âNext week the rehearsal is at 10 am on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday. And don’t go to Tully Hall; go to the Rose Theater.
Geffen Hall was laid bare as part of the renovation project, with the orchestra moved by a team of 350 construction workers through hopefully October 2022. Over the next 12 months, the Philharmonic will bounce from stage to stage around Manhattan.
The improvised, learning-as-you-go nature could be seen in the crumpled sheet of paper, fluttering in the wind last week, taped to a door five stories below the Rose Theater on West 60th Street. âNew York Philharmonic: DOOR TO THE STAGEâ.
The Philharmonic initially hoped to keep one piano in Tully and the other in Rose to avoid the complications of moving two pianos every few weeks. It did not work.
âWe were going to tell our soloists, who usually choose an instrument, that given the situation, we have only one instrument for you – we hope you understand,â said Justin Brown, vice president of production and locations. at the Philharmonic. âThey didn’t understand. They wanted two instruments.
Everyone seems resigned to the fact that logistically, at least, the Philharmonic is in another complicated season. But after more than a year where they couldn’t play indoors at all, and with the promise of a state-of-the-art renovation that would finally solve the notorious acoustic shortcomings of the former orchestra home. , no one seems too bothered.
Borda said it had been difficult for the whole organization, but especially for the musicians. The members of the orchestra entered the Rose, instruments in hand, to find their names on the tables, delimiting the space assigned to them for the next few days. But the dress code has been relaxed: ties and tails are no longer required, even on the opening night.
âA musician comes every day to work,â said Borda. âThey’re sitting in the same place on the stage. Now every week they go to a different room. They unpack on tables that we’ve set up for them.
Backstage at former Geffen has always been a “little junky,” said Carter Brey, the Philharmonie’s principal cellist. But there were lockers to store instruments and personal effects (the cellists had two lockers) and a place to have a meal or take a nap before the show. âMuch like a gym,â Brey said.
It will be some time before orchestra members have re-assigned lockers. The complications of this new existence were evident at Tully, as an entire symphony orchestra and stagehands maneuvered through narrow hallways entering and exiting the stage.
âIt’s very, very close there,â Brey said. âIt’s a chamber music room.
Sara Griffin, music librarian, like Tarlow, tried to keep track of orchestral parts and scores that are no longer housed at Geffen Hall. âWe never repeat where our collection is, where our copiers are,â she said.
But Griffin was pleasantly surprised after packing the music trunks on Sunday at the Tully to find they had arrived in Rose a few days later. Well, three of them: a fourth has been sent back to temporary storage at the Rose Building, where orchestral parts and sheet music will be stored until Geffen Hall reopens. The orchestra’s considerable archives, including the scores marked by Mahler, are already permanently stored at the Rose.
And there are financial implications in this wandering season for the Philharmonic, after a difficult year when the pandemic forced it to lay off 40% of its staff. The Tully and Rose auditoriums are significantly smaller than the Geffen, which had 2,730 seats in its old configuration. Fewer seats to sell means a $ 6 million drop in ticket revenue, Borda said.
Then there is the challenge of trying to adapt to the acoustics of four new rooms. âEach room has its own particular acoustic signature,â said Brey. âAnd even a venue like Carnegie Hall, because we don’t play regularly, I always feel like we need a few hours to play there. “
This was evident when the orchestra left Tully and settled in for their second series of concerts at the Rose. “This hall,” van Zweden said after finishing a preview of Beethoven’s Piano Concert No.3 with Yefim Bronfman as soloist during the final dress rehearsal before Thursday night’s performance. âMy gut tells me it’s going to be a little dry.
The Philharmonic Orchestra is used to doing world tours, and Tarlow said the lessons from these world trips applied even to a five-block trip: always bring extra lights; the wings are dark. Don’t forget the extension cords. And pencil sharpeners.
But after this past year, the disruption seems like a small price to pay in order to finally be able to play in front of packed fan rooms. “Challenges, challenges,” said Joseph Faretta, the orchestra’s representative on stage, as teams and musicians scrambled to clean up Tully to make way for the New York Film Festival. “But this whole year has been one.”