Making the Classics Rock
How Old Tunes Are Turned Hip and Hoppin’
Shirley Fleming, New York Post
It’s called “Dance Party,” and it’s the New York Philharmonic’s way of celebrating a milestone – the 80th anniversary of its Young People’s Concerts, complete with all kinds of pre-concert fun, even a cameo appearance by Snoopy.
The Young People’s series has, remarkably, reached 80 without any signs of aging. It could claim to be even older: Philharmonic music director Theodore Thomas actually started the idea in 1885 with 24 matinees for the young.
The first official Young People’s Concert was in 1924, when the man known as “Uncle Earnest” (music director Ernest Schelling) conducted them at Aeolian Hall.
Among its early soloists was George Gershwin, who played “Rhapsody in Blue” for a program in 1931.
The beloved conductor Leonard Bernstein took over in 1957, bringing the concerts to new fame through television – his concerts, on CBS, ran from 1958 to 1969.
The programs, as many a middle-aged performer will tell you, ignited an interest in music that has never died. In fact, some of the kids who watched Bernstein on TV back then are performers today. And so, happy birthday!
Next Saturday’s festivities kick off at Avery Fisher Hall at 12:45 p.m. with a party featuring enough projects to keep everybody busy. An expert in homemade instruments will show kids how to make their own, a timpanist will let anyone who wants to have a go at drumming, a Philharmonic violist will explore various aspects of music with a dancer and string quartet.
“Dance” is key. The concert’s host is Jacques d’Amboise, the great former principal of New York City Ballet, who’ll bring a troupe of young dancers – the youngest is 10 – to “illustrate” the music.
“I want to engage this audience – they’ll be from 5 to 15 years old – with a wonderful short piece by Stravinsky that simply cuts off in the middle of a phrase,” D’Amboise told The Post.
“We’ll get the audience to move and bounce and perform in their seats, but when that music ends, no matter what they’re doing, they have to FREEZE. Not blink, not move, not breathe, for five seconds. The orchestra players will do it, too.”
The program, which includes music by Johann Strauss and Aaron Copland, makes a point every musician agrees on: You don’t play down to kids.
“Any music works for kids,” says Roberto Minczuk, who conducts the Philharmonic that day. “They are intelligent enough to absorb anything, if it’s given in the right format. But they have to be allowed to participate, ask questions, give opinions. “I’ve played Wagner for kids, and they’ve loved it.”
The Philharmonic is even reaching out to 3-year-olds, with free Musical Storytime events at Barnes & Noble, Broadway and 66th Street, where an orchestra member tells a musical tale or two and reveals the secrets of his particular instrument. (The next Storytime is April 21 at 4:30 p.m.)
There’s also a Philharmonic Web site – nyphilkids.org – that helps kids compose their own minuets, with a little help from Mozart.
But orchestras aren’t alone in keeping the classics alive. American pianist Soheil Nasseri went back to his Washington, D.C., high school three years ago to play a recital, and was such a hit that he’s been making the rounds of schools there and in New York City ever since.
“You’ve got to open minds,” says the 25-year-old, “so kids can let the art into themselves.”
Nasseri found an off-the-wall way to do just that: He starts with hip-hop. “I shock the kids, because they expect me to sit down and play classical music. Instead, I tell them I respect them enough that I want to accompany them in the music they love, which is hip-hop. It gives them such a rush of adrenaline, and there’s such excitement and affection for me, that when I start playing Beethoven, they really listen.”
Nasseri performs Tuesday night at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall.
Onetime violin prodigy Midori has her own school project, donating time and effort to bring students into music via “Midori & Friends,” which she started at 19, sponsoring young professionals who work with students in needy schools. She joins them hin family concerts and after-school programs.
Meanwhile, Carnegie Hall’s midday Family Concerts are going strong – and just $5 a ticket. (The next, “African Sounds,” is April 4 at 1 p.m.) And the Lincoln Center Institute regularly brings dance, music and theater into the city schools.
With a bit of luck and a lot of money and dedication, we haven’t heard the last of Mozart – and Bach, Beethoven and company – yet!
Tickets for the March 27 Young People’s Concert are $5 to $25; call (212) 865-5656 or buy online at newyork-philharmonic.org.