New York Philomusica Firsts
1. New York Philomusica was the first chamber ensemble to create a composer-in-residency program, called Featured Composer (1971).
2. New York Philomusica was the first chamber ensemble to create a young artists program to feature emerging talent, called Young Master Chamber Players (1971).
3. New York Philomusica was the first American ensemble to record Messieans Quartet for the End of Time (1971), a piece that was destined to become a classic.
4. New York Philomusica was the first ensemble ever to record the entire Mozart Divertimento catalogue printed in the Breitkopf & Härtel Edition of 1884 (1971-1975).
5. New York Philomusica was the first chamber ensemble to complete a comprehensive residency at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH (1973).
6. New York Philomusica was the first chamber ensemble to bring a residency to the New York City Metropolitan Region (1975-1979) and to New York States Capitol Region (1979-1981).
7. New York Philomusica was the one of the first chamber ensembles to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (1979).
8. New York Philomusica was the first chamber ensemble to perform a week of televised, live, hour-long concerts (1982).
9. During the Cold War years, New York Philomusica was the first American ensemble to be invited by Bulgaria, co-sponsored by that government in collaboration with an American foundation, to perform concerts in Sofia (1983 & 1985) and Pleven (1983).
10. New York Philomusica was one of the first chamber ensembles to launch its own recording label as part of its non-profit activities (1991).
11. New York Philomusica was the first ensemble to give an American performance of Beethovens arrangement of his Concerto No. 4, for piano and string quintet, a newly-discovered arrangement by Beethoven of his orchestral version (1999).
The New York Philomusica Chamber Ensemble was founded in 1971 by its Artistic Director, Robert Johnson, with artists who possessed both an intimate knowledge of the chamber music repertoire and each others musicianship.
Robert Johnsons first attempt to establish a chamber music presence in New York City was in 1965, when he presented a concert at the Riverside Museum. The name given the fledgling enterprise was The Chamber Music Society of New York. Its membership was certainly an illustrious one, as was the list of invitees to that concert. Leopold Stokowski was among those who sent a courteous response to the invitation.
A name change to New York Chamber Ensemble followed soon after the inaugural concert, with a few changes in personnel as well. That entity was reviewed ecstatically in the inaugural season of the Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in 1966, and was invited back in 1967. The group presented itself in Carnegie Hall in 1968. In 1970, the New York Chamber Ensemble recorded an entire LP of music by Lukas Foss and Oh the Chimneys, by Shulamit Ran, which was issued on an album featuring music by George Rochberg. This project, coordinated by Dr. Merle Montgomery, of Carl Fischer, was funded by the Ford Foundation for Vox Productions. Dr. Montgomery would soon become the president of the National Federation of Music Clubs, and later, the National Music Council. The players of the New York Chamber Ensemble were individually as good as any found anywhere, at anytime. However, they had the one disadvantage of being too good to stay together. The lessons of cohesion are the most difficult to learn, but by the launch in May of 1971 of the New York Philomusica Chamber Ensemble they had been mastered. The founding Board of Directors was comprised of Dr. Merle Montgomery, Dr. Joseph Taubman, Arthur S. Zucker and Featured Composer, Dr. Iain Hamilton.
At its founding, New York Philomusica, as it is known in the shortened version of its name, produced a week-long Festival of Music and History jointly with the Tappantown Historical Society to bring the attention of the citizens of Orangeburg, NY to an to a vacant plot that would make an ideal town park Concerts were held in public schools and the local home for elderly. Peter Schickles Open Window rock group was presented at the Tappan Zee High School. Cantatas by Johannes Sebastian Bach were performed in the historic Dutch Reformed Church, joining forces with the Rockland Bach Society Chorus. On Saturday evening a formal concert by New York Philomusica was given in the church, followed by a sit-down dinner at Guillios Restaurant, located in a historic house situated across from the site which was the focus of the festivals attention. The next day, Sunday, New Philomusica Winds were heard playing Mozart Serenades from the porch of the historic Manse, across from the Dutch Reformed Church, moving from there to the De Wint House, a 17th Century stone building in which George Washington resided on several occasions, including the trial of Major John Andre. Finally, the great Serenade No. 10 for 13 instruments was performed at John Andre monument. All the performers contributed their services. The festival worked. Further, it proved the merit of providing a comprehensive approach to producing events in a community that would involve its citizens as they went about their daily lives. This was the crucible of the New York Philomusica ideal, to be formally announced in New York City in the Fall.
In September, New York Philomusica presented three programs in New York Citys Town Hall, each performed twice. One of the three programs featured Young Master Chamber Players, talented young artists selected by New York Philomusica to be coached and brought forth to the public. The performers included David Golub, piano, David Jolley, horn, Ida Kavafian, violin, and Yo Yo Ma, cello. There was also a Young Master Composer, Edgar Williams. The program was the first of its kind. New York Philomusica performed the music of Featured Composer, Dr. Iain Hamilton along with the music of Mozart and Messiaen.
The ensemble, which was the first American ensemble to record Messiaens Quartet for the End of Time, and the first and only ensemble to record the entire Mozart Divertimento catalogue published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 188417 works total. One of these was known at the time of these recordings to be spurious. In its place the Divertimento based on the opera Il Re Pastore was performed. The author of the booklet accompanying the nine-LP release, one of New York Philomusicas pianists, Robert Levin, who was to subsequently become recognized as one of the worlds preeminent Mozart scholars, had ascertained through his scholarship that Mozart made a practice of "borrowing" an overture and first aria from an opera, adding a March, and a Finale, andvoila!thereby introduced a new "Divertimento" with half the effort. The recorded survey took four years to complete. It was released on Vox Records in 1975, and was followed in 1979 by the ensembles recording of Mozarts Wind Serenades, also released on Vox.
Soon after the ensembles inaugural season in Town Hall, the ensemble moved to Lincoln Centers Alice Tully Hall (in 1984 New York Philomusica moved to its current home, Merkin Concert Hall). The ensembles move to Alice Tully Hall was followed by one of the most significant residencies to be put in place anywhere, ever. It occurred over a seven-week period in 1973 at Dartmouth Colleges Hopkins Center in Hanover, New Hampshire. During each of those seven weeks but one, two formal concerts were given. Those concerts were the centerpiece of the residency. The Young Masters again played an important role, by adding to the number of available musicians. New York Philomusica was able to perform informally up and down the length of the Connecticut River Valley, in town halls, churches, on street corners of the small towns, on the radio and at numerous sites on the Dartmouth campus. So broad-based and comprehensive were these offerings that the residency gave a significant impetus to Young Masters who later helped form and develop two major New York City ensembles. The music of John Harbison, who would later become New York Philomusicas Featured Composer, was introduced that summer. Peter Smith was the director of the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth, who had the foresight to employ this array of talent for the community. Happily he is still playing a crucial supporting roleas a long-standing member of the board of directors.
The ensembles innovative residency was followed in 1974 by touring, with ten concerts that included engagements at the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress. The ensemble has since that time continued to tour in the United States.
In 1975 New York Philomusica initiated another program that was the first of its kind, called the Metropolitan Concerts, in which the ensemble took its programming out from its base at Alice Tully Hall into the five boroughs of New York City. This led as well to the founding, in 1979, of the Orangetown Friends of Philomusica, which has maintained a companion concert series since that time, and for which the ensemble has purchased its own fine concert grand piano, with a generous anonymous gift.
Also in1979, New York Philomusica was one of four chamber ensemble to be the first to receive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant was used to conduct a residency similar to that undertaken at Dartmouth in 1973, in New York States Capitol Region. For two years the ensemble commuted to the tri-cities of Albany, Schenectady and Troy to perform formal concerts at the State University of New York, at Siena College, at the Emma Willard School, and at the State Government Campuss "Egg" auditorium. Radio broadcasts and master classes were a regular feature. Other organizations were presented by the ensemble too, both local ensembles such as Music in the Round, and non-resident groups Speculum Musicae, Calliope, and the Amadeus Trio.
In another activity that was a first of its kind, New York Philomusica performed a week of hour-long Beethoven concerts in 1982, presented by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (home at that time to the Philadelphia Orchestra) and televised on WMHT-TV. From these broadcasts a documentary entitled Serenade to Beethoven was produced, with a script by Frederic V. Grunfeld, narrated by New York Philomusicas board president, George Plimpton.
The consistent successes of New York Philomusica attracted international attention. In 1983, upon invitations from their government arts agencies, the ensemble performed in Pleven and Sofia, Bulgaria. In 1985 the ensemble performed in Czechoslovakia, and at the Austrian Linz Bruckner Festival, which celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the withdrawal of Allied Forces from Austria. New York Philomusica was the sole representative of the United States in the festival. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the ensemble was honored to tour Latin America in 1987 performing concerts and conducting master classes in Panama, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Venezuela. New York Philomusica was the only performing arts entity sponsored by the Reagan administration to represent the United States abroad.
The 90's to Present
New York Philomusica marked the Bicentennial Year of Mozarts death in 1991 by performing a special series of Mozart concerts in New York and Connecticut. Robert Levins extraordinary insight and ability to improvise cadenzas, as was thought to be the practice of the composer himself, was presented for the first time. A recording was made of the concert in the Troy Music Hall, in Troy, NY and was used as the first release of New York Philomusica Records in 1991. Following the CDs release, Mr. Levin became established as one of the most sought after interpreters of the classic piano repertory and renowned as a scholar-performer-theorist. He subsequently became the Dwight P. Robinson, Jr. Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. In December, 1992 the second release, German and French Flute Masterpieces, performed by Paige Brook, was added to the catalogue. In May, 1996 Music of the 60's & 70's (music by Alvin Brehm, Iain Hamilton, Myer Kupferman and Ezra Ladermana two-CD set), was issued, and in March, 1997 three more CDs were issued: an All-Beethoven program, Music of Jacob Druckman and an All-Brahms program.
New York Philomusica returned to Alice Tully Hall for one concert in 1993, in which it performed the World Premiere of a new text by Kurt Vonnegut to Stravinskys A Soldiers Tale. The piece, reset as the execution for desertion of Private Eddie Slovak on January 31, 1945, by U.S. Forces in Germany, was choreographed and directed by Patricia Birch and starred Eli Wallach and Ann Reinking. The work was subsequently performed, with Robert Johnson conducting, in residence over a period of two weeks in May, 1997 at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. In an extraordinarily generous move, Mr. Vonnegut gave ownership of his version of the 20th Century masterpiece to the ensemble.
Unique programming has become the hallmark of New York Philomusica, which has earned a solid reputation for possessing the thorough knowledge and experience of balancing the presentation of masterpieces with lesser known compositions, and newly discovered and commissioned works. In this latter category New York Philomusica premiered Hyperion commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in 1977 from the ensembles Featured Composer Dr. Iain Hamiltonat the Library of Congress in 1978. John Harbisons Aria: Song for the Rainy Season, dedicated to Wilfrid E. and Esther T. Johnson, was commissioned by the ensemble with partial funding from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, for premiere on May 2, 2002. His Due Libri dei Mottetti di Montale (Libri III & IV) was commissioned and premiered in 1992 by the ensemble. The piece was dedicated to Founding Director and Honorary Chairman Dr. Merle Montgomery.
New York Philomusica gave the American premiere, in February 1999, of Beethovens Concerto No. 4, for piano and string quintet, a newly-discovered arrangement by Beethoven of his orchestral version; and gave the 1992 world premiere of Desert Knights, a piece commissioned by the ensemble from jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna. Sir Roland also collaborated with the ensemble in 1999 and 2000, playing concerts with the ensemble, including performances of his own compositions. On October 3, 2002, New York Philomusica inducted Robert Levin as Artist Laureate joining Felix Galimir, who was accorded this honor in 1982. In January 2003, Jeb Patton, a student of the late Sir Roland Hanna, who was to have joined the ensemble but passed away in November 2002, honored the memory of Sir Roland by giving the world premiere with the ensemble of Sir Roland's arrangement for New York Philomusica of Duke Ellington's piano concerto New World A-Comin.