New York Philomusica

". . . an excellent performance of Shostakovich’s bleak ‘String Quartet No. 11’, with lovely viola solos. . . .Tchaikovsky’s sextet ‘Souvenir de Florence’. . .was splendid. . .full of fire and enthusiasm."
Strings Magazine, 2000


December 16, 2002

Does anyone else look at the newspaper as a medium of cultural evolution? I see patterns emerge over time that offer clues to what this society is saying about itself at any given time. For example, I have been sampling news items about groups, their programs, interviews of artists and reviews of concerts between October 27 and December 1, 2002. The New York Times is the main source, but a friend sent me an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer of Sunday, October 27, entitled "The Music Report." In it the Inquirer’s music critic, David Patrick Stearns, interviews composer John Corigliano, whose current opinion of the musical arts is that they are "in a terrible state." Mr. Corigliano is a successful composer, so Mr. Stearns wondered in print why he was so pessimistic. He countered Mr. Corigliano’s arguments about how much new music is played and where, how many classical records are making their way into shoppers baskets and so on. Mr. Stearn’s examples were highly selective, citing five recent occasions on which new music was played nationwide, Corigliano’s own successes in concert and film, and an almost "too eager" recording industry.

What are we to think?

Music has always been important to cultures of the world as an expression of the people in their unique time and place. Some of it is lastingly attractive and universally appealing. The least informed (by their own account) listener appreciates Pachabel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. When I look at the variety of programs being offered in New York City during November 2002 I think it fair to say we are witnessing a stream of riches. To be sure, much of what is offered is in relatively obscure venues, underwritten by self-interested patrons, as in the case of universities wishing to achieve higher community profiles by opening their facilities to the public for concerts or presenting their players in a recognized venue, or centering on music that is not expected to garner a large or lasting audience. This last phenomenon is a credit to the intellectual curiosity that so abounds in New York City at the present time. All the more amazing then, that it can garner support from any quarter. In a sense that curiosity is the main feature of such presentations, with a concurrent sense that traditional programming, as in the three B’s, is passé. It is worth remembering that before the era of Bach, the Catholic Church was music’s main patron. One of the Popes banned music at church because he felt people were attending more for the musical experience than for worship.

In the other extreme, it might be rather stretching a good thing to program the Beethoven Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth and Sixth, Prokoviev’s Fifth and Sibelius’ First and Second over and over, when there are hundreds of superb pieces by dozens of other composers. The issue of community interest is more important now as the population evolves into a much less English-European mix than it once was. In fact the entire American symphonic scene has lately been asking itself what future it has if the only successes it can hope for are rooted entirely in the canon of decades and centuries in which the symphony did not compete with other cultural offerings such as now exists on TV, video and the movies. These have to be counted as major influences on contemporary community values of appreciation. Instrumental and vocal music have had to migrate to these media, and in many instances performers have been satisfactorily replaced by synthesizers because the emotional content of the music has become so superficial.
The effort made by New York Philomusica over its 30- year history is aimed at keeping a place for the art in its listeners’ hearts. The way to the listener is through their ears, in a live setting. We’ll stick to that premise, letting the rest sort itself out as it will. We are doing what we can to live up to our rubric: "For the inquiring mind."

The New York Philomusica experience is one in which the traditional is much appreciated, but not to the exclusion of the new and unusual. Even if tastes are challenged, the general effect is to appreciate the exposure to an expanded musical vocabulary. That matters a lot to living composers. They in turn are the basis of some of our most exhilarating moments. There are no outright failures, even though we know that at the first hearings, many great composer’s’ music was treated to condemnation, both by its listeners and its performers, as it made its first entry in life. That it made its way and lasts to this day as "the greatest" ought to give pause to those who are critical of the new, but it does not. Unfamiliar is too often synonymous with unworthy of consideration, but more on the subject of how cultures evolve in another quodlibet. Wouldn’t any of us have hated ourselves, were we contemporary to Beethoven, to have missed the eternal profundity of his voice, due to a failure on our part to allow ourselves to grasp his imaginative reach beyond that of his contemporaries?

I want to hear from you. What is your opinion of the current musical scene in New York City? In the state, region, and in the nation? Email us at

A. Robert Johnson, Founder & Artistic Director


April 16, 2002

Quodlibet: "What you will...As you please."

Why a Website?

By A. Robert Johnson, Founder & Artistic Director

Music is the reason for the existence of this ensemble. You are the people for whom it was formed. Anyone, living anywhere, who thinks about music as an activity to enhance their appreciation for life, is a friend of New York Philomusica. And it is their friend.

Presence on a website may make it easier for you to find us and to know what we are doing, to help inform us of your interests and to enable us to respond.

We offer concerts on tour throughout the U.S., in schools, in New York City at Merkin Concert Hall and in Rockland County, New York in Pearl River. We have toured in South America, in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Austria. We’ll be showing up wherever people like to listen to interesting programs of music that center on the classics while including jazz and a bit of theater too—even dance.

Rather than get too far ahead of myself, and you, the launch of this website allows us both to become better acquainted, through the descriptions of our activities over more than 30 years, to hear a sampling of our CDs and, if you are willing, to buy and listen to entire CDs in our ever-growing catalogue. Our concerts are also listed, so if you are in the neighborhood you may come hear us live.

We provide opportunities at our concerts for you to meet the artists Meet-the-Artists, during a pre-concert interview I conduct with various people whose point of view I think you will find interesting, and following the concerts, and informally at a reception.

Use the Website to get acquainted. I look forward to using this space to communicate on a variety of arts topics in the future.

Comments? Email us at

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