In the News: Washington Square Music Festival

Today’s New York Times features a review, Unusual Sounds to Play in a Park,” of this week’s concert by the Washington Square Music Festival (it was the second performance of the season):

The programming at free outdoor summer events often favors standard repertory, but the Washington Square Music Festival veered far off the beaten path with a concert called “The Joy of Unfamiliar Music” on Tuesday evening. A large crowd braved sweltering weather to hear the Festival Chamber Ensemble play works by Berio, Emmanuel Séjourné, Corrado Maria Saglietti and Vincenzo Gambaro.

Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052) was the only chestnut in the lineup, and it was offered with an unusual twist. The marimba player Pius Cheung, who has transcribed Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations for his instrument, played the solo part with flair, although the softer passages were sometimes barely audible despite amplification, and there was some shaky ensemble work.

More at the New York Times.

Of course, braving the “sweltering weather” was not easy for those in the audience because the amazing two trees that previously surrounded that location amidst the walkway were chopped down. I was told people were complaining at the premiere performance July 12th that there are no trees and therefore no shade to absorb some of the heat. The designer told me personally that those two trees would not be axed – but they were. If they still remained, the stage would have some shade. (There’s a lot of tree issues going on at the park right now.)

There’s no mention in the review of the low stage (which was 36″ high and is now 28″) and how this affected sight lines. (Previous WSP Blog coverage here.) I have not attended a performance this year so I cannot report personally yet.

There are two more concerts of the Washington Square Music Festival Tuesday, July 26th and Tuesday, August 2nd. All shows begin at 8 p.m.

Washington Square Music Festival 2011 Premieres Tuesday, July 12th; Four Free Concerts Tuesdays in the Park on New Garibaldi Stage

Updated 5:30 p.m. – The Washington Square Music Festival’s new season begins at the Park on Tuesday, July 12th with four free performances. It’ll be the festival’s first season performing on the new Garibaldi Stage and we’ll see how that goes.

History of the new Stage in Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

Phase II’s Garibaldi Stage takes the place of the stage that existed on the popular and now demolished “Teen Plaza.” Executives from the Washington Square Music Festival told the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a public hearing in March of 2009 that the newly designed stage is ” too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area” and that the stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” Still, “with reluctance,” the organization supported the redesigned stage.

The Washington Square Music Festival is presented under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association (the organization presents two annual events at the Park – the Music Festival and the Christmas Tree Lighting) which was in favor of the park’s redesign plan. Due to that, festival executives likely felt they could not speak out too strongly; however, it would have made a difference if they had.

For the stage’s new design and configuration, it was mandated that community input be taken into account but the Parks Department, as is often their way, went ahead with their plans without consulting anyone. The agency felt the Teen Plaza area was “too isolated.” Instead of finding another way to recreate that space, they destroyed it (moving the Petanque Court also – that doesn’t seem to be working out too well either; more on that to come).

The stage previously was 36″ tall; it is now somewhere around 28″ tall. It has been used for a few performances and exhibits since the Eastern end of the Park opened on June 2nd but this round of performances will be a true test.

A note: It would appear to me that the stage could be reconstructed and made higher if deemed necessary in the future. 

This year’s Festival:

The Washington Square Music Festival will perform for four Tuesdays beginning July 12th through August 2nd. All concerts are free and begin at 8 p.m. It’s the festival’s 53rd season; only one did not take place within Washington Square Park (2009).

Tuesday, July 12th: Opera in the Park Bronx Opera’s debut appearance in Washington Square. Michael Spierman conducting Festival Chamber Orchestra in W.A. Mozart’s The Impresario with soloists from The Bronx Opera Company and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony.

Tuesday, July 19th:  The Joy of Unfamiliar Music — Festival Chamber Ensemble with soloists perform Emmanuel Séjourné’s Concerto for Marimba and strings; Luciano Berio’s Opus Number Zoo, for speaker and wind quintet; Corrado Maria Saglietti’s Suite for Alto Trombone and String Quartet.

Tuesday, July 26th: Music Making by the Master — Stanley Drucker (formerly first clarinet for 30 years for the New York Philharmonic) and the Festival Chamber Ensemble performing W.A. Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K.581; Astor Piazzolla’s Four for Tango; Anton Arensky’s String Quartet op 35 in a minor.

Tuesday, August 2nd: The Charles Mingus Orchestra Plays Jazz — Featuring the 10 piece band performing works by the late Charles Mingus.

Rainspace: St. Joseph’s Church, 371 Sixth Avenue
Website here; Contact phone #212-252-3621

** There’s a nice piece this week in the Downtown Express on the direction of the Washington Square Music Festival and this year’s season under Music Director Luiz Rath which you can read here.

“In all probability” last performance of Washington Square Music Festival on favored stage at Washington Sq Park

Charles Mingus Orchestra at Washington Sq Park '08

Charles Mingus Orchestra at Washington Sq Park

Peggy Friedman, long-time executive director of the Washington Square Music Festival, sent in this photo from the final performance of this season with this note:

“On July 29, members of the world-famed Charles Mingus Orchestra played jazz by the master on the stage in Washington Square. In all probability it was the last concert for the Washington Square Music Festival on this stage, a perfect site for musical and theatrical performances because of its height and railing. Mr. Mingus’ widow, Sue Mingus is on stage audience left.”

To read about what New York City’s redesign as it stands now does to this stage area, read Part II of our Update on NYC’s Redesign of Washington Square Park. This includes a report back from the Washington Square Park Task Force meeting in which the community and board members of the WSP Music Festival discussed why the new design doesn’t work. The NYC Parks Department took in no input from those who use the stage. But there’s still time! And, ideally, the suggestions offered at the Task Force meeting will be implemented and the Parks Department will turn over a new leaf, so to speak.

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In case you were wondering, Part VII, the final piece in the “update” series, is coming tomorrow!

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Photo credit: Nan Melville