Washington Square Music Festival Responds to Post on Scaling Back of Performances and Festival Relationship to Washington Sq Association

On Tuesday (7/31), this post appeared on this blog: Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight. Washington Square Music Festival Executive Director Peggy Friedman, while not questioning the substance of the piece itself, wrote in to offer her position as far as the Washington Square Association’s relationship to the Washington Square Music Festival. She wrote, as follows:

Re: New stage in Washington Square and the WS Music Festival: While we are always glad for the coverage given to the Music Festival, I must take exception to the statement that I was somehow influenced by our parent organization, the Washington Square Association in the 2009 meeting before Landmarks Commission. So much water has gone under the bridge since then, that I would have to see a transcript to agree to how the Festival did or did not vote. We have never been satisfied with the stage, or the smaller audience space, but we are getting used to it, and had two fabulous concerts there recently. However, the suggestion that any vote I made was influenced IN ANY WAY by the Washington Square Association is false. We are our own entity and the Association respects us and supports us. It is not necessary for the two entities to agree on every point. Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Association has always been particularly helpful, and I would like to clarify her and the Board’s policy of “non-interference”. Thank you, Peggy Friedman.

In other news, The Villager has a nice profile of Ms. Friedman this week.

Advertisements

Music This Sunday 5/20: Washington Square Music Festival Fundraiser and Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert (Mention WSP Blog at the Latter & Get in for Discounted Rate!)

There are two great opportunities for high caliber music and fun this Sunday, May 20th. One is the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s final concert of the season at Washington Irving Auditorium with a discounted rate – only $5 – if you mention Washington Square Park Blog! In addition, there will a fundraiser for the Washington Square Music Festival at nearby Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street.

Conductor Yaniv Segal

Here are the details:

The Greenwich Village Orchestra, comprised of talented local musicians and going strong for the last 25 years, will present its final concert of the season this Sunday, May 20th at 3 p.m. The concert features guest conductor, 31-year-old Yaniv Segal, named by Esquire Magazine as a rising star who is “redefining classical music.” Performances will include Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.” There will be a free reception afterwards with food and beverages and an opportunity to meet the musicians.

** Mention Washington Square Park Blog and get in for only $5 at the door!
Location: Washington Irving Auditorium, 40 Irving Place (at 17th Street), Manhattan.

The Washington Square Music Festival will hold a fundraiser from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, May 20th to benefit their upcoming season at neighborhood nightspot Le Poisson Rouge. The event will feature “delicious savories, sweets and wines,” door prizes (including Emily Kies Folpe’s book, It Happened On Washington Square), and entertainment by members of the Festival plus special guests. Music director and cellist Lutz Rath and soprano Lucia Hyunju Song will perform Barbara Harbach’s “Cherish-Caress” and Kurt Schwitters’ “Anna Blume,” a DADA love poem for speaker and cello improvisation. In a highly anticipated performance, Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré, the singer and leader of the Deep Sahara Band, along with members of the group, will present music from West Africa. The West Village Chorale, which performs at Judson Church, will join the Washington Square Music Festival in performance for the first time. Chorale members will present Michael Conley’s “This Bequest of Wings,” an Emily Dickinson Cycle. The 54th season of the Washington Square Music Festival will begin in July.

Tickets range from $75 to $200 ($50 special price for attendees under 40!). You can purchase tickets in advance here.

Le Poisson Rouge is at 158 Bleecker Street (between Sullivan and Thompson), Greenwich Village.

**********************************

Photo (Yaniv Segal): Rick Guest, Esquire

The Tree Arrives at the Arch * Tree Lighting Ceremony Wednesday, December 7th; Washington Sq Music Festival Free Concert Fri. Dec. 2nd

The tree shortly after arriving

For the 85th year (by my calculation), the Washington Square Park Christmas Tree Lighting will take place on Wednesday, December 7th at 6 p.m. The tradition is older than the Rockefeller Center tree lighting! Music will be performed by the Rob Susman Brass Quartet which will lead the crowd in singing holiday songs and Santa Claus will appear. The tree will be lit every day between 4 p.m. and 1 a.m.

On Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24 at 5 p.m. the annual Christmas caroling will take place, again led by The Rob Susman Brass Quartet. It’s quite a sweet event!

The 45 foot tree and caroling song books are provided by the Washington Square Association, “one of the city’s oldest community organizations.”

In addition, this Friday night, December 2nd, there’s a free concert — IKONS, A Washington Square Music Festival Concert, Beethoven, Bellini, Tavener and Shostakovich — — at St. Joseph’s Church, 371 Sixth Avenue at Washington Place. Time: 8 p.m.

The Washington Square Music Festival offers iconic and eclectic music, both played and sung, by Festival artists soprano Lucia Hyunju Song, pianist David Oei, violinist Eriko Sato, and cellist Lutz Rath.

Trains: West 4th St stop on A, B C, D, E, F, M; Christopher St. stop on 1 train

Photo: Bill Spector

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.

Washington Square Music Festival Free Concert Friday December 10th 8 p.m.

Washington Square Music Festival will perform a free concert “Strings, Winds and Piano” featuring Clarinetists Stanley Drucker, formerly of the New York Philharmonic, and Naomi Drucker with the Washington Square Music Festival Chamber Ensemble. The concert will take place on Friday, December 10 at 8 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church.

Pieces performed will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581 written in 1789. A clarinet quintet is a work for one clarinet and a string quartet. From the release: “It was Mozart’s only completed clarinet quintet, and is one of the earliest and best-known works written especially for the instrument. It remains exceptionally popular today due to its lyrical melodies, with the second movement the best known.”

Location: St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, 371 Sixth Avenue at Washington Place.
Trains: A,B,C,D,E,F to W 4th Street-Washington Square or 1 to Christopher Street.

More information: #212/252-3621

On the Performance Area in Phase II Redesign – “Garibaldi Plaza”

(Updated)

WSP Blog reader Elton wrote in yesterday with the following comment in relation to my post on the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing last week. He raises some good points:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no accoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

***************************************************************

Thoughts?

WSP Blog Note: I can’t say I have a clear idea of what exactly is happening to the performance area, the here-to-fore (oops. I mean from here on) renamed Garibaldi Plaza, but I do know the Washington Square Music Festival stated that they were worried about sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage, the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage. While I think they could have argued more forcefully for what they want, the other side of this is, that, though they are well regarded and historically connected to the space, they only use the stage about five times a year. I’ve heard that other performers, such as “street” performers, may not want a railing although, for any body’s usage, the stage does seem too low. I gather people will be able to just sit on the stage and use that as a “public space.”

So… what is the “every day” use of this space? Will there be more professional performances – and which should the Park be oriented to? … Although I’m sure no matter how you slice it, this area’s design should be reconsidered.

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; NYC Parks Department agrees to increase # of alcoves

What follows are some of the highlights from yesterday’s (April 14) Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, a continuation of the
March 17th public hearing
, scheduled to determine what the future holds for Phase II of Washington Square Park’s redesign by New York City’s Parks Department. So here goes…

* The number of seating alcoves in the Park

There’s actually some good news. Which is that the New York City Parks Department, responding to the calls from Council Member Alan Gerson, Community Board 2, and impassioned park goers to keep their hands off Washington Square Park‘s popular seating alcoves, increased the number in their plan from two to four. The Park currently has six. So, that’s … something.

The Parks Department, represented by Charles McKinney and designer George Vellonakis, started out stating that they were prepared to add one or two more alcoves to the originally proposed two. However, they preferred three. George Vellonakis said that ideally a fourth would be omitted because its location inside the Park lawn on the (south) east side “distracts the view and expansion of the lawn.” The other reasons given by Mr. Vellonakis for omitting that fourth alcove were possible damage to surrounding tree roots and that that area in the new design undergoes a “geometry change.”

At first, Robert Tierney, LPC chair, advocated for the 3 alcoves as he believed that was the Parks Department’s “preference.” The Parks Department stated that the fourth alcove would be very small and “intimate” but how small I’m not sure.

Thankfully, the heroine of the meeting, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz, stood her ground and argued repeatedly for the fourth. She said, “There was a lot of controversy about the redesign – for many legitimate reasons. This park evolved with many layers of change and use which took it away from the original more pristine design. This park is not like Gramercy Park. The park evolved with the neighborhood.” She also said, “I’m not concerned if a piece of lawn is taken away. It’s about how the park is used and the weight of its importance and use outweighs the difficulty of it intruding on [tree] roots.”

It was Ms. Brandes Gratz’s persistence and unwavering that convinced the rest of the Commissioners of the importance of the four (vs. three) alcoves. The inclusion of these four adds to (and maintains) the Park’s charm and uniqueness and gives us a bit of a break from all the symmetry of Phase I.

* Increased seating? Depends what year within the Park’s history you base this on

The Parks Department claims that seating is being “increased by 37%.” George Vellonakis stated that there are currently 355 benches and there will be 487 benches in the newly designed version. (These numbers do not include benches being added into the new alcoves.) However, Park advocate Jonathan Greenberg walked with me around the park recently and he informed me that the Parks Department has been consistently removing benches over the years. (Why…? I don’t know.)

So, to truly determine what the increase would be, you’d have to calculate from an older number of existing benches from a previous year (1970 perhaps?).

In fact, if you walk around each alcove as well as the Northeast corner where the picnic tables are, you will see iron or metal ‘holders’ on the ground that indicate where the benches previously were located that have been removed. (I’m going to write a separate post on this.)

* The Stage – Garibaldi Plaza – Shrunken, Relocated, No Guardrail but Approved

The performance area – the newly named Garibaldi Plaza (previously “Teen Plaza”) – was very quickly discussed at the meeting and it’s unclear to me if any changes were made from the previous version shown. The stage is moving and shrinking and has no guardrails and basically no backstage, if it’s the same version last presented.

Again, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz asked pointed questions such as “you moved the stage because…?” and “Is it better than the old stage?” and “Will you have a backstage?” To this last question, George Vellonakis said that the “[performance] groups will assemble in this pathway” and pointed to an area that I could not see from where I was. (I left Mr. Vellonakis a message to clarify and will update if I receive the answer.)

I think there may be a plan for a temporary railing to prevent the conductor or performers from, um, falling off the stage.

The Washington Square Music Festival testified at the last meeting calling for approval of the plan while simultaneously expressing their disapproval. Although this group only uses the area about five times a year, they are considered sort of the arbiter of the space, so their lukewarm “support” in a sense sealed the deal.

* The Vote – Plan Approved

Before the vote, another LPC Commissioner Christopher Moore referred to the testimony given at the March 17th hearing as “heartfelt and passionate” and intimated that that testimony should be respected. He also said he liked the addition of the fourth alcove because it added to the Park’s “idiosyncratic quality.”

The plan was approved unanimously with the intention that the lights, fence, and pathways will be restored in keeping with Phase I’s work, the stage will be moved and reconfigured, and that there will be four seating alcoves retained within the Park.

* The Past is Our Future

But, of course, it was the first set of Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings in May 2005 where the crucial decisions were made to approve the sweeping changes proposed by the Parks Department to reconfigure Washington Square Park.

It is widely alleged, that, at that time, the Commissioners were pressured by Mayor Bloomberg’s office to go along with an approval and information was leaked to the New York Times in advance that they were going to do so. An article appeared in the Times the morning of the critical vote signaling the Commission would be going along with the Parks Department’s plan.

****************************************************************

* Video here of Q&A from the original Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing – May 10, 2005 by Matt Davis (who directed the work-in-progress documentary “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park”). New York State Supreme Court Judge Emily Jane Goodman later ruled that “essential elements of the Parks Department’s plans … were not adequately revealed to Community Board 2 or the Landmarks Commission…”

Highlights from the Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Here are some of the highlights from Tuesday’s (March 17) Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on Washington Square Park Phase II Redesign:

* Charles McKinney from the New York City Parks Department gave the overview of the City’s retooled plan for Washington Square Park in Phase II focusing on the alcoves and the performance area. (Landmarks was also supposed to look at the pathways but these were not addressed – verbally, at least.) The landscape designer behind the City’s dramatic and oh-so-symmetrical redesign plan for the park, George Vellonakis, was there to assist him with visuals for the presentation.

Seating Alcoves

* Currently there are six seating alcoves at Washington Square Park which exist on the north, northeast, and southeast sides of the Park. The Parks Department’s plan is to eliminate all except for one (which will remain in its entirety on the north side, across from the playground) and to retain a 1/4 or a 1/2 of another (on the eastern side).

… Council Member Gerson: Alcoves are part of the “core Washington Square Park experience”

* New York City Council Member Alan Gerson appeared (!) and made a very important statement to the Commission advocating on behalf of the alcoves and the performance area. Council Member Gerson asked the LPC to hold off on a decision and not approve the plan before them. He remarked that the Washington Square Park Task Force and the Parks Department have “come so far” in their discussions over this and are “almost there” in reaching an agreement. He spoke of how important the alcoves are to “the core Washington Square Park experience” and said the replacement of seven (I count six but hey…) with one “deprives the community.”

* Council Member Gerson also stated that the removal of the majority of the alcoves “violates the spirit and letter between Speaker Quinn and myself on the one hand and the Parks Department on the other” (referring to the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). The Gerson-Quinn Agreement (which Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe doesn’t consider binding) called for keeping the alcoves in the Park’s design.

* Tobi Bergman spoke on behalf of the Washington Square Park Task Force in agreement with Council Member Gerson asking for modifications to the Parks Department’s plan.

... LPC Commissioner: Why can’t the alcoves be included? Parks Department: Here’s why….

* Many other Park users and advocates made compelling statements on behalf of the alcoves as places where people read, study, socialize, perform, eat lunch or just observe the park from a different vantage point to such a degree that by the end of the meeting, one of the Landmarks Commissioners finally asked, “why can’t the alcoves be included?Great question!

So what was Mr. McKinney’s reply to this? According to Mr. McKinney, the Parks Department’s view is that the alcoves …. “attract activities that are undesirable.” Hmmm.

Performance Area

* The current Garibaldi / Teen Plaza area (to east and southeast of the Fountain) acts as a stage for the Washington Square Music Festival and a host of other uses including rallies, protests, traveling high school bands, book festivals, musical performances, food festivals, and more. Mr. McKinney stated that as currently configured the area is “too isolated.” (??) Apparently, the Parks Department’s goal was to create a “centralized” space but truthfully it seems more isolated when you look at the plans.

… Washington Square Music Festival: “stage too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area.” stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.”

* Peggy Friedman, the executive director of the Washington Square Music Festival made a perplexing statement, first saying to the Landmarks Preservation Commission “with reluctance, I ask you to approve this plan.” She then elaborated on this statement remarking that the stage is too small, there is no appropriate back stage and that the stage height (it is currently an acceptable 36″ tall; in the plan, it is reduced to 28″) creates “sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” She said the area is “too small, too low and without a backstage preparation area.” (As currently configured, the “backstage” is located to the west and “in clear view of the audience.”)

* Another woman from the Festival spoke and stated that the stage itself is so improperly designed that if they want to present their typical 24 musicians and a conductor they would “not fit on the stage as currently proposed” and the Festival would have to “curtail the scale of some of our programs.” She said that the plan is “sadly inadequate for our needs.” Note: we are talking about a plan that was created fresh, right? It is supposed to work for the community’s needs and yet clearly does not.

Random

* Mr. McKinney stated at the end that the Parks Department believed a “small amount of people” were “somewhat unhappy” with this plan and they’d “prefer not to have a delay.”

* There were about three people who spoke in favor of the design… one who just wanted to see the plan move forward… and including community member Gil Horowitz who referred to it as the “Olmsteadian-inspired Vellonakis design.”

* Susan Goren from local group, ECO (Emergency Coalition Organization to Preserve Washington Square Park), read from a letter she wrote to Parks Commissioner Benepe stating: “Despite promises to the contrary, Washington Square Park’s historic use as a gathering space and as a performance space is being destroyed as the park is turned into Henry James’ Washington Square Park, lovely in the early 1800s, but hardly desirable in our modern world.”

LPC vote in 2005 one of the questionable moments in history of Park’s redesign plan

Another bit of trickery is that when Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the City’s redesign plan in May 2005 (another dodgey moment in the history of this plan), as Mr. McKinney explicitly noted, there were no alcoves and there was no performance area. One of the Landmarks Commissioners asked on Tuesday, “I don’t remember an outcry over the alcoves” (at the time). This is because it was stated – at that time – that this all would be revisited in later phases and yet the Parks Department believes the entire plan was approved without these elements so now anything they add in looks like a bonus. To them.

So… what’s next?

Head LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney said he’d like for the LPC Commissioners to “come back, discuss and then take an action.” He stated that that meeting shouldn’t be too far off in the future. Once that date is set, I will let you know.

“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.

******************************************************

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

******************************************************

Photo credit: Nan Melville