Connecting to the Community: Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas
There are those days when you experience something so heartwarming that you feel you must share it - and the evening of August 21st in New York City was that kind of event for me. There is an orchestra that most Americans don't even know exists called the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. Its music director is a 26-year-old Mexican named Alondra de la Parra, and she leads her musicians with a wonderful combination of technique and emotional involvement and expressivity. As satisfying as the musical experience was, it was the community experience that really struck me...
The mission of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (I'll settle on POA from here on out) is to give exposure to the music of the Americas - particularly South and Central America. This is not exclusive - the main work on the concert I attended was Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, but it is central to what they do. They perform in a gorgeous space at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue (El Museo del Barrio), the orchestra includes many Latino musicians (but again, not solely), and attracts an audience of the kind of diversity that most orchestra administrators only dream of. I heard as much Spanish as English being spoken at intermission and after the concert, and the audience consisted of many young people, families with children, people clearly from all economic and social categories.
And they loved the concert. A young Puerto Rican tenor (Joel Prieto) sang Rossini, Mozart, Donizetti, and music by the Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández. The concert opened with Astor Piazzolla's Adios Nonino, the second half opened with an extremely imaginative and partly improvisatory work called Canto Llano by the Venezuelan composer Eduardo Marturet, then ended with Beethoven's Seventh. The audience roared its approval at the end of the Beethoven, and they were clearly involved in the music throughout.
This is a young orchestra, only a few years old, with a focused appeal and community connection. They are about to begin an education program to third-and-fourth grade children in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, where the population is over 98 percent Latino. One can only imagine what they might accomplish in the future as they continue to grow. For me, all I can say is that it was positively thrilling to sit in that audience, see the connection that existed between stage and audience, and once again have my belief that the symphonic music we love has a much broader appeal than some of the American press might have us believe.