Art Therapy

Performers need to perform. How creativity is flourishing at Lincoln Center during the pandemic

| 09 Sep 2020 | 05:10

Painters can retreat to a garret, island, barn or the kitchen table. Writers mostly need keyboards and quiet. Performing artists need to practice, but ultimately, their artistry is only fully realized when transmitted to an audience. Performers need to perform.

Lincoln Center’s lights may be down, but its dedication to art and artists has been tireless during the pandemic. “The arts can connect us, reveal collective truths, and help us process so much in our world that can seem overwhelming and impossible,” said Henry Timms, president and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Broadcast performances, Zoom concerts, free lessons, and conversations with luminaries have kept hungry audiences engaged. But creativity has been flourishing during these isolated times, and live, albeit socially distant, performances have tenuously begun to come back.

“Invictus” recently premiered and can be viewed online. It was composed by Anthony Barfield for a 15-piece brass ensemble that’s comprised of musicians from the MET Orchestra Musicians, the New York Philharmonic, The Juilliard School, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet Orchestra, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. It’s a first-ever collaboration between musicians from these organizations, and the new work was commissioned by Lincoln Center, especially for this moment.

On August 7, fifteen musicians, at 12-foot distances, stood in an empty Josie Robinson Plaza, with Barfield conducting. The title translates from Latin to “unconquered,” and the spirit of the piece is deeply resonant, expressing both solemnity and triumph. It’s perfect for a healing city moving forward.

9/11 Anniversary

Also reimagined for pandemic times is the “Table of Silence Project 9/11,” part dance, part concert, part ritual, part prayer for peace. It was created by Jacqulyn Buglisi, Artistic Director of Buglisi Dance Theatre, for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and has been performed at Lincoln Center on each anniversary since. It’s a remembrance and a call to humanity through movement, sound and creativity.

As the plaintive cry of a conch shell opens, dancers enter, singers respond, musicians perform, and a sense of disquiet, chaos and tragedy eventually transforms into a coming together expressing resilience and hope. The virtual presentation includes film, spoken-word and musical performances, all streamed from 7:55 a.m. on Friday, September 11th til 8:46 a.m., coinciding with the time the first tower was hit. It will also be available on demand. Later on 9/11, buildings and billboards across Manhattan don blue lights to join with the twin beams that rise skyward from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

While Manhattan is an island, New York is immeasurable. It’s a melting pot. It’s a shining city. It’s a dream. It’s home. And nothing expresses its resilience more than New Yorkers being New Yorkers.

“Pull-up Concerts”

The New York Philharmonic’s NY Phil Bandwagon brings live performances back to the city. It’s the brainchild of and produced by Anthony Roth Costanzo, the countertenor who dazzled as Akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera last season. “I am excited to be partnering with the New York Philharmonic to start a dialogue with the city in a new way,” he said in a statement, adding, “the moment we are in gives us an opportunity to be unusually nimble.”

All it takes is a pickup truck with a custom red and white paint job, a handful of the world’s best musicians, an audience as sophisticated as the city, and unannounced “pull-up” concerts across all five boroughs. What could be more New York, or more wonderful?

The season started August 28 and runs for eight weeks, connecting world-class artists directly with people on street corners, plazas, and sidewalks around the city. Locations are kept secret, to keep crowds from showing up, but selections can be viewed online where you can watch a masked Costanzo introduce a world-premiere performance of Carlos Simon’s commissioned work, “Loop,” to people hanging out of windows, getting off buses, and sitting in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park. He tells them, touchingly, “I’m so glad we found you.”

Art heals. It’s a gift that has the ability to transform time, places, and people – for both the giver and the receiver. Cong Wu, Assistant Principal Viola of the New York Philharmonic, who performed on Labor Day weekend, said, “As performers, we are only part of the whole music-making process. Audiences are so crucial to completing the circle. Being able to reconnect with our audiences and community, to share our love and passion with New Yorkers during this challenging time, is simply incredible. And we have the love back from the people who listened to our concerts or saw them on social media. That’s why we play music: to share the love, heal the pain, and celebrate the joy.”

To watch these performances: