The Philharmonia Orchestra of New York is a newly-formed orchestra, having played its first concert in July 2015. On March 29th and 30th, it kicks off its debut season with a pair of concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. PONY is comprised of musicians from across New York’s finest orchestras, including the Met Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet and the former New York City Opera; and it is headed by Orchestral Manager David Titcomb, and Principal Conductor Atsushi Yamada, both former members of the New York City Opera.
Given its outgrowth from the NYC Opera, it is heartening to see PONY’s continuation of that orchestra’s collaboration with Project Hand in Hand – an organization that aims to raise awareness about Japan’s continued need for support in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the resulting Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, through international concerts, including these concerts.
“As someone who was born and raised in Japan, this tragedy affected me deeply, and I was struck by the lack of response from the global music community. Every year since 2011, we have worked to fill this gap by inviting over 100 of Japan’s high school chorus students from the disaster area to perform with some of the top classical musicians from New York”, Yamada tells us. “Together, PONY and Project Hand in Hand aim to use performance to support disaster relief, cultural exchange, and education.”
But having some of the country’s best musicians and a noble cause to fight for is not enough for PONY; the orchestra also wants to revolutionize classical music concerts. According to Yamada, “PONY aims to be the future of classical music, attracting new audiences, incorporating new technologies, and creating new experiences.”
In this vein, their upcoming concerts feature films created by Joachim Schamberger to accompany the symphonies. Chris Toscano, Account Executive for PONY’s PR firm, explains, “We wanted to take these performances on March 29-30 beyond the traditional classical music concert expectations – we wanted to create an experience. This is why, in addition to live orchestral performance, we have commissioned original, feature length films, shot and directed in 4K resolution. We are using a state of the art lighting system.” PONY’s new approach to classical music seems to run along the lines of pop music concerts — performances enhanced by light shows and hi-res images.
So, as Toscano says, “Why not add taste into the mix? New York City is an incredible city for food lovers, and the chefs in this city are not only great cooks, but great artists…And not only is food a great way to get younger crowds thinking about a classical music, it is a way for audience members to take our concert experience with them past Rose Theater and into their daily lives.”
Thus, for their performances of Hector Berlioz’s psychedelic Symphonie Fantastique, and Gustav Mahler’s revelatory Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”, PONY has commissioned culinary pairings. For Berlioz, Boqueria Chef Marc Vidal crafted squid ink-infused pork meatballs with garlic aioli and picada, citing “the deep, dark, brooding sadness of the musician’s unrequited love and the torment of his opium-induced visions” as his inspiration. Such rich ingredients certainly do seem to pair well with the symphony’s dramatic weight. And Chef Eder Montero of Txikito has crafted a “Venison Resurrection” for Mahler, starting with “Austrian goulash as a nod to Mahler’s heritage”, and finishing the dish “with pea shoots, a touch of green signifying new life and providing resolution and lightness in rebirth.”
Dishes as thoughtful as these sound intriguing for sure, but some might be left wondering just what this culinary-musical pairing is meant to achieve. Yamada explains that “foodies are not afraid of new experiences – in fact, they actively seek them. And that type of mentality is exactly what we are looking for from our audience. We…want to attract the millennial who has never even thought about attending a classical music concert to give it a chance. And by incorporating this music into something they are already familiar with – food – we are hoping to show to them that classical music is not something to be afraid of. You do not have to be a classical music expert to sit down for a couple hours and enjoy this experience. In the same way that you sit down at a restaurant and can try a brand new dish with no hesitation, you can sit down in Rose Theater, March 29-30, and experience classical music.”
By Malcolm Morano
Malcolm Morano is a Brooklyn-based writer. Since graduating college with a degree in music and philosophy, he has, like most everyone else, been trying to find his capacity for artistic expression in the dishwashing room of an overpriced restaurant. He loves New York City, especially its art, history, and architecture.