Arts and Entertainment

The New York Philharmonic Returns in a Pickup Truck

The NY Phil Bandwagon is bringing live music to all five boroughs through informal pop-up concerts.

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By Adrianna Peng

The evening comes sooner than expected.

It’s only five o’clock, yet the sky is already darkening, and the first droplets of rain begin to fall on the pavement. On the streets, rush hour is starting, and there’s the faint crescendo of revving traffic. A slight drizzle starts, and I quicken my pace. I turn on the block and start to cross the street when something catches my eye.

The first thing I see is the pickup truck. It’s parked right outside one of the parks, painted scarlet red, with some words on the side that I can’t quite make out. There’s a small handful of people standing beside it. I stop at the crosswalk and walk toward the truck. I move closer and see it: the words “NY Phil” and “Bandwagon,” boldly emblazoned on its side.

On the small “stage”—a raised platform on the grass—there are only three musicians: violinist Yulia Ziskel, violist Cynthia Phelps, and cellist Sumire Kudo, who are all part of the Philharmonic’s orchestra. The organizer and founder of the initiative introduces himself as Anthony Roth Costanzo, a countertenor, actor, and producer, who recently starred in Philip Glass’s opera “Akhnaten.”

It’s been almost half a year since the Philharmonic closed the doors of its famous Lincoln Center concert hall. It isn’t expected to open through at least the beginning of 2021, and even then prospects are uncertain. Since then, the Internet has been the Philharmonic’s only venue, from archived material to virtual performances. The performances at Geffen Hall are planned at least a year in advance, with the program and players set well before the concert date. The Bandwagon, however, is endlessly adaptable; from the program to the players to the venue, Costanzo stresses they’re “still learning as [they] go.”

Pop-up concerts like the Bandwagon are not a new concept: just like food trucks or pop-up retailers from bakeries to clothing shops, stumbling upon them by chance attaches something special to each encounter. The unpredictability and temporary nature of each pop-up, combined with the small-scale audience, make for an intimate and memorable experience that is needed more than ever in the age of the coronavirus.

The Philharmonic’s musicians will travel across the city in their rented Ford F-250 to bring live music, from classical to contemporary works, to audiences in all five boroughs from August 28 to November 8 with nine performances weekly each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The location and times of the concerts are unannounced to prevent crowds from gathering—and so that everyone has a front-row seat.

The performance starts with Carlos Simon’s “loop” for string trio, a special commission for the Philharmonic. Before the trio begins to play, Costanzo reads out loud Simon’s inspiration for the piece: “Before this crisis, my life was filled with many different varying experiences, but COVID-19 has forced my daily regime into a seemingly never-ending loop. My piece ‘loop’ represents my mundane, day-to-day life for the past couple months.”

For the remainder of the program, the Bandwagon performs classical string trios and arrangements of operas and musicals, with vocals sung by Costanzo. After “loop,” they play the Scherzo from Dohnányi’s “Serenade in C major,” a fast-paced, lively movement, followed by a sweeping arrangement of Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament,” from the opera “Dido and Aeneas,” then Beethoven’s elegant “Adagio-Allegro con brio” from String Trio in G major, then Handel’s aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” from the opera “Rinaldo,” and lastly Gershwin’s playful “I've Got Rhythm” from the musical “Girl Crazy.”

The pieces they play are fleeting, yet each presents its own beautiful intensity. Simon’s “loop” is barely under four minutes, but as the trio begins to play, the rain begins to fall. With the piece’s erratic rhythms and the upending entrance of the storm, it almost feels like a scene out of a film: the protagonist, running through the rain, chasing after seemingly unattainable dreams.

After the piece ends, umbrellas are drawn over the trio, and the music continues.