The Heavenly Sound of New York Repertory Orchestra at St Mary's Church

12/17/2017 08:35 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2017
NYRO orchestra members
Image Courtesy Isa Freeling
NYRO orchestra members

There is a lovely church in Manhattan called St Mary’s. Its name reminds me of Christmas movies from the prehistoric past, when old-time actors of the silver screen reflected the best of human beings, at least in theory. America was great because of its ideals, however imperfect they have been. I am not waxing Trumpishly here, that is how the world aspired to be, alas, some people think it’s a mythological concept, not an “undertaking.”

On a snowy day several evenings ago people set aside their cell phones to sit in the pews of the warm, welcoming church to listen to the melodious sounds of the New York Repertory Orchestra. Supple rhapsodic music lulled the audience into listening attentively in the quiet space among the ruby red lanterns which hung from the vaulted ceiling above, as wooden icons stared back at the audience in fixed retreat bestriding the expanse of the altar. For me, the acoustics were crisp and clear, for others more proficient in classical works; maybe too good? But how can it be too good when the orchestra effervesces with so much spirit, for the mood which the sound of “The Inspector General“ overture by Steven L. Rosenhaus took us away from our iphones immediately, guiding our spirits away from the terrific clap-trap antics of governments running amok and visions of biblical fires eating up the iconic Hollywood sign. Music is a needed thing! It keeps us sane and human during all of this nasty hypocrisy and nuttiness. Engage the classical sound, and I don’t mean the soundtrack to Anime, as one young person offered up to me when I asked if they would put some classical music on.

I asked conductor and founder of NYRO David Leibowitz, (one of Brooklyn’s own), who has conducted throughout the U.S. and Europe, as well as taught at numerous prominent New York educational institutions how he came to found this outstanding orchestra of volunteer musicians.

“The New York Repertory Orchestra (NYRO) was started in 1993 as a reading orchestra. We met about twice a month and read through orchestral repertoire. We continued in this format for several years and occasionally performed for a small audience of our friends and family. In 2000 we became a performing group. Since then we have given a series of five concerts each season.

Leibowitz went on to talk about NYRO’s uniqueness and the people who participate. “Our concerts are free to the public. We showcase underplayed and neglected works of the orchestral repertoire. Since 2000 we have never repeated any piece and have performed over 300 works.

NYRO is made up of talented musicians who give their time and talent with no monetary remuneration. The orchestra plays at a very high level of expertise and is considered one of the finest orchestras of its type in the region.

Our members’ backgrounds are very diverse. Some play professionally in other venues, while the majority are amateur players who come together for the love of music. A typical NYRO member is someone who started playing music at an early age and continued through high school and college, but did not major in music. They now work in banking, law, medicine, education, and other fields. Even though they work in the professional/corporate world, they still love to play and perform music,” Leibowitz explained.

It is a wonder that the poignant verisimilitude of NYRO is a voluntary affair, since so many of its members have demanding careers elsewhere, like the charismatic Dutch Consulate General to New York, Dolph Hogenwonig who set his bow to the strings of his cello. Along with him are professionals like Christine Todd, Chief Financial Officer at The Juilliard School on clarinet; Daniel Caplivski, M.D., the Director of the Travel Medicine Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who played the trumpet, Andrea Jordan, Licensed Clinical Social Worker on violin, and so many more notable doyens, all smartly dressed in their black evening duds.

We were treated to the superb playing of Inbal Segev, an intensely focused musician on her 300-year-old cello, played Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in G minor; she played with a romantic depth that was enchanting. After intermission Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 97. “Rhenish” succeeded to finish off the soothing balm created by the performance.

Conductor David Leibowitz, NYRO
Image Courtesy Pierre Lidar
Conductor David Leibowitz, NYRO

“NYRO is made up of about 25-32 violinists, 7-10 violists, 10-12 cellists, and 4-6 basses. Our winds consist of 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, and 3 bassoons. There are 4 French horns, 2-4 trumpets, 3 trombones, and 1 tuba. Also, we have between 2-5 percussionists. Depending on the music being performed, the ensemble can range from about 65 to 85 players,” Leibowitz told me.

When I asked about the challenges, NYRO faces Leibowitz thoughtfully expounded “There are several kinds of challenges NYRO faces: financial, logistical, and artistic. Since our concerts are free to the public, we rely on donations to support our mission. We receive a small grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and some corporate gifts in the form of matching grants, but the vast majority of our funding comes from individual, private donors. Some of our expenses are the rental of our rehearsal and performance space at the church, the rental of music, and our publicity mailings. Logistically, we have to take into account the schedules of both our players and the church. Because our musicians have their full-time jobs and family obligations, sometimes they need to miss a rehearsal or performance. In these cases, we have to be flexible in moving people around to fill vacancies. Artistically, the challenges are finding pieces that a) we haven’t played before, b) will be interesting for the orchestra to work on and for the audience to listen to, and c) will help the orchestra grow and improve musically and technically.”

Artists inevitably are always on the side of the angels for whom the reward is first and foremost the music. We must always support the arts, without it we are absent from ourselves, it reinvigorates our senses and our sense.

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