MET Orchestra Spotlight Series Season to Conclude High Above NYC

By Chris Ruel
(Photo: Related Oxford)

In his January 12, 2021, State of the State Address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a plan for resuscitating the arts within the State and New York City. Nearly six months to the day, on June 13 at 3:00 p.m. EDT, the MET Orchestra Musicians will present the finale of their Spotlight Series of concerts, “At Peak Performance with the MET Orchestra Musicians.”

The performance concludes a run of intimate concerts that kept fans connected with the renowned orchestra, raised desperately needed funds, and kept the ember of opera in the city glowing during a dark time. From here, the MET Orchestra Musicians will move on to new ventures and venues between now and when the Met opens its doors, continuing to do their part to revive and renew the performing arts in New York.

The season finale ends on an 1100-foot-high note with the finale recorded at Peak NYC on the 101st floor of 30 Hudson Yards, a soaring skyscraper known for its triangular observation deck that floats over the West Side of Manhattan. The concert was filmed in front of an invited audience, and, as with past installments, the orchestra teamed up with an A-list soloist to host and perform, this time featuring esteemed mezzo-soprano, Tamara Mumford.

On the program is music by Ravel, Yoshimatsu, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Bizet, Händel, and Rossini. Performing artists include flutists Chelsea Knox and Stephanie C. Mortimore; clarinetist Dean LeBlanc; violinists Yoon Kwon Costello, Sarah Vonsattel, Jeehae Lee, and Joanna Maurer; violists Garret Fischbach and Shmuel Katz; cellists Jerry Grossman and Julia Bruskin; and harpist Mariko Anraku. Horn section members include Principal Horn Erik Ralske, Javier Gándara, Brad Gemeinhardt, and Barbara Jöstlein Currie

The Series has been a bright spot for orchestra members, bringing back a sense of connection among a tightly woven group of elite musicians suddenly broken apart and dispersed by the pandemic. Faced with multiple hardships—the COVID-related deaths of member violist Vincent Lionti and Assistant Conductor Joel Revzen, suddenly facing a year with no pay, and a protracted labor dispute, the members persevered, and brought solace and joy into the homes of fans, lifting the roiling storm clouds of the pandemic to allow beauty to come through amid personal grief and loss.

“The Spotlight Series nurtured longtime musical partnerships amongst the musicians in the orchestra and formed new ones, allowing us to showcase the versatility and lyricism that listeners the world over associate with the MET Orchestra,” wrote Fourth Horn and MET Orchestra Musicians press contact, Barbara Jöstlein Currie in an email to OperaWire. “This unique quality has been passed down from generations of orchestra musicians over decades by colleagues who have learned these traditions from the legendary singers that we have on stage.” She went on to write that, “most importantly, the concerts have kept the MET Orchestra together as a tightly knit unit.” 

Guest star Mumford, who has sung on the Met stage over 140 times, will perform the world premiere arrangements by Jake Heggie for flute, harp, and string quartet of Debussy’s three “Chansons de Bilitis” L. 90. She will then be joined by a chamber orchestra of MET Orchestra Musicians to sing the premiere of  Met violist Dov Scheindlin’s arrangements of Rossini’s “Cruda sorti” from “L’Italiana in Algeri,” and familiar selections of Bizet’s “Carmen.”

Currie noted the strides the music organization has made as they brought the Series to life.

“What would have seemed inconceivable before the pandemic became a reality. Angela Gheorghiu sang with us from Bucharest, our horn section performed together virtually with the Berlin Philharmonic horn section, a string and piano quartet performed with Isabel Leonard at the High Line Nine art gallery in Chelsea, and we were fortunate to have hosts such as Frederica Von Stade, Eric Owens, Susan Graham, and Matthew Polenzani who supported the orchestra by hosting the post-concert chats. 

The MET’s horns will open the program with a movement of Händel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” followed by Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro: an ode to the powers of Mariko Anraku’s pedal harp. MET principal cellist Jerry Grossman will solo in “Dream Colored Mobile,” Op. 58 of Takashi Yamamatsu—one of the leading living composers of Japan—and an octet will tackle the opening of Mendelssohn’s beloved Op. 20.

As the orchestra wraps the Spotlight Series season, exciting opportunities await the band as it takes up residence at High Line Nine’s gallery 9.1, a public space that will serve as a rehearsal and education quarters for the orchestra members. The gallery is on the Far West Side of Manhattan and served as one of the recording locations for the Series. 

What’s next for the orchestra?

“Because of the Spotlight series, the orchestra has been asked to perform virtually with the Japanese opera singer Mihoko Kinoshita for the Tokyo Hibiya Festival. The next concert produced by the MET Orchestra is our season finale and marks the first concert with a live audience.  We are honored to have the support from Mitsui Fudosan America, Inc, Related Company, and the Oxford Property group amongst many other companies who have helped make this special concert a reality. The orchestra is also performing for the Nippon Club at Peak in a private fundraiser for the orchestra later this month,” Currie said.

Grit, determination, perseverance, and a desire to make certain the orchestra emerged from the pandemic as intact as possible, demonstrated the commitment the group has to its fans, its home city, and to music, the lifeblood of this cultural institution the world can’t afford to lose. Vaccine uptake and the loosening of restrictions have enabled the return to safe, live performances in New York, and with them the magic of experiencing great music together once more.