Writing sample by Aaron Grad.
© 2012 Aaron Grad. All rights reserved.


Orpheus in New York

The founding members of Orpheus—mostly young graduates of The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, and Columbia University—came together to collaborate and express themselves in a way that was not otherwise possible in New York in the early 1970’s. At first, they stayed close to their former campuses on the Upper West Side, rehearsing in dingy classrooms at Columbia Teachers College and vermin-infested studios at the Ansonia Hotel on Broadway at 73rd Street. They held their debut concert, in May 1972, at the Broadway Presbyterian Church at 114th Street. Then, as their reputation grew, they expanded further out into the city. In 1973, they performed at the Carnegie Recital Hall, and the following year they made their Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall. They crossed Central Park in 1975 to appear in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In their most significant move, they relocated their subscription series to the main stage of Carnegie Hall in 1978, the venue they have called home ever since.

Even with regular appearances in (New York pride aside) the finest concert hall in the world, Orpheus continued to branch out in its home city. They ventured beyond the Met’s auditorium to play in the museum itself: in the Great Hall, in front of the giant choir screen in the medieval collection, and even at the Egyptian Temple of Dendur. Orpheus also brought its music to the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center site for September 11th commemorations. They have performed in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and next year they will hold their Gala concert in the adjacent Rose Theater. Next season also includes a visit to a familiar venue in a new context, when Carnegie Hall presents a special program of all six commissioned pieces from the New Brandenburg Project as part of the “Spring for Music” series.

Finding affordable rehearsal space in New York City is still not easy, but the orchestra has upgraded from its initial tenement conditions; now they most often meet on the fourth floor of Riverside Church. The administrative environment has also improved since the days when musicians talked business at an Upper West Side Chinese restaurant. The Orpheus office now occupies the 11th floor of the Riverside Church, sharing a vista over the Hudson River with the tower’s resident peregrine falcons.

Besides concerts, Orpheus gives back to New York through its education and outreach programs. This season, Orpheus reached over 2,000 local schoolchildren in performances and in classroom visits. In higher education, the Orpheus Institute at the Manhattan School of Music offers an elite training program for aspiring orchestral musicians, some of whom will likely form the next generation of Orpheus in the years to come. The orchestra is constantly changing and growing, and many of the founding members have left their old Upper West Side stomping grounds for the suburbs and beyond. But their bold experiment lives on, contributing to and rejuvenated by the ceaseless pulse of New York City.