‘HOW MUSIC GREW IN BROOKLYN: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE BROOKLYN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA’
Maurice Edwards, Author
Photo by Ken Howard
The Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra performing in the Prospect Park Bandshell.
Lukas Foss: A towering innovative figure of the modern musical age.
Lukas Foss: Music Director and Conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, 1971 – 1990, at the podium.
By Eve Berliner
The rapturous sweep of musical history has come to life inside the hallowed concert halls of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as captured by Maurice Edwards in his engrossing new, meticulously documented, memoir, history, reminiscence and archival treasure, “How Music Grew in Brooklyn: A Biography of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra.”
The book is at once an intimate inside view and a reference work for musical and cultural scholars, students and lovers of music.
The orchestra had its beginnings in 1857 (when Brooklyn was still a city) as the Philharmonic Society of Brooklyn, the prodigy child of the new Brooklyn Academy of Music which made its elegant new home on Montague Street in the burgeoning, rich, Wall Street enclave of Brooklyn Heights, home to the orchestra. Under the baton of the renowned Theodore Thomas, its conductor until 1891, the orchestra achieved notable stature.
In 1903 the building went up in flames.
And thus it moved to the tree-lined elegance of Fort Greene Brooklyn, at 30 Lafayette Street, where it resides today.
The reign of the distinguished music director and conductor Siegfried Landau [1955 to 1971] followed, and the renaissance brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music by Harvey Lichtenstein as its new director in 1967 placed it center stage on the New York cultural frontier.
But it was The Era of Foss, that would bring acclaim to the orchestra.
Lukas Foss, an arresting and brilliant conductor, a major 20th century composer, a formidable pianist, was named music director and conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonia [as it was then known] in 1971, and proceeded to transform the orchestra into a force to be reckoned with.
It was an era of bold innovation and profound artistic power, the two decade reign of Lukas Foss over the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, molding an eclectic bunch of pick up musicians into a virtuosic and powerful symphony orchestra.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music became a hot-bed of musical ferment as Foss explored new realms of music and old symphonic masterpieces, the old war horses and the avant garde suffusing the musical atmosphere around Brooklyn with vibrancy and excitement.
And they came, the classical masters of the day: Yehudi Menuhin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Itzhak Perlman, Loren Maazel, Peter Serkin, Jessye Norman, Robert Merrill, Alicia de Larrocha, Loren Hollander, James Galway, Victoria de Los Angeles, Roberta Peters, Claudio Arrau, Richard Stolzman, Leonard Rose, Byron Janis, Lynn Harrell, Andre Watts – the procession of greats drawn to the spotlight of BAM.
New vibrant programs, the brainstorm of Foss: Meet the Moderns, the Marathons, free summer parks concerts, children’s concerts led by the great innovative David Amram. The experimenters came, the visionaries, Foss himself, works by Steve Reich, Charles Ives, Elliott Carter, Samuel Barber, Henry Cowell, Virgil Thomson, William Schuman -- a stage to explore and shock and improvise, a forum for new composers on the cusp, new sounds, new musical adventures.
Author Maurice Edwards, who spent 40 years with the orchestra from the inception of the modern Brooklyn Philharmonic in 1954, culminating in his role as both executive and artistic director, tells the story from his own unique vantage point.
The final ruthless dumping of Foss in search of the elusive younger audience, was followed by Dennis Russell Davies and Robert Spano as music directors, the orchestra never quite recovering its majesty after Foss’ departure.
Read the book. It’s all there.