The New York Philharmonic is best known for grand, formal performances in its Lincoln Center home. But with theaters and concert halls closed by the coronavirus pandemic at least until the end of the year, the orchestra is trying out a decidedly more casual, outdoor and mobile space, with a DIY, yee-haw vibe.
Enter the NY Phil Bandwagon.
It is a rented gray Ford F-250 pickup truck that has been tricked out in red, white and black wrapping. And it — along with Philharmonic musicians — may soon be appearing at street corners near you for short, impromptu chamber events. Pull-up concerts, the orchestra is calling them, rather than pop-ups.
Rolling out this Friday — with a plan to perform Friday through Sunday, three concerts a day, for the next eight weeks — the Bandwagon is designed to counter livestream fatigue among both musicians and audiences, and to keep the orchestra in the city’s consciousness as coronavirus protection policies persist.
“When I think of the orchestra,” Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s chief executive, said in an interview over Zoom, “I think of the orchestra I grew up with. My dad took me to that and the Yankees. I think of it as New York’s orchestra. This is a real way to have a dialogue with parts of the city that isn’t normally what we have done.”
The times and locations of concerts will not be announced, to prevent audiences from getting too large and to allow for the unexpected. (A performance might be added one day, subtracted another.) But the Bandwagon is expected to stop in all five boroughs, and will appear near Lincoln Center. Social distancing will be enforced, and masks will be distributed; participating musicians will be repeatedly tested for the virus and will also wear masks, when possible.
The project is the brainchild of the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who is no stranger to producing elaborate events: Two years ago, he planned an ambitious spectacle that combined the music of Handel and Philip Glass with ballet dancers, painters, video screens and costumes by Raf Simons.
“Deborah might drive the truck,” joked Mr. Costanzo, who was on the Zoom call with Ms. Borda. He added that he viewed the Bandwagon as being in the tradition of legacy Philharmonic outreach efforts like the Young People’s Concerts and Concerts in the Parks.
It has not escaped the orchestra’s notice that many of the neighborhoods it plans to visit are more diverse than its usual audience, and so fit into its broader efforts to expand its offerings — and access to them — at a time of a nationwide reckoning with race.
“We’re reaching out to all the communities we’re going into,” Mr. Costanzo said. “We’re talking to, whether it’s the head of the community council, or different community organizations, to understand, not just what our impact could be, but how can we continue the collaboration. How does this dialogue continue?”
Newly commissioned pieces are expected to be part of the programs, which will feature both Philharmonic players and guest artists, including Mr. Costanzo. Ms. Borda said she was hoping to find corporate sponsorship, though no company has yet signed on in the short period of time since the Bandwagon was conceived. She added that the musicians have been flexible in adapting their often rigid union rules to allow for the many uncertainties of traveling outdoor performance in the middle of the country’s biggest city.
One major uncertainty, though, has been handled by Mr. Costanzo. “I bought a camping toilet and a modesty tent,” he said.