A Hurricane Story of Frustration and Inspiration

For those of us on the East Coast last week was dramatic in many ways. The stories of destruction and power outages are by now well told. So today I am sharing with you an email I received from my friend and colleague Charlie Hamlen who works for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which was titled “a story of frustration and inspiration.” It certainly reminded me of why we’re all in this business, and I hope you find it equally moving.

— Gene
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In my relatively new role as VP for Artists & Programs at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, I spent most of last Sunday-Monday-Tuesday arranging and re-arranging various scenarios which would allow us to perform our first Carnegie concert of the current season, scheduled for Thursday night after the storm. Could the conductor, Nicholas McGegan, get here from Florida? His original flight Sunday was canceled. His re-scheduled flight for Wednesday morning was canceled. While waiting to hear if he could find a way to get here for our first rehearsal Wednesday morning at 11:30, I polled lots of colleagues and conductors and managers to see who might be able to step in should he not make it. We had a good back-up plan, just in case. Then Nic managed to drive from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, take a flight to Atlanta, connect to Philadelphia and drive to New York, arriving Tuesday night around midnight. He showed up at 11:15 Wednesday morning in our rehearsal studio at the DiMenna Center, raring to go.

In the meantime, our cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, who was stuck in Chicago after her flight home Sunday was canceled, managed to get a flight to Albany the next day and drive to New York. She was all set to join us for Wednesday afternoon’s rehearsal.

Could the 45 musicians make it here, in spite of no public transportation? A resounding yes. Each and every one of them arrived on time. Some walked from Astoria and Inwood. A few skateboarded. One rode a bike. One arrived on crutches. One drove from New Haven. Several car-pooled. But each and every one showed up on time, warmed up — and all were seated in their chairs when Nic arrived. He has worked with many of them before and there were many warm greetings before he stepped to the podium.

About 15 minutes before the rehearsal began, Katy Clark (our Executive Director) received a call from Clive Gillinson, the Executive Director of Carnegie Hall, with the news that city officials had just informed him that Carnegie would not be allowed to open its doors Thursday night for the concert, due to the state of the partially collapsed crane across the street from the hall on 57th Street. There were no other venues available or appropriate for the concert, so the only option was to cancel.

So, just as Nic was about to take the podium, Katy introduced him, thanked everyone for their heroic efforts in getting here in face of enormous odds, and then shared the news of the cancellation. There was a groan of disappointment, and then everyone in the orchestra and Nic decided to stay and read through the entire program (Mozart and Haydn symphonies and the ‘Chaconne’ from Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’) as a collective restorative moment.

I sat in the back of the rehearsal hall and listened to the energy and commitment and joy of their music-making. I have seldom felt so acutely the true power and transformative beauty of music. Nic told me afterwards that he would have made this entire trip just for that one hour. Afterwards, as I was thanking as many of the musicians as I could get to, there were no complaints, only thanks to all of us for having been so supportive.

And, good news, we have re-scheduled the concert for June 1st.

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