Bravo to the 92Y for continuing to fill our lives with music during the past year. The pivot they made to Zoom happened quickly, and our sense of community and shared musical experiences helped us cope. We all know music has been played all over the world on balconies, parks, and Zoom — offering a connection and even routine.
Now there’s a new series of informative and entertaining virtual pre-concert conversations to enjoy. Former WQXR announcer Naomi Lewin is moderating Inside the Concert, with renowned artists featured in the spring concert season. Naomi speaks with performers to illuminate a deeper understanding of some of the music they’ll be playing.
Naomi’s career in radio includes the award-winning weekly program Classics for Kids, which airs on stations across the country, and is also available as a podcast. She has produced programs and arts reports for NPR, intermission features for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, plus podcasts on subjects ranging from 50 Years of Coeducation in the Yale Glee Club to the bicentennial of St. George’s Choral Society. In 2020, Südwestrundfunk in Stuttgart commissioned Naomi to create a two-hour program, in German, celebrating Itzhak Perlman’s 75th birthday.
When asked how the series came about, Naomi said that this is the second she’s done for 92Y School of Music. Naomi continued, “The first series began in August 2020, when I interviewed Aaron Cohen and Marilyn McCoy about a new Mahler podcast they had just launched. We’ll be doing Episode 2, which Aaron likes to call Mahler Strikes Back, when they launch Season 2 in July.”
Naomi has a knack for getting interesting people in the music business who are not often in the limelight to open up and discuss their work. These professionals have included Broadway orchestrators, vocal coaches, and music critics. “Then in February, 2021,” continued Naomi, “the people at 92Y asked if I would host Inside the Concert, speaking with some of the artists who are on their 2021 spring concert series. The idea is to take a closer look at one of the pieces on the program with a discussion that includes the artists playing musical examples, and taking questions from the Zoom audience.”
To prepare for each conversation, Naomi said, “I always bear in mind what I think the audience will be interested in – including what the artists have been doing during the pandemic. I listen to the composition we’ll be discussing, think of questions to ask the performers, and also ask them what they would like to say about the music. Before the session, we also discuss what bits of the piece they might play to illustrate points they’d like to make, and things the audience should listen for.”
Changing the topic a bit, we wondered how a concert goer such as Naomi has been experiencing music during the past year with little or no live performances. “I still remember the first Zoom concert I watched, on March 18, 2020,” shared Naomi, “with mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron and pianist Myra Huang, a close friend of mine. They performed to an empty hall — at 92Y, as it happens — and I was so happy to hear live music, and so moved. That concert also gave me the idea for a 92Y Zoom program with vocal coaches, because Myra is a superb one. Another concert that made me realize how much I missed live music was tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s Living Room Recital last July. He was live, with Myra Huang appearing pre-recorded onscreen as the pianist. The two of them are both so musical that it took my breath away.”
Post-pandemic, Naomi thinks the classical music industry will return, but it will be changed. “People have realized that the way things had been done for a long time cannot be done like that any more,” continued Naomi, “and I think Zoom performances, in some form or another, are here to stay.”
Looking towards Naomi’s shows this spring, she shared, “The one on April 5th is with guitarist Jason Vieaux. We’ll be talking about Jason’s upcoming April 17th 92Y performance (and new CD) of a beautiful piece called Four Paths of Light that Pat Metheney composed for him. On April 22nd, I’m speaking with flutist Brandon Patrick George, who’s performing at 92Y on May 5th. We’ll be talking about a set of variations that Franz Schubert composed for flute that are based on a song from Schubert’s cycle Die schöne Müllerin. Since I’m a singer, it will be fun to speak with Brandon about how Schubert turned the song into a piece for flute, and about the similarities and differences between our “wind instruments.”
There is beautiful music coming our way, and coupled with Naomi’s intelligent and entertaining pre-shows, we are booking the 92Y and looking forward to evenings in April.