Vision Festival 17
Richard Dare on Why Classical Concerts Suck

Yasiin Bey, Leslie Uggams and the Brooklyn Philharmonic

Bkphil08 (Photo: Dave Sanders)

On a balmy Saturday afternoon, the Brooklyn Phil wrapped up their 2012 reboot season with a free outdoor concert at Bed-Stuy's Restoration Plaza in front of thousands of locals, many of whom were seeing the Philharmonic - or, for that matter, any orchestra - for the first time. The plaza, ringed by fast food joints and aging brownstones, was hardly a traditional concert setting, but the intensity and drama of the music somehow mirrored the sirens that rushed in and out of the soundscape, sitting in as just another section in the Urban Philharmonic.

As with other Brooklyn Phil concerts this season, Saturday's program was designed to reflect Bed-Stuy's rich and vibrant culture, particularly in the fields of jazz and hip hop. Such ventures are mutually beneficial, humanizing the orchestra while amplifying the impact of popular music via the orchestra's considerable musical power. 

On the first half of the program, Music Director Alan Pierson led the orchestra in two "remixes" of Beethoven's Eroica symphony by D.J. Eddie Marz, arranged by Andrew Norman. (More info about the Brooklyn Philharmonic Beethoven Remix Project here.) Then, Linda Twine led the orchestra in a tribute to Bed-Stuy native Lena Horne, with special guest Leslie Uggams delivering swooning renditions of "Stormy Weather" and "Lady is a Tramp," among other standards.

Yasiin Bey 2(Photo: Jackie Tran)

After a short intermission that brimmed with anticipation, Bed-Stuy native Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) entered to a wild ovation, with eager fans climbing railings for a glimpse.  “I grew up around here,” Bey continually proclaimed in pure amazement.

Bey, dressed in a stunning white suit, performed both his own music (“Life in Marvellous Times” and “Revalations,” both arranged by Derek Bermel) and Beethoven's, rapping over the 7th Symphony. (See video below.) The collaboration made sense on many levels, reflecting the high regard contemporary hip-hop has for classical music. 

But, the Brooklyn Phil still deserves immense credit for striking the right balance between straight and celebrity music, without falling down the "crossover" rabbit hole. Much of that has to do with Pierson and BPhil CEO Richard Dare putting in the necessary time to warm up the community and sift through the many musical options - good and bad - placed before them. Many orchestras these days pay little more than lip service to the "outreach" part of their mission; for the Brooklyn Phil, it's become almost second-nature.

The only real question is: why hasn't anyone thought of this before? And, when will it happen next?

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), rapper
Leslie Uggams, voice
String players from the Noel Pointer Foundation Youth String Orchestra
Alan Pierson and Linda Twine, conductors
Brooklyn Philharmonic

Beethoven Symphony no. 3Finale
Two Beethoven remixes, arr. Andrew Norman
Lena Horne Tribute
Cole Porter, From this Moment On written for Out of This World (1951)
Fats Waller and Andy Razaf, Honeysuckle Rose (1928)
Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, Lady is a Tramp from Babes in Arms (1937)
Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Stormy Weather (1933)
Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) arr. Derek Bermel, Life in Marvelous Times (2008) and other songs

Leslie Uggams
Photo: Dave Sanders