Last night, the Brooklyn Philharmonic held their annual gala at Steiner Studios, the former Brooklyn Navy Yard way out in the No man’s land between Clinton Hill and Williamsburg. These events are typically mercenary affairs, intended to extract necessary dollars from the wallets of rich patrons in exchange for some rubber chicken, cocktails, and comedy (here courtesy of the "classical comedians" Igudesman and Joo, who came off like a less dignified version of Victor Borge.) Maybe a little dancing.
But, while last night had all of that, it was actually more of a rallying cry, an opportunity for the Brooklyn Phil to restate their reason for being in a borough which is already chock-full of musical outlets, of every stripe. It also brought together all of the Phil’s various stakeholders: not just donors, but composers, community leaders, even the odd hip-hop artist.
“Hip-hop is compatible with all operating systems,” said Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), the Bed-Stuy native and current BPhil Artist-In-residence, who was honored by Artistic Director Alan Pierson. “It's a people’s art movement. It’s an opportunity to tell the story of those not included. And, we're here to share those stories with you, which I hope extends beyond just this season." Speaking of Bed-Stuy, Bey will be performing Derek Bermel's arrangements of his songs there with the Brooklyn Phil on June 9.
Newly-minted Brooklyn Phil CEO Richard Dare followed by telling the story of how he was inspired after seeing Bey on the Bill Maher Show in 2009, standing up to powerhouse intellectuals such as Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens who were arguing for the need to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of safety from terrorism.
"And Yasiin was saying: 'You're missing the point. We need to promote peace.' He was looking at it from a 50,000 foot point of view, while everyone else was just arguing about the here-and-now. And, he was right."
"So, how do we create peace?" Dare continued. "I believe it's through Creativity. Creativity is the fountainhead of everything great about humanity. It is the most important thing we do: it's how we're going to change the world: economically, spiritually, politically. It's really hard work, but it's worth it."
Following dessert, there was dancing and cocktails upstairs, courtesy of Yeasayer's Chris Keating. And, on the way out, gift bags were passed out, just like at any good gala. But, anyone who saw this as just another society party missed the point. Crazy as it may sound, Dare, Pierson and the rest of this rabble crew are onto something special. And I, for one, am happy to see it happening right in my backyard.
More pics on the photo page.