Philharmonic brings fireworks to Van Cortlandt Park


By Kevin Deutsch

When bass trombonist James Markey plays with the rest of the New York Philharmonic orchestra in Van Cortlandt Park Thursday, the comforts of the world’s great concert halls will seem far away.

The park offers no great acoustics, nor protection from swarming bugs, muggy weather or evening showers. But Mr. Markey would rather play there than most any other venue. He lives just up the road on West 240th Street, takes his wife and kids to the park regularly, and plays tennis there when he’s not participating in the Philharmonic’s grueling practice schedule. Playing Van Cortlandt Park, he says, offers a chance to perform for his home crowd.

“I’ll have friends in the audience who hear about what I do, but don’t get to see me play,” said Mr. Markey, 34, a 12-year-veteran of the Philharmonic. “It will be nice to be on our home turf, to have familiar faces in the crowd. Van Cortlandt is a wonderful place to perform.”

Thousands are expected at the 8 p.m. performance, part of the Philharmonic’s Concerts in the Parks series. The free concert will be the Philharmonic’s 42nd performance at Van Cortlandt Park. They first played there in 1971, and have drawn throngs of classical music lovers and first-time symphony-goers from across the Bronx ever since.

Concertgoers will be treated to Mahler’s First Symphony; an accessible piece of music that Mr. Markey describes as highly tonal, with climactic moments and a sadder, more lamenting movement sandwiched around three quickened, more intense movements

“It’s just a beautiful piece of music with some very poignant moments,” Mr. Markey said. “I think people will really relate to it.”

Certainly anyone can relate to the fireworks that come at the end of the concert.

The performance will also be among the Philharmonic’s first under the direction of incoming Music Director Alan Gilbert. He replaces Lorin Maazel, 79, who gave up the post in June after seven years at the helm.

Thursday’s concert is expected to take place under clear skies, with temperatures in the 70s. If temperatures climb into the 80s, or if humidity is high, it could present difficulties for Philharmonic players.

“It can be a challenge for us, especially if it’s really hot and humid and sticky and muggy,” said Mr. Markey. “But seeing all the people in the audience and how much they appreciate it, at Van Cortlandt in particular, makes it worthwhile.”

Classical music lovers in Riverdale have been looking forward to the show for weeks.

“We’ve got our chairs ready and we’ll have lots of nice food with us,” said Clair Donohue, a Spuyten Duyvil resident and classical music lover who’s attended the last two philharmonic concerts at Van Cortlandt Park. “It’s one of the nicest evenings of the year.”

Mr. Markey said Thursday’s concert will be a fine one for people who haven’t heard much classical music, but want to learn more about it.

“Central Park might be more of a wine and cheese crowd, whereas Van Cortlandt Park is more of a place for people just looking to have a good time and enjoy the music,” said Mr. Markey. “That’s a great pleasure for us.”