July 9, 2010  |  Events & Programs
Rain or Shine: Summergarden Concerts Go On!

The New Juilliard Ensemble performing at Summergarden

The July 11 opening of Summergarden 2010 draws near. The program book has gone to press. All arrangements are in order. Rehearsals once again show how the remarkable young musicians of the New Juilliard Ensemble can conquer pretty much any musical problem. It is now time to turn our attention to the weather. Before MoMA was reconstructed, Summergarden concerts, which took place on Friday and Saturday evenings, were always held in the Sculpture Garden because there was no alternative. The double performances were good for audiences and performers, but one of their real aims was to hedge against bad weather. Even so, almost every summer had one weekend on which both concerts were rained out. In 1996, however, a hurricane cooperatively stayed on the edge of the city long enough that we could get through almost one-half of the Friday concert. As the persistent drizzle intensified, I made a quick decision to change the program order so that the composer Yves Prin, who had flown over from Paris, would get to hear his piece. It looked, however, like we would lose Pierre Boulez’s Dérive and Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. Sure enough, Yves’s piece was nearly over when a guard quietly informed me that he had to pull the plug. (Apart from what the audience or players felt, MoMA does not permit anyone in the garden when it is wet because of the dangers of slippery surfaces.) I persuaded him to wait ninety seconds so the piece could finish. The audience was really annoyed to have to leave, and the rest of the weekend was a dead loss.

A musician from The New Juilliard Ensemble performing at Summergarden 2009. Photograph by Greg Kessler

Such problems are no longer! Now that MoMA has a grand lobby, we can move indoors if the weather prospects are poor. We know what to do if rain is forecast, but although forecasts have become remarkably good, it is really annoying to move indoors and have no rain, because we can only admit half as many people to a lobby concert. Extreme heat without rain is another problem. Who would not prefer to listen outside, under that glorious sky and with the dramatic view of the glass on the east wall? Well, a lot of people if it’s still ninety-seven degrees at 8:00 p.m. On one occasion—the first Summergarden concert after the Museum’s 2004 reopening—a New York Times critic said he preferred the air conditioning and prayed for rain on the other nights. (His prayers, thankfully, were not met.)

So there is nothing as cheerful as a beautiful, clear, breezy summer evening. We always get huge audiences, and the air could not be more pleasant. Listening to fine music under a clear night sky, with not a mosquito in sight, is truly glorious. Except, it happens, for the musicians. The players’ music dances in the breeze, requiring them, at every page-turn, to remove the giant clothespins that hold the pages in place, turn the page, and replace the clips—all while holding the instrument (or even playing with one hand!). It is a bigger challenge than even the most complicated music. Keep your eyes out for it; it can add entertainment even in the most serious moments.

I invite you to join us for this summer’s program, in which members of The New Juilliard Ensemble will perform New York, U.S., and world premieres of contemporary music embracing a wide range of styles and composers, and two leading jazz trios selected by Jazz at Lincoln Center—Trio 3 and the Don Byron Ivey-Divey Trio—will perform original works. Check out the full schedule.