Olga Bloom, creator of the beloved Bargemusic, dies at 92

Olga Bloom, creator of the beloved Bargemusic, dies at 92
File photo by Greg Mango

Olga Bloom — the spirited violinist who gave up her performing career to create Bargemusic, the 34-year-old floating concert hall on the Fulton Ferry Landing in DUMBO — died on Thanksgiving Day at age 92.

The brilliant and outspoken musician died at an Alzheimer’s care facility in Manhattan, said Mark Peskanov, Bargemusic’s director, leaving a legacy of supporting young classical musicians in a venue unlike any other.

“What Olga did was unprecedented — she wasn’t taking after somebody,” said Peskanov, a fellow violinist and longtime friend. “She had a big heart and a big mind and she expressed it very well. People loved her.”

Bloom was 57-years-old in 1976 when she left her career of opera house and Broadway performances to renovate a 100-foot coffee barge, creating a simple stage for Bach concertos and Haydn quartets — one with breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline.

Friends and fellow musicians said that Bloom made the barge her home.

“She welcomed everyone with open arms,” said classical pianist Jeffrey Biegel. “There were times I would come there to rehearse and she would be sleeping. She said, ‘Practice lasted late last night. I slept over because I knew you were coming.’ ”

Bargemusic presents more than 200 concerts annually, 52 weeks a year, and offers a monthly free show for the community. Bloom herself often performed, making a special appearance at her 90th birthday bash in 2009.

“It’s a rare treat to play with Olga,” Peskanov told The Brooklyn Paper in 2004. “She’s one of the most dedicated musicians, arriving [at the barge] by 7 am and putting in hours of practicing.”

Bloom handed the reins to Peskanov in 2005, having transformed the 130-seat space into a serious venue for professional musicians, including members of the London and New York Philharmonics.

Olga Bloom was born in Boston on April 2, 1919 to a Russian father, who worked as labor organizer, and an Austrian-born mother, who worked in shoe factories.

She studied the viola at Boston University and at the New England Conservatory of Music by offering her talents for free to the school orchestra. “That’s the way we poor ones worked it,” she told People magazine in 1998.

Bloom was an accomplished violinist, as this pre-2001 photo shows.
File photo by Greg Mango

Over the years, Bloom worked with a USO orchestra and film companies — performing background music for movies, and Broadway orchestra pits.

She lost a husband in World War II and later married violinist Tobias Bloom a week after meeting him. He performed with NBC’s Symphony Orchestra until it left the radio in 1954.

When performance opportunities began to disappear, she brainstormed ways to live creatively. That’s when she heard of a barge for sale.

In 1975, after Bloom’s death, she mortgaged her home to buy it, and lived on the barge for the first few years before moving to Red Hook.

The longshoremen of the once-desolate piers near Fulton Ferry Landing helped her sand wood that she salvaged from a discarded ferry boat.

“The moment I saw the barge, I knew it was perfect acoustically,” Bloom told WNYC in a 2009 interview.

Peskanov remembers Bloom as a straightforward, energetic woman who was committed to the cause of music, even if it meant twisting arms to get what she wanted.

“She had a very interesting phrase,” Peskanov said. “When people started to tell her what to do, she would look around and say, ‘Go get your own barge!’ She wanted me to remember that.”

Bloom is survived by her brother, Andrew Bayrack, and her niece Selene Castrovilla of Long Island, who wrote a novel based on helping Bloom refurbish the barge.

A special memorial concert for Bloom will be held at Bargemusic at a date to be determined.

Reach Kate Briquelet at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

Violinist Mark Peskanov was a regular at Bloom’s Bargemusic.
File photo by Tom Callan