Phil and Phil — Brooklyn’s orchestra teams up with a literary legend

The Brooklyn Paper
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Who said classical music can’t have lyrics?

On March 4, the Brooklyn Philharmonic will team up with legendary wordsmith Phillip Lopate for a concert that will blend the orchestra’s Brooklyn-inspired original score and Lopate’s lyrical words — as well of those written by some of Brooklyn’s most notable literary figures — to weave a musical tapestry that serves as something of a love letter to the borough.

“We’re trying to re-imagine the orchestra as a connection point,” said Alan Pierson, the recently anointed artistic director of the group, that’s already performed with such antithetical figures such as the hip-hop artist Yasiin Bey, (AKA Mos Def) — the philharmonic’s new artist-in-residence — in his short tenure. “In addition to having its own tradition, the orchestra can be very versatile.”

Brooklyn-born Lopate, who’s penned works of poetry and fiction as well as essays and criticism, will read selections from some of the borough’s emblematic texts — Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Paul Auster’s “The Brooklyn Follies,” and his own recent essay, “Brooklyn the Unknowable” — to create a musical landscape that harks back to the Brooklyn of past, and embraces the Brooklyn of present, where artists like the Brooklyn Philharmonic are embracing the borough as the city’s creative nucleus.

“It’s important to accept that Brooklyn is a changing place, but there is still a lot that is characteristically ‘Brooklyn’ here,” Lopate said in an exclusive interview. “Although now that Brooklyn is becoming more popular, it’s going to have a hard time holding on to its beautiful losers mentality.”

A changing borough has changing musical tastes, it seems: the Philharmonic will play music from homegrown composers like Aaron Copeland and George Gershwin, but classical is not the first genre of music that comes to mind with Brooklyn these days.

“I would think it would be something more like Salsa and Klezmer with some Blues thrown in,” said Lopate.

The Brooklyn Philharmonic with Phillip Lopate: “Living in Brooklyn” at Brooklyn Heights Public Library [280 Cadman Plaza W. between Johnson and Tillary streets, (718) 623-7100] Mar. 1, 6:30 pm and a the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch [10 Grand Army Plz. between Plaza Street East and Underhill Avenue (718) 230-2100] Mar. 4, 4 pm. For more info, visit

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at
Updated 5:40 pm, March 1, 2012
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