Few things compare to the exuberance and enchantment of a summer in New York City. That’s largely due to the season’s unparalleled community programming set to the backdrop of the city’s most treasured outdoor concert venue, Central Park. Whether in Rumsey Playfield, home to the SummerStage Festival, or Shakespeare in the Park housed at the Delacorte Theatre, city residents and tourists alike find an added measure of performance magic within the city’s premier natural haven. Like clockwork, this June 17–25, tens of thousands of concertgoers will descend upon the Great Lawn to celebrate the 50th anniversary of New York Philharmonic’s Concerts in the Parks series. And like all other summers, it will be an event of great revelry.
Much of the charm of the Classical/Pops Festival, held annually in December on the island of Barbados, parallels the merriment experienced at N.Y. Phil’s concerts in Central Park. While there’s a certain majesty associated with hearing and seeing the full orchestral element in an outdoor environment, it must be noted how much of an unlikely social gathering this event turns out to be. For starters, entire communities, frequently both youthful and more ethnically diverse, arrive early to stake out the real estate of the Great Lawn for prime picnicking.
The idea of being there for an elite classical experience from centuries past (albeit often with contemporary pop-star collaborations) is juxtaposed with an ultra-relaxed party space where traditional symphony rules go out the window. This is because the main goal is to have a good time! Survey the crowd of packed blankets and you’ll find gourmet potlucks of lobster rolls, pasta salads, and vintage champagne accompanied by lively conversation, spirited dancing, and spontaneous clapping. After sunset, as the orchestra performs and stars begin to speckle the dense New York skyline, a hush may fall over certain parts of the audience seated closer to the stage. Fireworks at the end of the event signify the life moments that emerge across the lawn as the symphony plays: first dates, marriage proposals, and generations of family outings.
There are certainly other great “Central Park” experiences around the country. L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl has hosted a namesake symphony invented to “cut across artificial barriers to become an orchestra for all tastes.” Its conductor, Thomas Wilkins, joins Classical/Pops for a second consecutive season. Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood is another longstanding outdoor concert experience which has captivated audiences in the Berkshires and has similarly fostered an arms race of ever more gourmet picnic baskets and fine wines. Across the pond, BBC Proms in Hyde Park is Britain’s largest outdoor classical music event and arguably the world’s biggest classical/pops party. Similarly, the Classical/Pops Festival Barbados is nurturing this splendid tradition at the Apes Hill Club, St. James in Barbados this December 11–12. With the memory of N.Y. Phil in Central Park fading and warily awaiting winter’s chill, it is certain that, come December, you will be in the mood for an all-star orchestra, amazing headliners, beautiful beaches, world-class golf, great food, and, of course, rum! Just think, revisiting the party atmosphere of N.Y. Phil in the Park, but doing it in the sunny Caribbean in mid-December … how can you resist?