On Tuesday the New York Philharmonic announced that they were canceling their free summer Concerts In The Parks for 2011. The orchestra said that the musicians need time off and that they will perform a free concert with tenor Andrea Bocelli in September in Central Park. But the announcement seemed to have caught parks officials and caterers (not to mention the general public) by surprise. I can't find it now, but I read an article yesterday that quoted an Upper West Side caterer who said she had prepared bags for pre-made meals that she sells to hungry concert-goers.
I know that the orchestra is busy year-round -- their season ends in late June and begins in September, with a stop in Vail, Colorado for a music festival -- but it's odd that they used "scheduling conflicts" as an excuse. I have a feeling that some of the sponsors decided not to participate this year. Those concerts may be free to the public (and partially taxpayer-funded, as the New York Daily News pointed out in an editorial yesterday), but they're not free by any stretch.
I don't think the orchestra is obligated to perform in the parks each summer. I appreciate that they do it. For some New Yorkers, it's the only exposure they get to classical music all year. And while the concerts have devolved into excuses for people to picnic in the park and chat with friends, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of us who are just trying to enjoy the music, I think these concerts still fulfill a vital cultural role in New York. The Philharmonic says the concerts will return next summer. I hope that they do.