Esa-Pekka Salonen walked on stage to join the New York Philharmonic, which had not gathered before an audience for exactly 400 days. “On behalf of all us on stage, welcome back,” the conductor told the crowd Wednesday night (April 14). “We have been dreaming of this moment for a long time.” The philharmonic gave its first public performance after of a historic hiatus of more than 13 months caused by the coronavirus pandemic, playing at the Shed in Brookfield Place, about 2 miles from its under-renovation Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
“I’m kind of on a euphoric high right now, because I missed it more than I realized,” concertmaster Frank Huang said afterwards. There was a reduced force of 23 strings — all masked — and no brass or woodwinds for a program that lasted one hour: Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte,” Jean Silbelius’ “Rakastava (The Lover)” and Richard Strauss’ “Metamorphosen.” The cavernous Shed, which opened in April 2019, had a masked audience of 150 spaced out in groups of one and two folding chairs, about 10 feet between each set, in a venue that usually seats about 1,200.
There were electronic tickets with timed entry, and temperatures were taken upon entry. Each person had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of having completed vaccination at least 14 days earlier. During the gap, many musicians taught. They had the benefit of continued but reduced salaries, a contrast to their Lincoln Center neighbor the Metropolitan Opera, which stopped pay for its unionized employees for long periods. The last time the Philharmonic had gathered before an audience was on March 10 last year for a night of Claude Debussy compositions with mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and conductor Louis Langree.