Lincoln Center Offers Intimate Private Performances for Essential Workers

There haven’t been any live public performances at America’s biggest arts center since mid-March. But New York’s Lincoln Center has been hosting some free mini concerts for healthcare providers, teachers and other essential workers, featuring just one or two volunteer musicians and audiences of about five people. Most of the musicians are volunteers from the New York Philharmonic.

Prior to COVID, Lincoln Center enjoyed hosting various musical performances both in it’s halls and outside in nearby Central Park during summer nights. Now, a violinist performs in the backyard of a working nurse and she is surrounded by a handful of family members. Everyone listens attentively while wearing masks and sitting 6ft apart from one another.

“It was nice that it was so intimate that we could enjoy it, just the two of us and safely, of course,” she says. “Live music is one of our favorite things to do. So it’s definitely a piece of us that’s been missing during this whole pandemic. This was such a treat.”

The meticulous nature of keeping these private performances safe extends into the finale. Once the performance is concluded, staff disinfect each seat before the performance is officially “concluded.”

Madera, a teacher at  the New Design High School, says that it wasn’t just the music she appreciated- it was the act of sitting somewhere new and having experiencing a sense of change- something that has become a lost commodity in a year of monotonous repetition.

“I literally sat here and started crying because I walk through here every day on my way back and forth to work,” he says. “I haven’t been back here since the thirteenth of March. So just being back here is so powerful and then hearing music, it really — I mean, I don’t want to sound clichéd, but it really soothed the soul for a minute.”

Ellis-Lee says that even with everyone masked, he could see the joy on Lu’s face as he played. “I think that’s really what got to me more emotionally,” Ellis-Lee observes, “because I’m thinking about what I want to get back and do, what I’m passionate about — be in front of kids. And I don’t think I’m going to do that in September. That’s the painful reality.”

Speaking after his performance, Lu says he felt like he needed the experience just as much as his listeners — if not more. Like Ellis-Lee, he hadn’t been back to Lincoln Center since March 13th.

“That was magical,” he exclaims. “I knew this was going to be amazing because I haven’t been playing for four months for the general public, so I knew I needed it. Actually, this is more like a therapy for me.”

In the months ahead, Lincoln Center is planning to bring similarly small-scaled concerts to hospitals and other medical facilities.