Many New Yorkers are just getting out of bed on a weekday at 8 a.m., but yesterday morning I encountered a crowdful of them cheerfully waiting in line at Lincoln Center.
The occasion? Eight o’clock was the appointed hour for tickets to today’s New York Philharmonic free 9:45 a.m. dress rehearsal—first-come, first served, one ticket per person—for its opening night program tonight. Just about every arts organization tries to create some buzz about its programming at the traditional September start of the cultural season, and the lure of free stuff (or cheap tickets as I learned back in April) always draws a crowd in the city. So there we all were, a bit sleepy but smiling.
The Phil ran this ticket giveaway last year, but with most of the fountain plaza closed off due to the big Lincoln Center reconstruction project, the logistics were a little more complicated this time, with the line emerging from scaffolding near Avery Fisher Hall and snaking its way down Columbus Avenue. During the half hour I spent in line, people arrived at the rate of about 20 or 30 a minute, with the line stretching from about 64th Street at 7:50 to 62nd Street at 8:20. People in the line who have done this before didn’t seem too worried about a shortage of tickets—Avery Fisher Hall has more than 2,500 seats. Philharmonic employees visited the line periodically, giving out free tote bags, and security officers made sure the crowd stayed in two even lines and didn’t take over the entire sidewalk.
Here are some of the people who schlepped to Lincoln Center this morning. I met a retired nurse from the East Side who goes to a lot of concerts; she was living just a few blocks away in 1964, as Lincoln Center was being built. There were two Japanese women, one of whom had been in New York for a year learning English, and there was a substitute teacher from Leonia, New Jersey, who was joining a friend who frequently attends free events like Parks concerts and dress rehearsals. The line looked to be about two-thirds women; two of the men I met were a worker at the nearby Church of the Latter Day Saints, where his job doesn’t start until noon, and someone whose wife had received an e-mail yesterday about today’s event. (She couldn’t go, but he was free.) I encountered a woman who lives just down the street; she normally takes her grandson to school in Chelsea in the morning, but got her son-in-law to substitute so she could come to the dress rehearsal today. Near the end of the line was a nutritional educator/consultant, a mother of two, who first got her kids off to school and then rushed to Lincoln Center to grab a ticket. Almost everyone mentioned the fact that tickets for the Philharmonic’s evening concerts are generally priced out of their reach (discount coupons for future concerts were also distributed at this morning’s event).
According to a Philharmonic worker, the first person in line reportedly arrived at 4:30 a.m. Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the starting time of the concert itself, he and many others who attended today’s dress rehearsal may be nodding off, heads pleasantly filled with the sounds of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and Ibert’s Flute Concerto. In fall 2009, Lincoln Center plans to open a new visitor center on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Street that will have regular and TKTS-style tickets for sale—where I expect I’ll run into some of the same people I met at today’s free dress rehearsal.