Orchestration

It was cold and already dark by 7pm, but every Wednesday night the members of the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra climbed the crumbling steps of Our Savior New York, a church on West 57th Street to rehearse. They came from all over New York City, carrying instrument cases and backpacks, to squeeze into Our Savior's too-small auditorium where they would spend the next two and a half hours running through Beethoven and Brahms. 

The conductor Tong Chen made sure every note was right, and frequently stopped the music to explain how a passage should sound: "it's ba ba ba BAM, not bababa bam" she would say. The orchestra was practicing for their second concert in the 2016-2017 season where they would perform with the flute soloist David Ordovsky, and they had only a few weeks to get it down.

 Most of the members of the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra are not professional musicians and many hold jobs unrelated to music, but almost all of them joined because they love to play. The orchestra is a hobby. A common refrain I heard was a desire to play orchestral music after college and to be a part of a community. Most people I spoke to have been a part of NASO for years and the orchestra has become an extended family of sorts.

NASO was started in 1976 by six amateur musicians who became disillusioned by the way their community orchestra was being run, so they decided to start their own. Now in its 40th season, the orchestra performs four times a year and four of the original six still play regularly.

I had the privilege to shoot behind the scenes at NASO's rehearsals and their February 10th concert at Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It was a pleasure to see the camaraderie between the orchestra members, and to see the performance come together over a month of rehearsals.

Sean Ormiston, 31, from New York, NY warms up alongside a child-sized table with crafts left over from a previous church event. 

To pass the time in between their performance sections, some orchestra members brought reading material.

With limited space within Our Savior New York, the orchestra took advantage of nearly every flat surface to store their instrument cases and personal items.  

Conductor Tong Chen stops the rehearsal to explain how a specific passage should sound. 

Our Savior New York doubles--or maybe triples--as a practice space, community center and art gallery. 

Steven-Jon Billings from Phoenix, AZ doesn't always play with the orchestra, but he fills in when he's needed. Reading music off of a digital device wasn't uncommon, but Billings was the only one that I saw who read the music off of his mobile phone.

For the last rehearsal before the February 10th concert, the orchestra moved to a new rehearsal location at Christ and Saint Stephen's church on West 69th Street. The space was even smaller than Our Savior New York, but the orchestra squeezed in, sharing music stands and pushing their chairs as close together as possible.

Before changing into their black concert outfits, the orchestra runs through a last-minute practice.

Tong Chen leads the orchestra through sound check, ironing out a few kinks in their performance before Symphony Space's doors opened.

David Ordovsky performs Ibert's Flute Concerto.

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