The borough’s rebound is palpable along a waterfront striving at urban magic. Bargemusic opened 40 years ago amid abandoned warehouses and riverfront weeds as the rather impossible dream of Olga Bloom, a violinist who used her widow’s mite to buy the barge, panel its interior and install a picture window to overlook Manhattan’s skyscrapers. She talked gifted friends and rising prodigies in New York’s sizable classic music community to come aboard and play what she called “uncompromising music.”
The barge resounded with creativity, taking root in the city’s cultural life well before the new Brooklyn waterfront. A neighboring restaurant, The River Café, was another pioneer that cheered innovators below the arching Brooklyn Bridge.
“I remember the old neighborhood at night could be pretty grim,” said Gina Peluso, another waterfront traditionalist who runs Grimaldi’s pizzeria down the block from Bargemusic. Now the nights are crowded and buoyant with young residents and tourists. Ms. Peluso sagely uses the local argot to differentiate a Dumbo Trust Fund Baby from a Williamsburg Hipster.
Adaptation to the new Brooklyn is the key shared by Grimaldi’s pies and Bargemusic’s chef d’oeuvres. “Olga would be amused,” Mr. Peskanov says of the founder, who died six years ago. He has adjusted to new and younger audiences by offering two separate one-hour concerts on weekends “so people can get out sooner to enjoy all the local food and drink there is now.”
He finds no problem when young parents show up intent on steeping their fidgeting offspring in Bach when free concerts are offered. “I’ll stop and tell the kids did you know J.S. Bach had 20 children? Imagine daddy coming home and playing for all those kids what I will now play for you.” What works is a gavot from the Partita No. 3 by Bach for Solo violin. “They can dance to it just like an Irish Gig,” explained the maestro.
Soaring with Bach is one way for both artist and audience to rise above the waterfront’s sense of affluent encroachment. A new hotel displaced Bargemusic’s old parking lot. The noise and wakes from the ferry can provide distractions amid an introspective sonata. And from across the river came the city’s recent notice that after 40 years of celebrated residency the nonprofit music group would have to bid competitively to renew its lease.
Board members like DeBorge Pinnington, a composer and full-throated soprano, stepped forward to brace Mr. Peskanov for all the paper work and lawyering. “We are not going under,” she firmly declared Friday, having just been notified that they won the bidding for a new lease. Bargemusic will remain tied up for another 20 years as the Brooklyn waterfront keeps changing.
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