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Verdi Square To Host Free Concert Series

By Leslie Albrecht | September 16, 2011 5:00pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Verdi Square, the tiny park with a big musical history, will pay tribute to its artistic heritage with a free concert series starting Sunday.

The annual Verdi Square Festival of the Arts kicks off Sept. 18 with a 1 p.m. performance by artists from the Manhattan School of Music. They'll perform selections from Donizetti, Bellini, Lehar, J. Strauss, and of course, Giuseppe Verdi.

The composer's statue has graced the small park, at West 72nd Street and Broadway, since 1906, and festival chairman George Litton says it's only fitting to honor his memory with music.

"The man was a god to musicians, especially opera singers," said Litton, a retired engineer who lives on West 69th Street. "The square has a tremendous musical connection for artists, it’s very meaningful."

Verdi's likeness isn't the only piece of musical history in the park. In the early part of the 20th century, Verdi Park was a favorite hangout for conductor Arturo Toscanini and tenor Enrico Caruso, who lived in the nearby Ansonia apartment building.

George and Ira Gershwin, who lived on Riverside Drive, also spent time at Verdi Square, Litton said.

The concert series, which started in 2006, aims to give young musicians a chance to strut their stuff in front of a live audience; most of the performers are students.

"There's nothing more important for young artists than to perform for a real audience," said Litton. "That's how you find out if you have what it takes to be a performer."

This year's line-up includes highlights from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" on Sept. 25 by artists from Boston's New England School of Music, and selections from American musical theater by performers from Manhattan School of Music on Oct. 2.