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United Palace Theater to Host Classical Music Series with Hip-Hop Flair

By Lindsay Armstrong | September 16, 2014 8:54am
Uptown Arts Group to Launch Classical Music Series at the United Palace
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Youtube/Mike Fitelson

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A nonprofit art center at the storied United Palace Theater is launching a new performance series that aims to bring some classical music to the community with some local flair, including a hip-hop take on a classic holiday tale.

The United Palace of the Cultural Arts' Crackalackin’ Season of Classical Music will feature 10 events beginning next month and lasting through May of next year. The series starts on Oct. 26 with a performance of the children’s composition “Peter and the Wolf” by the Senior Orchestral Society of New York City.

UPCA’s goal is to spark an interest in classical music by giving locals who may not have had the opportunity in the past a chance to experience live performances.

Mike Fitelson, UPCA’s executive director, said the idea grew out of after-school music education programs the nonprofit hosts for local students. Students from the Harmony Program rehearse at the theater five days a week, while students from the WHIN Music Project occupy the space on weekends.

“The idea of re-introducing classical music to the Heights is really based on what we’ve seen our kids do and on their love for the music,” Fitelson said “It’s fantastic to see them opening minds in the community just because they are here playing every day.”

In an effort to help today’s audiences connect with classical music, the concerts will incorporate interactive elements. This will include an orchestra that performs to accompany a video projected on the Palace’s 50-foot screen and an “instrument petting zoo” that will give children attending the concert a chance to interact with various instruments before the performance.

The series also includes the “Hip Hop Nutcracker of Washington Heights,” a new theater piece produced by the UPCA.

Fitelson said he remembers going to see "The Nutcracker" at age eight and being bored throughout most of the performance.

“I didn’t have the right inroad to find myself in the music,” he said. 

By updating the performance to mix hip-hop choreography with Tchaikovsky’s classic score, Fitelson feels "The Nutcracker" can reach a new audience.

“We believe that it will help people in this neighborhood to relate to this beautiful music and that it could become a new holiday tradition,” he said. 

In addition to the Senior Orchestral Society, the season will include performances by the SONOS Chamber Orchestra, the Chelsea Symphony, the New York Youth Symphony and the Rioult Dance Company.

While this is not the first time orchestras have performed at the theater, what sets the program apart is that it is an organized series rather a collection of ad hoc events, organizers said.

“We really want to begin to think about this as a living, breathing series focused on how we translate classical music to contemporary society,” Fitelson said.

All of the events, with the exception of the "Hip Hop Nutcracker" and a benefit concert in May, are free.