Lincoln Center Brings Music To Essential Workers America's biggest arts complex hasn't been able to present its regular programming due to the pandemic. Watch one of the private outdoor concerts organized for healthcare professionals and teachers.

During A Lonely New York Summer, Lincoln Center Brings Music To Essential Workers

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Lincoln Center in New York has been closed to the public since mid-March, but it has hosted some free mini-concerts for health care providers, teachers and other essential workers. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas went to a recent performance, and she brought us back this.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: The musicians are volunteers from the New York Philharmonic. Kuan Cheng Lu is a first violinist. He chose to play some solo Bach.

KUAN CHENG LU: (Playing violin).

TSIOULCAS: Normally on a warm summer evening, Lincoln Center would be bustling with people of all ages coming to enjoy outdoor concerts and dance parties. Instead, the violinist and an audience of two were by themselves in a quiet grove of trees by a reflecting pool.

LU: (Playing violin).

TSIOULCAS: The performances last about 15 minutes, and each guests can bring up to four family members. Everyone's masked and socially distanced. Michaela Robbins is a nurse practitioner at Mount Sinai Hospital. She brought her husband. During a normal summer, they go to hear the New York Philharmonic play in one of the city's parks.

MICHAELA ROBBINS: It was really nice. It was nice that it was so intimate, that we could enjoy it just the two of us, safely of course. Live music is one of our favorite things to do, so it's definitely - a piece of us has been missing during this whole pandemic, so this was such a treat.

TSIOULCAS: Lincoln Center has been reaching out to health care providers, teachers and other essential workers and inviting them to these occasional mini-concerts. Between performances, arts center staff spray the audience chairs with disinfectant. After Robbins and her husband left, Laura Madera and Jeffrey Ellis-Lee filed in for the evening's final concert.

LU: Hi, there.


JEFFREY ELLIS-LEE: Hi. How are you?

LU: Very good.

TSIOULCAS: Madera is a high school teacher in Manhattan. She says that along with the music, she really appreciated just sitting outside at Lincoln Center and reflecting on what the place represents to her.

MADERA: Lincoln Center's actually my favorite part of the city. It never ceases to amaze me how much a space can be sacred and feel familiar.

TSIOULCAS: She was invited to the concert by Ellis-Lee, another high school teacher. He began tearing up while listening to Lu play.

ELLIS-LEE: I literally sat here and started crying 'cause I walk through here every day on my way back and forth to work, so I haven't been back here since the 13 of March. So just being back here is so powerful. And then hearing music, it really - I mean, I don't want to sound cliche, but it really soothed the soul for a minute. I think that's really what got to me more emotionally 'cause I'm thinking about, I want to get back and do what I'm passionate about and be in front of kids. I don't think I'm going to do that in September. That's the painful reality.

TSIOULCAS: And the New York Philharmonic isn't going to be able to interact with their regular audiences anytime soon either. As of now, they're hoping to be back to their regular schedule in January. Violinist Kuan Cheng Lu says he felt like he needed the experience just as much as his listeners - if not more.

LU: That was magical. I knew this was going to be amazing 'cause I haven't been playing for four months for the general public, so I knew I needed it. Actually, this is more like therapy for me (laughter).

TSIOULCAS: Lincoln Center is planning to bring similarly small-scale concerts to hospitals and other medical facilities in the months ahead.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

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