Meeting Mark Peskanov of Bargemusic
I can imagine going paperless, even Internet-less, but going musicless? Impossible! Thanks to people as energetic and creative as Juilliard-trained violinist, Mark Peskanov, this is unlikely to happen.
Peskanov is the man behind Brooklyn’s ‘Bargemusic’, a series attracting music mavens and sporadic music lovers alike. At least four times a week, the ancient 100-foot barge at Fulton Ferry Landing sways gently to the rhythm of Peskanov’s diverse program offerings featuring emerging, as well as sought-after, performers from the world of classical music and jazz.
This summer, the floating concert hall’s 176 seats were filled daily, sometimes even twice a day. “We present 52 weeks of continuous programming, all year around”, Peskanov explains. “It is, in a real sense, music in motion.”
Bargemusic is very much part of its Brooklyn neighborhood. “A grocery store is open every day of the week, as well”, says Peskanov. “People are used to just showing up, and there is something going on. Some artists – not all of them very well known to the public – perform many times during a season; the choice of programming informs the choices of artists, and vice versa”.
Above all, the series strives to be inclusive. Kids come free, and at $35 a ticket per adult, some families bring many, and come often. “We remain a venue with a friendly, family-style character. When you arrive late for a performance, because the weather is bad, you are not going to stay outside in the rain.”
For a long time, Bargemusic was not even set up to accept credit cards, let alone online booking. All reservations were handled the old-fashioned way – by phone. “We are in the process of adapting, technology-wise”, Peskanov promises.
Word about Bargemusic is spreading, even without a lot of advertising. “Our artists are of a certain level, and we do want to make them happy. It is the personal approach that is really special. I work closely with the artists, and often perform together with them. Many are good friends and acquaintances of mine, and I share my own experiences as a musician. Everything I do is informed by that. I played in many different concert halls, and with many illustrious artists … music is a gift to express.” When talking about his responsibility towards younger performers, Peskanov is taking a page out of the book of Isaac Stern, whom he performed with himself and not only admires as a great artist, but also as a great educator. “The best way to learn is to be on stage. Anything can happen”.
In the early eighties, when his Russian compatriot, Bargemusic founder and violinist Olga Bloom, managed the operation, Peskanov performed at the venue himself.
He remembers: “ ‘Welcome home’, she said to me, and indeed, her unique and charismatic personality made me feel at home right away. It was an intimate arrangement; people were sitting close to the performers. One could feel the dedication to the music in the space, and that gave it a special atmosphere.”
In the mid-nineties, the visionary Bloom, then already in her nineties, called on Peskanov to get involved with the programming and presentation of concerts.
“That went on for about six year, or so”, states Peskanov. “She was particular about what she liked or not, and there would be occasional disagreements with the board of directors. Some people would leave, but she had a vision I believed in. Like a barometer indicating the weather that would influence the current of the East River, upon which the vessel would float more or less calmly, she had a feeling for the balance of music to be programmed. In 2006 I came on board as the president. When I asked her ‘why me?’ she answered: ‘It’s your taste’.
With the current board of directors not really involved in artistic decision-making, Peskanov’s taste still continues to guide the little barge into the mainstream of New York’s music world.
The concept’s ever increasing popularity has attracted broader audiences and opened the doors to new and distinguished venues. The “Here and Now” new music series, as well as the ”Here and Then” early music series attract selective audiences, many of them part of a solid group of longtime Bargemusic aficionados.
It is Peskanov’s dream to franchise the Bargemusic concept to other big cities. Anyone knows of a barge in – let’s say, Chicago? For Bargemusic’s program visit their website.