Not only is Bargemusic the only venue in Brooklyn Heights that hosts regular concerts, but it might also be the world’s only barge that is a performance space dedicated to chamber music. Some 200 classical concerts a year are held on the renovated ship, which is moored at the Fulton Ferry Landing at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bargemusic at the Fulton Ferry Landing. Image: Joe Mabel/Flickr
The founder of Bargemusic, Olga Bloom, had been a professional violinist, performing with the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and in the orchestras of numerous Broadway musicals. After retiring in 1976, she decided to address the lack of small performance spaces for classical artists outside of Manhattan by acquiring one of her own. Rather than invest in a building, Bloom opted for a boat: a 102-foot-long barge, built in 1899, that had formerly been used to transport coffee. A tugboat owner informed Bloom of the free slip by the Brooklyn Bridge; to save even more money, she did much of the renovation work herself—some of the paneling and benches came from a retired Staten Island ferry—and even lived on the boat for a while. In addition to improving the acoustics and creating seating for 130 people (later expanded to 150), Bloom added large windows so that concertgoers could gaze out at the lower Manhattan skyline as they listened.
The first Bargemusic concerts were held in 1977. Bloom remained its driving force until 2005, when at the age of 86 she named Mark Peskanov president and artistic director. She continued to perform on the boat periodically, however, including at her 90th birthday celebration, less than three years before her death. A violinist like Bloom, Peskanov has performed with Yo-Yo Ma, Isaac Stern, the New York Philharmonic, and the London Symphony Orchestra, among many others.
Bargemusic hosts concerts just about every Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon. In addition it presents free hour-long concerts on Saturday afternoons. Dubbed the “Music in Motion” series, a nod to the East River’s gentle rocking of the barge, these concerts are tailored for families and include a question-and-answer session with the musicians.
Among recent and upcoming concerts are two New York premieres: John Aylward’s “Flux Ripple Flutter” on May 25 and Gerard Schwarz’s “Two Duos for Violin and Cello” on May 26 and 27. Works by such masters as Bach, Chopin, Handel, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Schubert are, of course, frequently heard as well. Debussy was the subject of two concerts in April commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death; later that month a performance paid tribute to Leoš Janaček.