This past Spring, I bumped into an old friend and classmate of mine from Juilliard, the composer and producer, Paola Prestini. We hadn't seen each other in years and she caught me up on the latest details in her life: her marriage to Jeff Zeigler (former cellist of the Kronos Quartet), their young son Tommaso, and her new role as creative director for an impressive new venue being built in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "It's called Original Music Workshop" she told me, "it's going to be amazing!" She explained that the Original Music Workshop will be a 24/7, state-of-the-art concert hall, recording studio, and non-profit home for young composers and performing artists- a place where one can hear bands, listen to chamber music, or record a 70 piece orchestra. "It's going to open next year" she said, "and there's going to be a restaurant too."
Toward the end of our conversation, Paola informed me of the concerts they'd been hosting during their "virtual season," a series of private preludes to what would be available to everyone. One had included butterfly-shaped kites flown through the still roofless building, and had been ranked by New York magazine as one of the top 10 classical music concerts of 2012. She then spoke of an upcoming fundraising dinner and asked if I'd like to perform for it. Their mission, the people, and the music, were right up my alley. And it got even better -- OMW is a mere two blocks from my apartment. I told her to count me in.
A few weeks later, toward the end of May, I found myself sound checking in an old sawdust factory on North 6th St for an evening billed as "An Experience In The Ruins." Gone were the hard hats and scaffolding, cement mixers and tools. The spacious hall was completely transformed, lit by hundreds of candles, projections and decorations by Helena Christensen, and the musty odor of construction had been replaced by a specially designed fragrance. Among the many talented performers on stage that evening were Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega, and Netsayi and Black Pressure, a remarkable band from Zimbabwe. The dinner guests included Bono, The Edge, and Julianne Moore. It was an extraordinary evening, and Paola had pulled it all off with style and grace.
Having lived in the neighborhood for nearly a decade, and been a musician in New York for nearly two decades, I knew what an ambitious undertaking this must have been. To purchase an old factory, hire the top designers, architects, and acousticians, and to have the vision of building something this impressive would have required drive and determination, not to mention some deep pockets.
Enter Kevin Dolan, founder of Original Music Workshop.
A humble and soft spoken man, Kevin is a former tax attorney from Washington D.C. who used to play the organ and has a deep passion for music. So deep in fact, that he decided to put up $8 million (of the $15 million needed) to create a home for music without peer, not only in New York, but anywhere. When I asked Kevin about why he felt a place like this needed to exist, he said:
"I have realized, as I have grown older, how fundamental music is to our being. There is a creative power in music, but also a curative -- almost spiritual -- property, which for some is a salvation of sorts. So the basic purpose of OMW is to help composers and musicians who may need a boost, and to nurture in them and their listeners the creative and healing power of music. It's really not more complicated than that."
I was absolutely floored. I found Kevin to be one of the best possible supporters for the arts that I've ever encountered; a person who not only puts his money where his mouth is, but who has a true sense of why music is so important. Here was a person investing most of what he had, swinging for the fences, to insure that the music kept playing.
Since the summer, Original Music Workshop has raised $3 million, and they're still looking for more philanthropic investors. It will take a special kind of person or company to get involved with OMW, as it's not your typical uptown, old money organization. It may require a younger, bolder, and more creative individual, to help match the vision that Kevin and Paola so clearly possess. Here's hoping the OMW dream becomes a reality.