Amy Lam joined the 92nd Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at an enormously challenging time, not just for the institution but for the world. To speak with her, though, it’s a time of opportunity for the longstanding New York City institution.

Amy Lam
© The 92nd Street Y, New York

Lam started in her role as Vice President of Tisch Music in the institution’s Tisch Center for the Arts in November. With the new job came bookings to reschedule and holes to fill in the wake of the pandemonium the pandemic played on concert seasons everywhere. “For the most part, it was a mad scramble,” she tells me.

It was an unusual way to start a new job overseeing a high-profile concert series. Seasons are usually booked at least a couple of years in advance. But Lam was tasked with programming the upcoming season as soon as she started.

She also arrived at a time of change for the school, cultural and community center. The venue, long known familiarly as “92Y”, has recently renamed itself “92NY”. And one of its performance spaces, Buttenwieser Hall, is undergoing renovation as a part of a $200 million upgrade for the two buildings which have been the organization’s home since 1900. Founded in 1874 as the New York Young Men’s Hebrew Association, the organization bounced between rental spaces in Manhattan before finding its permanent home at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

Lam now calls the Upper East side home. Having relocated from Massachusetts – where she lived for the last 30 years, most recently working as artistic director for Celebrity Series of Boston, she now lives just blocks from her new job. It’s not her first stint in the city. After receiving her MBA in Arts Administration from Binghamton University in upstate New York, she moved down and got a job as an arts publicist. Now she’s back, with her own programs to publicize and her own hall to fill.

A rendering of what Buttenwieser Hall will look like after renovation is completed
© © The 92nd Street Y, New York

In addition to the impressive new hall and the name change, the 92NY is looking to maintain and expand upon the web-based cultural and educational programming that was developed under the pandemic lockdown. With her first season launching in October, Lam is working on holding on to that online presence, to embrace the new while keeping hold of tradition.

“Tisch has always had very strong classical music programming,” she said. “That has always been the case. And when the pandemic hit, 92NY was one of the first to live stream, to be able to flip around overnight into a digital company. I really find that completely inspiring. I watched that and I thought: this institution is bold!”

92NY was also one of the first in the city to open its doors to live programming once the restrictions were lifted. “I remember being in Boston and thinking: Can I just go down and see that? Because we were so starved,” she says.

Moving forward, live-streaming will still be an important part of Tisch programming, according to Lam. “Online programming has allowed us to do something we were never able to do in the past, and that’s reaching communities outside our area,” she explains. “It’s one way to really provide programming to a wide range of communities we weren’t able to reach before”.

About half the people buying tickets for 92NY’s streamed concerts were tuning in from outside the metropolitan area, Lam tells me, effectively doubling the institution’s reach during lockdown. Since they reopened their doors, they have seen strong in-person turnout and audiences skewing younger than in past years. Lam attributes the shift in demographics to people anxious to go out again and try new things.

The coming season will continue to reward those ready to take a risk, as well as satisfy the stalwarts who come for the classics. And the concerts will still be available online, streaming live and available on demand for a short time after the webcast. “I think the audience is a lot more curious than we give them credit for,” she says. “They want new things. They heard this concert and they enjoyed it and they want to say: Okay, what’s next?”

Perhaps appealing to that sensibility, the 40 concerts in the 2022-23 calendar are being presented as a single season, rather than being broken into genre-specific series. “You look at the season and you can, hopefully, tell the breadth right away,” Lam tells me. “You want the season to demonstrate what the industry is doing. You want performances that are diverse in terms of race and in terms of where they are in their career.”

Kaufmann Concert Hall
© The 92nd Street Y, New York
Toward that end, the 2022-23 season will see younger composers and performers, and more commissions of new works than have generally been seen on the 92NY stage in the past. While Bach, Beethoven, Boccherini and Brahms will all fill Kaufmann and Buttenwieser Hall, the upcoming roster also includes works by the composer Julius Eastman – three different concerts by the ensemble Wild Up in April – whose radical mid-20th-Century works have gained new notice in recent years. Recent settings of James Joyce, Anne Carson and American hymns by the Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning composer Caroline Shaw will be played by the ensemble So Percussion in February.

Joshua Bell and Larisa Martinez
© Shervin Lainez

And while renowned musicians will appear, such as Joshua Bell, joined by soprano Larisa Martinez and pianist Peter Dugan in October, Alessio Bax with flutist Emmanuel Pahud in November and J’Nai Bridges with the Catalyst Quartet in December, the schedule also includes lesser-known names. Cellist Seth Parker Woods presents his Difficult Grace, about the movement of African Americans from rural to urban work and life in the early 20th Century in November.

In March, pianist Adam Tendler presents an evening of pandemic commissions, including new works by Laurie Anderson, Nico Muhly and Missy Mazzoli. There will also be a concert by jazz violinist Regina Carter in April, addressing another dislocation: the upheaval of African American communities in the latter half of the 20th Century under urban renewal programs. Broadway singer Jessica Vosk will pay tribute to the famed songwriters of Laurel Canyon in the 1960s and 1970s in November.

This diverse programming represents the way younger performers are approaching their concerts, according to Lam. “Young classical artists are thinking differently. They’re being influenced differently,” she says. “We have to be adaptive – and actually proactive – in leading the way the industry will go.”

Reflecting and supporting such trends will bring people back for more – or at least, that’s the hope. “There’s a certain amount of fluidity within all genres,” Lam concludes. “Fred Hersch is playing with a string quartet in April. Caroline Shaw is taking influences from new sources. I hope that we really provide this snapshot for our audience and I hope that our reason will inspire people to be curious. The perfect audience is one that comes with an open mind.”

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This article was sponsored by 92NY