The New York Mandolin Orchestra (NYMO), now in its 94th year, and said to be the prehistoric known always performing Mandolin Orchestra in the country, has a long and well-revered reputation that is being maintained by its newest concertmaster, Dan Barrett, a cellist, who also plays mandolin and is a composer, arranger, conductor and—at his most impassioned—a political philosopher.
The relationship between the mandolin orchestra and social activism is nothing new for a group whose founder Samuel Firstman, a poor balalaika-playing immigrant from Russia, named the group the New York Freiheit [Freedom] Mandolin Orchestra, and which has, over the years, absorbed members from other immigrant and working class-related mandolin orchestras that also emerged in the 1920s.
Though he has been with NYMO for only two years when it had only a handful of performers, Barrett can now count on 15–25 showing up for rehearsals—sometimes even 50—a distribution that includes first and second mandolin, mandola, guitar, mandocello, bass, concertina, flute, recorder, clarinet, bassoon. They play chamber music, folk songs, jazz, bluegrass. Perhaps a Dan Barrett composition?