Month: December, 2006

Joshua Bell at Carnegie Hall

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006 | All Things, Music

Pre-concert shopping event at The Conran Shop — all decked out for the holiday season. MarieBelle Chocolates and 10 Cane Rum concoctions added to the festive feel in the air.

Conran Shop

10 Cane Rum

A quick stop at the adjacent Bridgemarket — the cathedral-like space beneath the Queensboro Bridge adorned with a canopy of Guastavino tile vaults — so named for Barcelona architect Rafael Guastavino, who pioneered the adaptation of a centuries-old building technology in which long flat tiles are laid and mortared together with a special mixture of cement and sand. Guastavino vaults can be found in several impressive interiors, including the eponymous Guastavino’s restaurant, the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal, the U.S. Customs House and the Registry Room at Ellis Island.


And then to Carnegie Hall to see Joshua Bell, who would be performing the Brahms Violin Concerto that night. The ride on the crosstown bus was typically interminable, but we arrived with spare minutes to scarf down our dinner wraps in a vestibule across the street.

Carnegie Hall

From our seats in the Dress Circle:

Dress Circle

The concert began with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 and the New York premiere of Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s Feast During a Plague — a work co-commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (the latter of which was performing tonight.) SYB made a new friend with his droll commentary on the immense ensemble, and its large arsenal of percussion.

In his introduction, Sir Andrew Davis — no relation to conductor Sir Colin Davis — described the piece as “cataclysmic,” with its horn fanfares, growling brass, shrill bells and wailing strings. About halfway through the piece, a pre-recorded sound was introduced; a startled murmur rippled through the Carnegie Hall audience as the speakers blasted a completely unexpected techno beat — as if a convertible full of rowdy clubgoers had rolled in through the middle of the performance, blaring their tunes, stopping briefly before driving on. The beats reappeared in short bursts a number of times, as the orchestra continued on its path, before ultimately wrestling the rude intruder into submission.

After the intermission, the evening’s highlight: Josh Bell, performing one of the most important and technically demanding works in the violin repertoire. The Carnegie Hall program notes explained how Brahms, being a pianist and not a violinist, consulted his friend, violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim on the score in progress, asking him to “mark those parts which are difficult, awkward, or impossible to play.” (Ultimately, though, Brahms ignored some of Joachim’s suggestions for simplifying the violin part.)

Bell entered the stage like a rock star — clad all in black, with an open fronted shirt — and attacked the piece with great dexterity and passion. Always a joy to see and hear.

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The Art of the Book

Monday, December 4th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events

On my way to this evening’s event, I stopped in to view The Grand Central Kaleidoscope light show. Every half hour from 11:00AM to 9:00PM, a seven-minute show accompanied by synchronized music illuminates the walls and pillars of the main concourse in a huge kaleidoscope of color and light.

As if there weren’t excuse enough for visitors to Grand Central to look anywhere but where they’re going — and to hold up traffic by snapping photographs! The brilliant, shifting display nonetheless offsets some of the frustration of late trains and crowded platforms.

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Back at the 92nd Street Y for “The Art of the Book: Behind the Covers with Dave Eggers, Chip Kidd and Milton Glaser,” part of the Unterberg Poetry Center Reading Series. The night was organized around three presentations focusing on cover jacket design by luminaries Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and Dave Eggers, with introductions by Michael Bierut of Pentagram.

A capacity crowd filled the Y auditorium that night, to the surprise of each of the presenters. Who knew graphic designers could be such a draw?

And so funny? Glaser — best known outside the design industry as the founder of New York magazine and the man behind the “I (heart) NY” logo — was dryly witty and low-key, presenting highlights from his decades-long career. The prolific Kidd, longtime art director at Alfred A. Knopf, presented his covers from the past year. He was deliciously bitchy in his description of the design process: slaying the audience with his comments, at times made at the expense of the authors with which he was tasked to work: John Updike apparently — and distressingly — “studied typography briefly in college”; Cormac McCarthy suggested that his name be left off on the cover of The Road. Eggers, the last presenter of the evening, received the loudest applause, as the speaker whose name recognition furthest extends beyond the design world: as novelist, editor, publisher, and teacher at the writing workshop 826 Valencia. His talk was less about covers than about the process of designing and making books: selecting layouts, binding, materials, etc. One run of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern was printed in three different colored versions (blue, brown, yellow) when a printing deadline loomed and the Icelandic printer didn’t have enough yardage of one cloth for an entire run of covers. For Issue #7, the rubber band binding the story pamphlets had to be run through a home washing machine before shipping to eliminate any powdery residue after the post 9/11 Anthrax scare. The youngest presenter of the evening, Eggers is apparently also the most technology-averse, claiming he relies almost exclusively on the Garamond font because he can’t quite master the type feature in his circa-1999 version of QuarkXPress.

Wonder what the assembled group would think about the DIY My Penguin series: six classic novels published with blank fronts, for readers to design their own covers.

I would have blogged further about Glaser’s misguided feminism during the post-presentation panel, but Gothamist beat me to it. Again — I guess that what comes of being a couple weeks behind in your entries. The mood of the crowd shifted tangibly, and there were a few muted hisses, after Glaser stepped into the thicket by attempting to answer one audience member’s query about whether a glass ceiling exists for women in graphic design. Glaser was clearly foundering when Chip Kidd attempted to lighten the mood by interjecting, “As Larry Summers once said…” referring to remarks made in 2005 by the then-president of Harvard, suggesting that women are handicapped as scientists because as a group they are innately deficient in mathematics, compared to men.

At the post-event reception, Eggers’s line was the longest by far, but half an hour later, I got my copy of What is the What  signed by the friendly author. This week, I started reading the riveting “autobiography” of Sudanese “Lost Boy” Valentino Achak Deng, who recounts stories of the journey from his destroyed village in Africa to a sort of refuge in Atlanta, Georgia.

Milton Glaser

Eggers Kidd and Glaser

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Christmas shopping at Short Hills

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends

After some surprisingly good pastrami with Russian slaw at Main Street’s idiosyncratically named Bagel Chateau, DK, LK, SYB, HH and I piled into the Taupe Wonder for a trip to Millburn township’s upscale shopping center, along winding low-hilled roads (hence: Short Hills) and multi-million dollar homes.

At the Mall: penguins everywhere! At the Santa Snow Globe…


…and at the coin fountain.

Penguins in the fountain

We did not stick around in Short Hills long enough that day to witness Santa Paws where — wait for it… — people could bring their dogs in to have a holiday picture taken with Santa. Infants, however, would not be photographed.

Ended up not doing any Christmas shopping after all, though we did get to refuel with snacks and hot chocolates at the American Express Members Lounge. And SYB finally, finally, gave in to the lure of the super small and shiny.

iPod Snowman

Back at Chez H, we were joined by SK and RL. Over meat-and-pepper-lovers Boboli and SYB’s homemade apple-cranberry pie, we busted myths about Diet Coke and Mentos, but Settlers and Telephone Pictionary would have to wait for another time.


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