Category: Music

Songs at the Society

Friday, March 28th, 2008 | All Things, Music, NYC History

Since January, the New-York Historical Society has been hosting “Let Them Eat Cake Fridays” with free admission on Friday evenings from 6-8PM. On select Fridays there have been musical performances with chocolates and French pastries available for purchase from Upper West Side purveyors like Godiva Chocolatier, Grandaisy and Magnolia bakeries.

The events are organized around the Society’s French Founding Father exhibit: “Lafayette’s Return to Washington’s America” on view through August 10, 2008 to mark the 250th birthday of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (better known as the Marquis de Lafayette). The exhibit focuses on Lafayette’s 13-month journey through all 24 states that then formed the United States, which began in 1824 at Castle Clinton in The Battery. (Similar commemorations were scheduled in France.)

Tonight’s cakes and hot chocolate were from Soutine on West 70th Street, one of my favorite bakeries in the neighborhood. (And while we’re on the subject, Levain Bakery on West 74th Street makes a mean cookie.) In addition to the sweets was a program in the Auditorium featuring internationally acclaimed soprano Juliana Janes-Yaffé, who performed songs by French and American (New York) composers. Yaffé, who is on the faculty of Mannes College at The New School for Music, sang a program of Charles Ives, Elliott Carter, Gabriel Fauré, Francis Poulenc, Lee Hoiby and Richard Hundley (who was in attendance this evening). Tony Bellomy, pianist for Brooklyn’s Encompass New Opera Theatre, accompanied the singer and performed a solo of Claude Debussy’s lovely “Rêverie.”

Upstairs, the New-York Historical Society reading room:

After the musical program, there was little time to explore the other exhibits, though I did catch one final glimpse of “Here Is New York: Remembering 9/11,” which closed on April 13. The exhibit drew from “here is new york,” a tribute to the victims of 9/11 by professional and amateur photographers, which became an international exhibition and inspired a BBC documentary. The New-York Historical Society’s exhibit consisted of 1500 inkjet-printed photos — I recognized my home and office blocks in several — mounted simply with binder clips on wires strung throughout two stark white galleries. The photos, without credits, titles or dates, were culled from 790 contributors and formed an overwhelming mosaic of the shock, horror and daze of that dark time.

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The ladies from Lyons

Friday, March 21st, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Friends, Music

There are few things SYB enjoys more than assisting tourists: hardly a week goes by without his proactively offering directions to bewildered-looking foreigners. German speakers, in particular, will capture his attention… as will fetching French women, as was the case with RM’s guests, whom we met at his St. Patrick’s Day soirée in Sunnyside. MB and JA were in town for just over a week, and fortunate I think to have such attentive and enthusiastic boosters for New York City at their disposal.

I crossed paths with the touring trio on Sixth Avenue, as they were heading into the MoMA to take advantage of Target Free Friday Nights when museum admission is complimentary from 4–8PM. All other times, it’s a rather steep $20, which explains this insane queue for entry.

Target Friday @ MoMA

So despite the fact that my MoMA membership card would earn me line-jumping privileges, I knew that every single one of these people would make it inside the museum eventually, and I didn’t particularly want to be there when they did. Not when I could check out the acclaimed “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibit any other time… through May 12, anyway.

I met up with SYB, MB and JA a couple of hours later at Amazing 66, where we gave our visitors an authentic taste of Chinatown. Tonight’s menu overlapped much of the Mardi Gras meal -– with the short rib-stuffed pumpkin and steamed whole flounder the unqualified hits of the night — but in the excitement of feasting, I neglected to order the “Salad Walnut Prawns” — sorry, HYB! Afterwards, the nine of us made the obligatory post-dinner visit to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory around the corner.

After the couples took their leave, it was up to the B brothers and me to plan out the rest of our evening. The night was still young, but, as it turned out, so were our guests; JA was a couple weeks shy of her 21st birthday, which strictly limited our options. Three native New Yorkers, and not one of us could immediately think of a place to spend a Friday night that did not involve drinking, or that at least required guests to be of drinking age. Embarrassing, actually – and a testament to how very long it had been since any of us had to take such matters into consideration.

I remembered what fun we’d had at J’s birthday celebration in December, and suggested Fat Cat Billiards on Christopher, both for its live music and its low-key vibe. Under 21 welcome! The $3 cover got us into the basement saloon, stocked with pool and ping pong tables, shufflepuck and foosball (“baby-foot” in France, I learned), chess and board games galore. The women, though, seemed most entranced by the live performances, and the well-over-21 among us were more than happy to settle into the worn couches for the next couple of hours to catch the sets by The Gospel Queens of Brooklyn and one very talented jazz octet.

Fat Cat Jazz

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The trouble with Tristan

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

We arrived at Lincoln Center this evening to find another phase of the Plaza renovation underway. In addition to the plywood fencing erected throughout, both the driveway and the Revson Fountain had been closed to accommodate the construction. Click here to view a short video of what the newly transformed entrance to Lincoln Center will look like when this work is completed.

Below, the banner for Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s landmark 1980 work about Mahatma Gandhi’s formative experiences in South Africa, set to text from the Bhagavad Gita. The Met premiere coincides with The Satyagraha Project, a public forum inspired by Gandhi’s philosophies of actively engaging the world’s ills through nonviolence.

Lincoln Center construction

Months ago, we had ordered these tickets to Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in heady anticipation of catching operatic dream team Ben Heppner and Deborah Voigt, singing together for the first time. Unfortunately, bad luck and stars’ illnesses plagued nearly the entire six-performance run of the Met revival.

To begin… Prior to opening night, Heppner, who the Times has called “the reigning Wagnerian tenor of our day,” was sidelined by an initially misdiagnosed blood-borne infection. His understudy, Canadian tenor John Mac Master, replaced him in the March 10 opener to mostly negative reviews and ill-mannered audience boos. (We disapprove!) For the second performance, Mac Master was swapped out for American Gary Lehman, who fared slightly better in his Met debut. Voigt, however, fell ill in the middle of Act II, and was replaced by Upper West Side native Janice Baird, also making her Met debut, resulting in the March 14 performance finishing out with neither of the originally billed singers in the title roles.

For our third performance on Tuesday night, Voigt was back on stage performing opposite Lehman, but the night was interrupted in the third act when an errant set piece raked the tenor into the prompter’s box. The opera was stopped while Lehman was examined by a doctor, who eventually cleared him to continue. Longtime conductor James Levine led the orchestra at our performance, and drew cheers from this New York crowd — one of the few constants in a run as unstable as a Tristan chord.

Performance #4 featured tenor #3: Robert Dean Smith in his Met debut — a Saturday matinee which was telecast in high-definition to theaters worldwide. When Heppner was finally cleared to perform the penultimate night, it was Voigt who was M.I.A. — laid low by the stomach ailment and fever that had plagued her during the second performance. (Baird, once again, stepped in as Isolde.)

And so, in an unprecedented and magnanimous move, and to celebrate the long-delayed Heppner-Voight pairing, the Met decided to stream the sixth and final Tristan und Isolde performance live on its website. Not quite the same as being there inside the opera house, but on a quiet Friday night, I’ll take it. Bravo!

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