Manhattan Diary – Holiday

Manhattan Diary – Holiday

Winter's Eve on Broadway

Winter's Eve on Broadway

Friends and I often muse about how we may have wanted to live in Manhattan when we were younger, but now that we’re older, we know it wouldn’t be worth the noise, the commotion, nor, most of all, the expense. Yet after spending a magical day there, I change my mind again.

Case in point: last Monday, I drove up from Philly to hear the American Composers Orchestra perform my colleague Curt’s new piece at Zankel Hall. It was 2 p.m. when I arrived in New York, and pouring rain. I parked my car, decided not to wait for a cab, took the subway from the Port Authority station and zipped up to Columbus Circle. Fortunately, the rain had eased by the time I walked up Columbus Avenue to meet my friend Deborah Jamini at Alice’s Teacup on 73rd.

Debbie had suggested Alice’s Teacup as a quintessentially New York place to nosh. You descend a small flight of stairs to enter the teacup. The floorboards are worn, the bakery cases simple, there are fairy wings for sale displayed on the wall. There are hundreds of varieties of teas to choose from, buttery scones, and delicate tea sandwiches and salads, which a waitress in the aforementioned fairy wings cheerily brings to your table. The place was packed, not with “ladies who lunch,” but with “ladies (and men) who tea.”

Debbie and I hadn’t spent time with each other since high school and music camp, and it wasn’t until last summer, at a memorial celebration for our teacher William Appling that we met up with each other again. Debbie looks as if she’s in her twenties, and can wear leather pants in the rain with aplomb. (She credits her vegan diet for her eternal youthfulness.) Debbie’s career has evolved far beyond piano performance, which she majored in at the Mannes School. She is also a marvelous alto, a cantor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and composer-in-residence there. She teaches theory and conducts a choir at a branch of the New School and has published a theory textbook. I’ll be profiling Deb’s versatile music career in a future post.

Starry Time-Warner Center

Starry Time-Warner Center

I met another friend for dinner at Bouchon Bakery in the Time-Warner Center, where the Christmas stars floated like swans in the air, a children’s choir sang in the background, and the enormous expanse of front windows looked onto twinkling lights enwrapping the bare-branched trees outside. All along Broadway, nearly every restaurant of note in the Lincoln Center area had set up a tented booth, festooned with lights, from which they served something delicious, as part of the Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square festival. The line of people waiting to taste treats from such restaurants as Picholine and Bar Masa snaked down the sidewalk.

I was in a festive mood by the time I took my seat in Zankel Hall (the smaller, newer performance space at Carnegie.) Here’s a brief summary of the new pieces I heard.

Curt Cacioppo’s When the Orchard Dances Ceased: lush orchestration, evocative use of Navajo melodies and percussion, pictorial use of army trumpet calls, haunting Navajo chanting by the composer. I admire Curt’s compositional integrity, which is without gimmick and always deeply felt. He hits the right balance between mental rigor and emotion, I think.

Huang Ruo’s Leaving Sao: Here is another composer who can sing; this time, Peking- opera style. There was an arresting duet between the solo vocalist and one of the orchestra’s percussionists, using two “hummers,” tubes that create a high-pitched, fluctuating tone when swung in a circle high up in the air.

Erin Gee’s Mouthpiece xiii: Mathilde of Loci, Part :This composer too vocalized – her work was preceded by a video presentation describing her process of breaking down vocalization into its most elemental parts. The sounds she created reminded me, interestingly enough, of the U of Penn a capella group, Off the Beat.

Donal Fox’s Peace Out for Improvised Piano and Orchestra, with the composer at the piano: This brother can play! As a pianist, I appreciated Mr. Fox’s fearsome technique and power at the keyboard. The three movements of this jazz-inspired concerto are not unified in theme, at least not in any readily apparent way, but they were each appealing, and the audience, which included school kids, went wild for it.

Conductor Stefan Lano deftly held all these disparate pieces together, as well as two Tone Roads by Charles Ives.

There were warm welcomes by the president of the ACO, Robert Beaser, and an executive from Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy, which is sponsoring the orchestra for 2 years. The audience was invited to Twitter in the lobby. After the concert, I attended a reception at an elegant upper floor space on 57th, where guests descended a spiral staircase carpeted in ice blue. Plenty of Moet-Hennessy champagne abounded. I drove home listening to good jazz. At that hour, only about three other cars shared the New Jersey turnpike with me, and I made it home not too long after midnight.

The next morning, I took my dog for a run in the woods near my house. The air was crisp, and we passed not another soul on the pristine trails. I’d gotten very little sleep the night before, but still I felt rejuvenated. Was it the fresh air? Or the ten-hour holiday I’d had in Manhattan? Maybe I do have the best of both worlds.

There is one response to “Manhattan Diary – Holiday”

  1. Yep – no doubt about it – you do !!!