Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Had a friend in town this week from the UK- an excellent violinist and member of the famed and high-falutin'- sounding Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. They were performing two nights at Carnegie Hall, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to absorb some culcha... It was an all-Beethoven program, but seemingly not connected to all the other Beethoven-related gear going on in NY this month. Local classical station WQXR has dubbed November "Beethoven Awareness Month", and on the air and in concert halls across the city it's all Ludwig, all the time. Personally I think it's a tad ambitious- from what I've seen of some of my fellow New yorkers, I'd say plain old "Awareness Month" might be a good start. Anyway, Carnegie Hall is a cultural landmark in this town, and I'm ashamed to admit that I'd never been in the place before. It's a handsome pile dating from the 1890s, and has witnessed performances by the who's who, and the who's he? Its namesake, Andrew Carnegie, was also a handsome pile in the 1890's, although his dating habits have not been recorded. Inside it's magnificent, all velvet drapes and gilded- I don't know- cornices? But I must say it seems a friendly, egalitarian joint.
A quick glance at the playbill reveals that one of the hall's major sponsors (of which there are many) is a famous American airline, and their main influence seems to be in the seating plan. Forget legroom, you'd be hard-pressed to take a deep breath. I was packed in so tight, the symphony had more movements! It was tight, I tell you! The fellow in front of me complained that he couldn't hear due to my knees being in his ears; I said he should thank me- that's how it would have sounded to Beethoven... No tray-table, or ashtray in the armrest, but I'm sure the paper bags will come in handy during the Ryan Adams performance next month.
On stage the orchestra was arranged on graded platforms, brass separated from winds by waist-high railings, presumably to keep them from attacking eachother- like at sporting events to keep the members safe from the riff raff. I'm certain that if the trumpets had started the Wave, it would have stopped at the clarinets. The performance was wonderful (Symphonies 3 & 4), conductor John Eliot Gardiner is most entertaining to watch, and period horns are clearly very difficult to play. Sound brilliant, though. Incidentally, the hall's location and intermission time make ducking to a nearby pub for a quick one between symphonies a doddle.
Friday the band had yet another crack at the early set at Smalls. Probably the last one for the year, and a fine note on which to go out. Second set we were joined by the fabulous Bruce Harris on the trumpet- he raised the stakes, and then some sort of gambling analogy conveying that we all had a good time. As is everything that takes place at Smalls (slanderous musician conversations included), the show was recorded- I'll put some of the better tracks up on FaceBook soon. We were followed by Tenor Saxophone legend Lew Tabackin, who blew the joint down, and the rest of the night is lost in the mists...
Next week- cocktails! Righto then.