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Lincoln Center Gets Civilized, posted October 21, 2006 at 11:26 AM

One of the ways in which NYC performing arts organizations feel they can build newer and younger audiences is to advance their curtain time from 8pm to 7.30pm. The twisted reasoning for this is something about how busy people can get home earlier, particularly if they work in the city but live in the suburbs. The problem of course is that busy people who are caught up in this workaholic city's 50-to-60-hour-a-week rat race often cannot leave their desks in time to get anywhere by 7.30pm, or 7.15pm which is when audiences should be arriving for a 7.30 curtain. So not only do we increasingly have to rush to arrive in time for these early curtains, we also have to put up with late-arrivals dribbling in for the first half of any given performance.

The Metropolitan Opera, I believe, only does this occasionally, though they have some even earlier curtain times for particularly long operas (a policy I can easily understand--when you've got a five-hour performance with three intermissions, starting at 8pm does seem a bit indulgent even to night owls like me). City Ballet, after a couple of years where only Tuesday nights began at 7.30pm recently added Wednesday evenings to the early curtain schedule, and rumor has it that Thursdays are next. Every performance at BAM is now at 7.30. This one is a particularly harsh poke in the eye because it's even farther away from where most people work (midtown) than Lincoln Center, thereby making it even harder to get there in time. (And then the fact that every performance I've been to at BAM in the last two years has started late is particularly irritating--you arrive at the theater a sweaty rushing mess, having run from the subway station to make it on time, only to sit stewing in your seat for an extra 10 or 15 minutes which would have been better spent on a calmer arrival. But this is a different problem altogether).

Anyway, you can imagine how delighted I was when Carter called and invited me to a piano recital at Lincoln Center at 10.30pm. Wow. The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, in the Julliard Building on the Lincoln Center campus, is a lovely little space up on the 11th or 12th floor with floor to ceiling windows, lots of sky, and pretty city views. The audience convenes around small cafe tables, cabaret-style. I've seen plenty of listings for before- or after-concert discussions at this venue, but I had never been up there before Friday night. It's a terrific space for any kind of recital or chamber concert--one can easily imagine listening to a Beethoven string quartet there on a stormy night. I think it probably seats 150 or 200 people. As we offered our tickets at the entrance we were invited to take a complimentary glass of wine. And upon arriving at the table we found a complimentary bottle of sparkling water. And the ticket price was only $30. Is this New York?!

The concert Friday night was part of Lincoln Center's Great Performers series: Anne-Marie McDermott, playing Bach's Goldberg Variations. Goldberg is probably my favorite work of classical music, and certainly the one I've listened to more than any other. My favorite recordings of it range from Glenn Gould's groundbreaking 1955 debut recording, to Gould's matured 1981 recording, to Tatiana Nikolaeva's intensely emotional 1992 recording. Anne-Marie McDermott's bio promises a Goldberg recording next year, but I don't think I'll be buying it. Her reading was very bright--too bright for my taste--with quick tempos, and lots of mad rushes through technically difficult passages. She rushed so extremely through some of these and got so far ahead of herself that she had pretty rough landings at the ends of a number of the variations. Nonetheless, within her fairly narrow range of emotion--the piano seemed to be smiling through the whole thing--she was sensitive to the fluctuation of feeling from variation to variation. And when she finally slowed down for the sarabande (Variation 13) and the Adagio (Variation 25) we were offered intimate, controlled playing which showed depth, warmth, and fine technique.

My criticism of McDermott's interpretation doesn't mean I didn't have a ball--I enjoyed the concert immensely. The whole atmosphere was inviting, refreshing, and civilized. And if any performing arts institution wants to build some new audiences, I think they should take a look at some late-night programming such as this. The audience, instead of being the crusty blue-hairs snoring in their furs that one is surrounded by at the Philharmonic, was a more energetic, savvier group whose median age was 40 instead of 70.

And if audience members of such a civilized culture still need a little face-time with the blue-haired set, I suggest they have a cocktail or two before the concert at Cafe des Artistes as Carter and I did. Manhattans might as well be named for bars like this, where experienced bartenders call you sir, the old man next to you at the bar offers you his plate of celery sticks, and dark murals decorate the intimate low-ceilinged room. A fantastic bit of Old New York, that.


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