grey marble

March 25, 2009

Sleepwalking at the Met

Last night I took the elevator from the basement of the Metropolitan Opera to the fourth ring. As we stopped at each floor, more people entered the small compartment. Somewhere between the Grand Tier and the third ring, a man half turned to those assembled and asked, "Is it ok to fall asleep during a performance of La Somnambula?" to which one person answered, "Yes, so long as you don't take a walk."
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March 20, 2009

My mind on my money and my money on my mind

A few weeks ago I had lunch with my cousin, H. We ate a late dim sum in Chinatown and then walked up the Bowery towards Times Square. He was on his way back to Poughkeepsie, but wanted to stop by Other Music. It seemed years since I had been in a record store.

Along the way we stepped into some new galleries that had popped up along the Bowery near the New Museum. As we walked we talked about the economy and investments. Like many others I had steadily been losing money, but I was too disinterested in finance and keeping track of my investments to do much about it.

I wondered aloud to my cousin about this disinterest. I wondered if I actually had interest in studying up on the stock market and following it how much better I could be doing. He shared my feelings. He told me a friend and he had been talking about Godfather Don, an obscure 90's hip hop artist. They both were convinced that there'd be a resurgence of interest in the rapper, and were considering investing in some of the Don's old vinyl with the hope that they could capitalize on his resurgence.

We laughed and thought about the riches he could reap if his interest and energies were directed towards Wall Street.
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March 16, 2009

Philip Glass and Wendy Sutter

Last night I went back to the City Winery, this time to see Philip Glass with Wendy Sutter. At first, I wasn't sure the venue was suited for this type of music, but the audience was respectful, and the evening proved to be a successful one, a stray cell phone notwithstanding.

Glass started the show, playing a selection of three of his Metamorphosis pieces for solo piano. His playing felt stiff at first, but he slowly eased into his pieces and managed to smooth out some edges as he continued. He thanked the audience for its enthusiastic reception and joked that he was playing for a home town crowd.

Wendy Sutter took the stage next to play a suite for solo cello that Glass had written for her. Her tone was full and broad and the warmth of her playing filled the room. Glass appeared after the suite and said they'd play together in a little while; in the meantime he'd play another piece for piano to let her catch her breath.

He told us the next piece was commissioned for the first public appearance of the Dalai Lama in New York, in 1981. Glass told us that the organizers didn't know how long it would take for the Dalai Lama to arrive, and he was asked to write a piece "of indeterminant length." Glass repeated the words and said it would be no problem. The audience laughed.

The piece was originally written for organ, but Glass had transcribed it for piano so that he could perform it more regularly. He noted that Lucinda Childs had choreographed a piece to the music entitled "Mad Rush," by which the music has since become known.

Sutter returned after the piece, and Glass introduced the next three songs as being from music he wrote to accompany a Jean Genet play. He named the titles of the pieces, but confessed he didn't remember the play. He paused and then noted that he at least could remember the titles. The music was beautiful, and it was wonderful to hear them play together. Throughout the music seemed to change with each performer, and had I not known the composer behind all the pieces I might not have put them together.

When they had finished playing, Glass rose with Sutter to acknowledge the applause. He stepped to the mic and said they had prepared two encores. We wouldn't have to wait; they'd play them immediately. Glass then performed "Opening" for solo piano, and Sutter played a new piece for solo cello that Glass had written. They took bows together to a standing ovation.
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March 15, 2009

Keren Ann and Calexico

Last week I met up with Jean and some friends at City Winery, a new restaurant and music venue on Varick Street. I had read about their opening a month or two ago and immediately wanted to see it for myself. I bought tickets to see Wendy Sutter and Phillip Glass for mid-March, and then was convinced by Karen to buy tickets to Keren Ann and Calexico.

I was late. I had walked south down sixth to the end of Varick until I realized that the restaurant was a block from my house. I high-tailed it back uptown. Dan, Karen's friend, called me to say that they already were seated. Jean had arrived first and was also seated at the restaurant. I apologized profusely and told them I'd be there soon.

The space was surprisingly large. We were seated near the stage and had clear views of the performers. Karen had told me earlier she had a fever and was unable to come; Dan brought one of his friends in her stead. We caught up with each other and ordered some snacks. Dan and his friend were already well into their first glass of wine. The waitstaff bustled around the restaurant, and yet it still seemed as though there weren't enough of them.

Before the concert began the emcee announced an REM tribute concert scheduled the following evening at Carnegie Hall. He told us that they had spent the day in rehersals for the event and that special guests would be joining Calexico throughout the evening. He then introduced Keren Ann, who took the stage with her guitar and a trumpet player.

She played a short set of songs, the majority of which were in English, and half of which seemed new. The trumpet player added tonal color to the songs, at times making use of a wah wah pedal to augment his sound. Her set was loose, and she seemed to go along with the casual vibe of the evening.

Our food arrived and I nibbled at a delicious wild mushroom and goat cheese flatbread. Dan offered some of his brussel sprouts for a slice and I gladly made the trade. His friend dove into a plate of short ribs as Dan sampled his tuna loin. Jean had ordered a cheese plate and graciously shared her food with the rest of us.

After a short break, two members of Calexico took the stage. They played a song with professional command of their craft and then introduced an accordionist. For the next song they introduced a multinstrumentalist who began on the violin, then switched throughout the night between lap steel guitar and mandolin. For their fourth song they introduced a bassist and then their lineup was complete. The music was well polished; if anything it was almost too much so.

After a few songs, they introduced a series of R.E.M. covers. They were to be the house band at a tribute to R.E.M. the following night, and had spent the day rehearsing the songs they would play. This evening, they were giving us a preview. Their first special guest was to be Darius Rucker, from Hootie and the Blowfish. Our table was amazed; Dan's friend seemed incredulous.

They ran through a pitch perfect rendition of "I Believe," and I was surprised by how closely Calexico sounded to R.E.M. The song was enjoyable, but I felt a little disappointed; I hadn't come to hear R.E.M.

The rest of the night followed the same pattern as they introduced Rachel Yamagata, Marshall Crenshaw, and brought back Keren Ann to play various cover songs. After a while, Calexico remained on stage for a few of their songs before introducing a final guest I didn't recognize for a reading of "Driver 8." Our checks came, and the evening was over. We said our goodbyes on the sidewalk. I walked Jean to the subway and then I walked home.
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