Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Your 'hot spot' for all classical music subjects. Non-classical music subjects are to be posted in the Corner Pub.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
barney
Posts: 2711
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by barney » Mon Jun 13, 2016 7:00 pm

After several unintended delays, I finally finished my New York pilgrimage piece, and I believe it runs in The Age this coming Saturday.
Warning: It's 1000 words, and you may want to go straight to the final paras, for my sociological observations. That said, I left out vast amounts and hope to write a longer article, perhaps for the Australian Book Review if I can persuade the editor it's not too late.
The MCG in the last para is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia's holiest sacred site, and the sport is Australian Rules football.
The article, unedited and as submitted:

New York, New York, it’s a helluva town.
The Met is up and Carnegie Hall’s down.
Admittedly, I’m taking a liberty with both geography and the lyrics from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town, where the Bronx (up) and the Battery (down) are separated by all Manhattan rather than half a dozen streets, but it’s sort of right.
Certainly the Lincoln Centre – home not only to the Metropolitan Opera but the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York City Ballet, the Juilliard School and more – and Carnegie Hall are the twin poles of New York’s musical life, one of a richness rivalled only by London and Berlin.
I have recently returned from a bucket-list musical pilgrimage to New York, where great music is easier to find than decent coffee. Over three weeks, I took in six operas, seven orchestral concerts, four chamber recitals and a piano recital – plus a Broadway play as light relief: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with music by Philip Glass.
Even the buskers may be up-market in New York. In Grand Central Station’s corridors one evening, I separately came across a string quartet, a flautist and a cellist, all accomplished. Against that, on the 42nd street subway platform, a five-man rock band set up one night, using amplification so they could compete with trains. I scurried past as fast as I could in the interests of my eardrums.
Nor is one safe inside the trains: buskers pop in and recite or sing for one stop, then hustle through the carriage for payment. The most successful was an African-American boy of about 10, armed with two upturned plastic buckets. He sat on one and battered the other while semi-singing. Nearly every passenger gave him money, along with helpful advice from the large woman opposite me: “Stay in school.”
Visitors must not miss the musical miracle that is the Metropolitan Opera. The best seats are expensive, but the sound and sightlines are so good that you can enjoy far-distant seats. For Franco Zeffirelli’s legendary production of La boheme – constantly revived since 1981, and possibly the most perfect opera production I have ever seen – I was in the back row of the balcony, but every note floated up with radiant clarity, even the tiny click of the latch on the stage door.
I was there for the end of James Levine’s 42-year reign as artistic director at the Met, as Placido Domingo sang Simon Boccanegra. The next day Levine told the flawless orchestra he had welded into one of the world’s finest that he was standing down. He has conducted from a motorised wheel chair for years, but Parkinson’s disease has so ravaged him that he cannot properly control his arms.
But even disaster turns to triumph at the Met, as Verdi’s Otello demonstrated a few days later. Tenor Aleksandr Antonenko was unable to sing the last Act so he mimed while, from the darkened corner of the stage, an apparently disembodied head sang the part, his body submerged in a black cape. The reason for this ghostly apparition was evident at the curtain calls: the rotund understudy pranced on wearing jeans, T-shirt and sneakers. I saw him the next day on television, through a shop window, telling CNN about his triumphant debut.
The New York Philharmonic is one of the world’s great orchestras, and octogenarian Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink leading it in Mahler’s disturbing and profound ninth symphony was one of the highlights of the season. I also got the chance to be impressed again by Stefan Vinke, Siegfried in Opera Australia’s first Ring and again later this year, but in New York singing Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.
Visiting orchestras look to Carnegie Hall, one of the musical wonders of the world: immense, handsome and with a marvellously intimate sound. There I was ravished by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Maris Janssons and the Utah Symphony Orchestra, though less so by the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop.
The Utah SO played a work featuring percussionist Colin Currie. I counted 38 different percussion instruments in two banks either side of the conductor, forcing a marvellously athletic performance as he raced around like a man barbecuing 200 sausages at once.
Four sociological observations about New York music lovers: First, they are all tubercular, and untrained in muffling their coughing by using a handkerchief or sleeve, their own or – as Melbourne Symphony Orchestra chief conductor Andrew Davis once suggested – their neighbour’s.
Second, the builders of some American concert halls were descended from a pygmy race, who did not need leg room. The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Hall is a lovely opera house, provided you are under five foot two or the performance lasts only 20 minutes. Les Arts Florissants’ wonderful opera-ballet went three hours.
Third, those same builders had iron bladders not matched by their puny descendants. Walking past a line for the gents in order to join it at David Geffen Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, I counted 70 men in the queue. The upside was how much this pleased the women, whose queue was a mere half dozen, many of whom made pointed comments about the reversal of the usual order.
Fourth, they are generous. How Opera Australia would love to list in its program a donor who gave $50 million, followed by three giving $30 million each, and another 25 providing $2.5 million to $10 million. How they would love the donor list to take 20 pages. There were probably more billionaires in the auditorium for the opening night of the landmark new production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra than in the whole of Australia.
New Yorkers are just as generous with applause. It is hard to imagine what calamity would cancel a standing ovation, but none occurred at my concerts. Night after night, the audience rose, cheered and whistled. How kind of them to make me feel at home, as though I were at the MCG for another Hawthorn premiership.
Barney Zwartz writes on classical music for The Age and is deputy opera reviewer.

barney
Posts: 2711
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by barney » Mon Jun 13, 2016 7:11 pm

PS Len, Re AirBnB, and our earlier discussion in which you pointed out the possible illegality: in fact, the owner was present; she lived on the second floor and lets out the first or ground floor. She was just away on holiday the first 10 days of our trip. Her brother, 6 doors down, gave us the keys.

lennygoran
Posts: 13112
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by lennygoran » Tue Jun 14, 2016 6:19 am

barney wrote:PS Len, Re AirBnB, and our earlier discussion in which you pointed out the possible illegality: in fact, the owner was present; she lived on the second floor and lets out the first or ground floor. She was just away on holiday the first 10 days of our trip. Her brother, 6 doors down, gave us the keys.
Barney so glad it all worked for you-read your report and really enjoyed it-wonderful writing! so great to meet you in person! Len who`s back in NYC right now!

lennygoran
Posts: 13112
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by lennygoran » Tue Jun 14, 2016 6:19 am

barney wrote:PS Len, Re AirBnB, and our earlier discussion in which you pointed out the possible illegality: in fact, the owner was present; she lived on the second floor and lets out the first or ground floor. She was just away on holiday the first 10 days of our trip. Her brother, 6 doors down, gave us the keys.
Barney so glad it all worked for you-read your report and really enjoyed it-wonderful writing! so great to meet you in person! Len who`s back in NYC right now!

maestrob
Posts: 4958
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by maestrob » Tue Jun 14, 2016 1:43 pm

barney:

Excellent report. Love your writing style. Immensely glad you had a good pilgrimage. The MET, while huge, does have excellent acoustics, as does Carnegie Hall. Being on stage @ Geffen Hall was a problem for the performers, who could barely hear one another for many years, yet I hear they've fixed that now.

Thanks so much for posting this: hope you get to write a longer article.

jbuck919
Military Band Specialist
Posts: 26233
Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2004 10:15 pm
Location: Stony Creek, New York

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 14, 2016 3:12 pm

Barney makes me feel flattered to be as much of a New Yorker as I am, which is of course less than several other people here can claim. The board, including myself, is constantly worried about the state of classical music and perhaps the other arts in NYC, but apparently we still have something going for us.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
Posts: 18962
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: New York, NY

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by John F » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:45 am

Great piece, Barney. And it was a pleasure to meet you in between all that good stuff. :)

To your three top music centers I'd add Vienna, with its two opera companies, several symphony orchestras, and other musical and theatrical entertainments as well. Besides which, it's Vienna! Have you been there? Next time you go roving, I really recommend it.

That's quite a story about the "Otello." I've seen a couple of performances doubled in that way - one was "La Clemenza di Tito" at the Met; the scheduled Vitellia had broken her leg and sang from a chair on the stage while her cover mimed the part. I looked up the performance you saw and the name of the tenor is Francesco Anile. Quite a debut, and on the Saturday broadcast too! He sang the next performance and then Antonenko returned.

I have a problem with leg room too, in the Met auditorium and the upper reaches of Carnegie Hall. At the Met, they've squeezed in more seats from time to time, and I always sit on the outside aisle so I can stretch at least one of my legs. At Carnegie I just don't go all the way upstairs any more, the balcony is steep with minimal handrails and feels dangerous, but the side seats on the 2nd tier are chairs that you can position as you please, and I do.

Some complain that our audiences are undiscriminating with their standing ovations. I don't mind, and sometimes I join in. And it's by no means guaranteed. I saw a "Salome" at the Met years ago, with quite a good cast, but Erich Leinsdorf was in the pit, and the performance was so tepid that there was barely enough applause at the end for the singers' solo bows, and even that felt more like courtesy than anything else. Fortunately, Leinsdorf has gone to that great Green Room in the sky, or maybe to the pit in the other place, and such opera nights are not common here.
John Francis

barney
Posts: 2711
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by barney » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:09 pm

maestrob wrote:barney:

Excellent report. Love your writing style. Immensely glad you had a good pilgrimage. The MET, while huge, does have excellent acoustics, as does Carnegie Hall. Being on stage @ Geffen Hall was a problem for the performers, who could barely hear one another for many years, yet I hear they've fixed that now.

Thanks so much for posting this: hope you get to write a longer article.
Thanks everyone for kind remarks.

barney
Posts: 2711
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by barney » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:14 pm

John F wrote:Great piece, Barney. And it was a pleasure to meet you in between all that good stuff. :)

To your three top music centers I'd add Vienna, with its two opera companies, several symphony orchestras, and other musical and theatrical entertainments as well. Besides which, it's Vienna! Have you been there? Next time you go roving, I really recommend it.

That's quite a story about the "Otello." I've seen a couple of performances doubled in that way - one was "La Clemenza di Tito" at the Met; the scheduled Vitellia had broken her leg and sang from a chair on the stage while her cover mimed the part. I looked up the performance you saw and the name of the tenor is Francesco Anile. Quite a debut, and on the Saturday broadcast too! He sang the next performance and then Antonenko returned.

I have a problem with leg room too, in the Met auditorium and the upper reaches of Carnegie Hall. At the Met, they've squeezed in more seats from time to time, and I always sit on the outside aisle so I can stretch at least one of my legs. At Carnegie I just don't go all the way upstairs any more, the balcony is steep with minimal handrails and feels dangerous, but the side seats on the 2nd tier are chairs that you can position as you please, and I do.

Some complain that our audiences are undiscriminating with their standing ovations. I don't mind, and sometimes I join in. And it's by no means guaranteed. I saw a "Salome" at the Met years ago, with quite a good cast, but Erich Leinsdorf was in the pit, and the performance was so tepid that there was barely enough applause at the end for the singers' solo bows, and even that felt more like courtesy than anything else. Fortunately, Leinsdorf has gone to that great Green Room in the sky, or maybe to the pit in the other place, and such opera nights are not common here.
Fair call re Vienna. I have been there only once, when backpacking around the world in 1980. I spent a couple of weeks there, including the New Year's Eve Fledermaus at the Volksoper. For one schilling(!!!) I got a standing room ticket for Tosca at the Staatoper. I loved Vienna so much I thought I might like to live there, but my German was woeful, and I came back to Australia and got married in April 1981. That worked out pretty well!
I was in the second tier at Carnegie Hall a few times. Sometimes the box wasn't full,and it was fine, but if there were seven in it (as also happened a couple of times) it could be a squeeze.
I do think the standing ovations are over the top, but I still prefer it to the rather ungenerous Melbourne applause. After all, people have worked their guts out on stage, even if it hasn't gone perfectly. No one intentionally plays at anything less than their very best. Oh for Aristotle's Golden Mean.

barney
Posts: 2711
Joined: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:12 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by barney » Wed Jun 15, 2016 7:17 pm

As you all know, my report above was extremely truncated compared with what I would have liked to have written. One of the things not there was our delightful lunch, and Maestrob's extremely generous hospitality on a separate occasion.
I'd just like to affirm again what a pleasure it was to meet you all, a real highlight of the trip. How nice it is to put faces to many of the names I see here.

Lance
Site Administrator
Posts: 17018
Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 1:27 am
Location: Binghamton, New York
Contact:

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by Lance » Fri Jun 17, 2016 8:46 pm

Barney .... it was a distinct pleasure to finally meet our man from Australia and your friend, and for me all that sat at that table for an excellent lunch, conversation with an opera at the Met in the evening. Quite an occasion and I am very happy we could all get together. Loved your article. When do you anticipate coming back to NYC?
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

Image

Ricordanza
Posts: 1657
Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Jun 18, 2016 6:44 am

Barney, I enjoyed reading your report. Thanks for posting it! Wish that I could have met you and the others in NYC.

slofstra
Posts: 8900
Joined: Mon Jan 08, 2007 2:23 pm
Location: Waterloo, ON, Canada
Contact:

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by slofstra » Sat Jun 18, 2016 9:44 am

Good article, Barney. It's made me think about saving my pennies for another artistic foray into the Big Apple. Events that we class as momentous, happen every day and every season there, so any trip to New York is guaranteed to be an occasion.

John F
Posts: 18962
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: New York, NY

Re: Adventures of Barney in Wonderland

Post by John F » Sat Jun 18, 2016 10:03 am

Unless you come in late June or early July, when the performing arts pretty much shut down for the summer. At Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera's season is long since over, likewise New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic's season is ending, and the main action is a long run of "The King and I" at the Lincoln Center Theater and a couple of ballet/dance companies. Still better than nothing, of course, and when the Lincoln Center Festival and Mostly Mozart come in July and August, it will get a bit more lively. But the real season won't start until September.
John Francis

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider], Google [Bot] and 14 guests