Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Celebrating Cole Porter and Philanthropy at Lincoln Center

“Do you know Bob Steel?” the friendly Arkansas orange magnate asked his tablemate – a Red Sox fan celebrating his team’s fourth World Championship in fifteen years a bit early – at this year’s Lincoln Center fall gala last week. Just to be clear, this fan was not ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has also never tried to hide his fondness for the Boston team, and was also present.

“Not personally,” the considerably younger Sox fan replied.

He’s a good guy,” the Arkansan confided, almost conspiratorially. He’d been at UNC while Steel was at Duke; his friendship with the longtime Lincoln Center benefactor has remained strong since. This particular evening was Steel’s “turn in the barrel,” as he’d sardonically told host Patricia E. Harris in the weeks beforehand.

Fundraising consultant Amy Schiller, who was also at the celebration, empathized. For anyone who’s ever been feted at one of these events, it really is a turn in the barrel, she reminded. It’s less a barrel going over Niagara Falls than the kind in a .357:it feels like you’re hurled out into midair at the speed of sound.

Offstage, Steel and his vivacious wife are exactly as humble and unassuming as Harris described them, a quintessential culturally engaged cosmopolitan New York couple with whom you might have shared a “wow, that was something” moment after, say, a performance by the Philharmonic. The fundamental difference is that they may have essentially underwritten that moment of reflection and transcendence. 

They have three daughters. Pianist/singer Jon Batiste dedicated what may have been the highlight of the musical portion of the night, a glistening, rainswept, New Orleans-tinged wee-hours take of Cole Porter’s In the Still of the Night to them: “In the steel of the night,” he quipped.

As the lavish swells of the orchestra rose and fell from the lowlit stage, a full house were treated to a full hour of Cole Porter classics. In her slinky lace dress and heels, singer Kate Davis left no doubt as to what Love For Sale was about, her aching melismas giving the protagonist a poignancy to match the Billie Holiday version. The edgiest moment of the night was pianist Aaron Diehl’s simmering, shapeshifting interpretation of Too Darn Hot. The most kinetic points were located at the heel and toe of tapdancer Jared Grimes‘ shoes; he kicked up a storm to rival any sit-down percussionist.

Other than echoing John D. Rockefeller’s insistence that this continent’s flagship cultural institution should be a place for everyone, Steel didn’t say much. In this particular moment, that sort of quiet advocacy for one of New York’s treasures spoke a thousand times louder than any self-aggrandizing tweet ever could.

Batiste is at the Jazz Gallery on Dec 18, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $20. Diehl is at NJPAC in Newark on Nov 29-Dec 2 at various times with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; $20 seats are available.

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October 29, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Simone Dinnerstein with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, NYC 7/8/09

The pretext of the evening’s performance was “From the Danube to the Rhine,” the two feeder rivers of northern Europe and some of the composers associated with them. Simone Dinnerstein’s warmly lyrical recording of the Goldberg Variations topped the classical charts a couple of years ago: this time out, she matched rapidfire precision to a fluidly expressive style , joining the orchestra on Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto in A. Essentially, it works two themes, a nocturne and a stomp, variations on some glimmering upper-register work and a fiery cascade down to the lowest registers, respectively. Dinnerstein pulled out every piece of shimmering moonlight in the former and a gatling-gun staccato on the latter. Musicologists disagree on how many movements the piece has: the conventional wisdom is six; thematically, there seem to be half as many, the highlight being a deliciously anthemic, crushingly chordal Rachmaninovian run up the scale in what would be the second. She didn’t make it look easy, because it wasn’t, and her unaffected intensity earned her a well-deserved standing ovation. Not bad for her second-ever Lincoln Center performance.

After the intermission, conductor Bramwell Tovey led the orchestra on an inspired romp through Brahms’ Hungarian Dances #4 and #10. In 19th century western Europe, popular composers’ gypsy themes tended to be of the ersatz variety, akin to most of what fueled the 1950s’ mambo craze here. With this suite, Brahms sought authenticity, and the first of the pair show off some stark chromatics and trills, set aloft on the wings of the strings. The second could have been a pretty folk dance from pretty much anywhere.

The orchestra had warmed up with Johan Strauss’ Overture to Der Zigeunerbaron, a perfect illustration of faux-gypsy if there ever was. To the credit of conductor and orchestra, they did their best to endow it with the dynamics and passion of a work far more substantial, but even that failed to elevate it above the level of schlock. In a perhaps intentional stroke of irony, they closed the program with Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier Suite. The opera itself is completely buffo, a drag drama that plays off all kinds of buffoonery created by multiple disguises. Yet the incidental music, first assembled as an integral suite decades after the opera’s 1909 debut, is impressive, from the strikingly modernist atonalities that begin the soaring, passionate overture, to several spot-on parodies of Johan Strauss waltzes that recur throughout. There’s also a recurring “uh-oh” motif, usually before Baron Ochs, the opera’s lumbering bull in a china shop, gets to wring some cheap laughs from his lines. As much as everyone onstage was obviously having a good time with the silliness, it was the lush, cinematic string-driven exaltation that carried everyone away. It was a worthy sendoff for retiring bassist Shelly Saxon, bowing out after 38 distinguished years with the ensemble.

The NY Philharmonic has some tantalizing outdoor concerts coming up in the next week before departing for Vail for a series of shows (see our live music calendar for dates and programs); Simone Dinnerstein plays selections from her highly anticipated cd of Beethoven works for piano and cello with cellist Zuill Bailey at le Poisson Rouge on August 27.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment