appreciation chamber music clarinet new music soloists & recitals travel

new york state of mind

I just got back from a 10 day trip to New York – both the City, and upstate, near Syracuse. The first half of the trip was purely a vacation – it’s been since our honeymoon almost two years ago that my wife and I had taken a serious trip anywhere – the second half was quiet time with my brother.

It was an interesting (and very fun) trip. The first day we were in NYC, we walked, and we walked way too much. I racked up nearly 19,000 steps on my fitbit that day. A search for the nearest Duane Reade pharmacy to our hotel was the next bit of business, as blisters were the lovely morning surprise that awaited us. We went to have the famous ‘cronut’ at Dominique Ansel‘s eponymous bakery. We ate at Gabrielle Hamilton‘s lovely East Village restaurant Prune. In fact, I chose our hotel based upon its proximity to Prune. Yes, I’m one of those people!

It was the very first time either of us had been to the city without being there for some sort of gig or audition. That makes a big difference! If you’re on tour, every moment is usually accounted for with rehearsals, sound checks, receptions, concerts, and getting to and from your hotel. If you’re taking an audition, everything sucks. So, to be there with no real agenda, and having some actual money to spend (not being a starving student), was heaven.

We got some culture, too. We got tickets to the Reich, Richter, Pärt performance at the city’s newest performance venue The Shed, which featured, on the day we went, Ensemble Signal and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. The Pärt choral work was paired with Gerhard Richter‘s tapestries and floor to ceiling prints. The choristers were in street dress and seeded amongst the wandering audience in the gallery space. It was cool to suddenly hear the music emanating from all around you, with no apparent center. The audience was then invited to go to the neighboring gallery space, where folding seats were provided (to be placed where each person wanted to sit) between the performers (Ensemble Signal) and a large projection screen, where Richter’s film was projected, accompanied by live music. Reich’s piece was a big one, a bit over 30 minutes in length, and to me, about 10 minutes too long. I don’t know how collaborative the process was between Reich and Richter, but someone didn’t want to edit their portion down a bit, and as a result, things got a bit stale by the end. The work was wonderfully played by the ensemble, and very ably and clearly conducted by ensemble director Brad Lubman.

We walked the High Line from the oligarch’s playground of Hudson Yards (where the Shed is located) to Chelsea, where we were drenched to the bone by a sudden thunderstorm, thanks to a crappy umbrella that wouldn’t stay open. Adventure!

We got a nice respite from the city by visiting friends up in Croton, in Westchester County, above the Hudson River. Sitting outside, lounging in the hot tub, and watching many, many birds as they came to the verdant property was fantastic.

My long-time friend, oboist Erin Gustafson, scored us amazing tickets to her New York City Ballet performance of an all-Balanchine production. The first half: Scotch Symphony, and Valse Fantasie, was not really to my taste. Too much kitsch in the kilts and tam o’shanters in the symphony, and too much meh in the waltz. But the second half was stunning: Sonatine, which is a pas de deux on Ravel’s great work for piano. The piano was stunningly played by Elaine Chelton, and the dancing was spectacular. The closing ballet was Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which is an absolute masterpiece of ballet. This was such a privilege to see danced by Balanchine’s own company. It was spectacularly played (this concerto is not played enough!) by Concertmaster Arturo Delmoni with old-school charm and elan.

On Sunday morning we got up to go see Oregon Symphony principal clarinetist James Shields perform on the Gather NYC series at the Bleeker Street venue SubCulture, a basement venue that most resembles Doug Fir‘s underground venue here in Portland. Concerts are given nearly every Sunday at 11 am, and each is about an hour or so in length.

The program opened with a beautifully meditative performance of Mark O’Connor’s Appalachian Waltz by the Trifecta Trio. Missy Mazzoli’s energetic trio Lies You Can Believe In was played with total conviction, and is a piece that I must perform myself someday! The program concluded with guest artists violinist Lara St. John, and clarinetist James Shields. The five combined to play Osvaldo Golijov’s 1994 magnum opus The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for clarinet and string quartet. I should say four clarinets, as the score calls for four different clarinets to be played during its duration. What an amazing and crazy piece this is! Lara St. John led with total conviction (and with a casualty – during one very strenuous passage her bow caught the corner of her 18th century Italian violin and broke it off – the errant piece was found after the show and can be easily restored), and James was his usual charismatic self, playing with assuredness and personality. As an encore, they performed klezmer arrangements of two of the tunes used by Golijov in his piece. After the performance, we joined the performers for brunch nearby, which was a lot of fun as they’re all fantastic people as well as incredible musicians.

On Monday – Memorial Day – we took the subway downtown – from our new accommodations in Harlem – to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’d never been before, and the one time that Stephanie had was for a gig with Cappella Romana. Being a holiday, the early part of our visit was remarkably uncrowded, but by the time we left, around 1pm or so, it was packed to the rafters. It was great to see so many incredible works of art – the Met is one of the great museums of the world, and even at $25 a pop, worth every penny. We walked from the museum through Central Park, found a nice tree to lie down under, and people watched for an hour or so before we went back to the hotel to leave for the airport. The trip was a whirlwind, but so fun and relaxing, too!

Now that vacation is over, the painful task of learning to play my viola starts anew. I’ve got some major projects coming up this month, and as time allows, I’ll write about them as I go along.

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

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