May 5, 2007

NYC (Part 1): Academy of Ancient Music – Zankel Hall, NYC 4/26/07

Handel: Concerto Gross in B-Flat Major, Op. 3, No.2
Handel: Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op.3, No.6
Telemann: Water Music Suite, “Hamburger Ebb und Fluth” (1723)
Water Music Suite in G Major, HWV350
Telemann: Concerto in E minor for Flute and Recorder, TWV52:e1
Concerto Grosso in B-Flat Major, Op.3, No.1

Richard Egarr: harpsichord, director


It was a decidedly stressful drive to the airport. Strong thunderstorms had rolled through middle Tennessee in the night and morning traffic was snarled all over due to the inevitable numerous accidents. Thankfully, we made our flight and arrived in Newark, NJ a little bit early. It used to be a huge pain to get from Newark to Manhattan, but the AirTrain to Penn Station was easy and fast. The lengthy queue at the taxi-stand in front of Madison Square Garden was brutally efficient in that way you can only experience in New York City. Within a mere minute or two, we were barreling our way down 7th Avenue to Greenwich Village. The cabdriver was super-friendly – he proudly showed us photographs of his children and grandchildren. (Who says people in New York are rude? That is a myth!) We were a bit early for check-in at The Washington Square Hotel, but the concierge was (also) super-friendly and he helpfully stowed our luggage and animatedly suggested places to obtain the essentials, such as coffee, grapefruit, and jazz.

We took a walk up 6th Avenue and it was more than a little overwhelming to me just how many freaking people were clogging the sidewalks at 2:00 PM on a Thursday afternoon. New York is an intense place - to say the least! It took me a little getting used to. I guess I really am a “country mouse” these days.

Back at the hotel, we checked in, unpacked, and changed into our finery for a Big Night in The City. We cabbed back uptown for our 5:00 PM reservation at The Modern, the restaurant located at the recently enlarged Museum of Modern Art. We ate in the bar area, which served an abbreviated menu of appetizer and ½-size portions from the dinner menu. I enjoyed a mélange of artfully prepared dishes such as raw oysters with caviar, leeks and cider, a pair of decadently enormous grilled Diver scallops with Chianti glazed beets, toasted almonds, and cumin-sumac butter, followed up with spice-crusted Colorado lamb loin with shank and machego cheese gratin and pomegranate reduction. Lizzy had a mixed green salad with Coach Farm’s triple crème goat cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds and apple cider vinegar followed by swordfish with eggplant caviar and teardrop tomato salad. It was first class all the way, and the people-watching was definitely a blast. After aperitifs and espresso, we leisurely walked a couple blocks up to Zankel Hall, which is part of the Carnegie Hall complex.


The Academy of Ancient Music is the premiere early music ensemble and I own and dearly love many of their recordings so I was very excited to have an opportunity to see them perform live on those beautifully “primitive” period instruments. But, we were ushered to our seats only to find an elderly gentleman occupying one of the seats, quietly working the New York Times crossword puzzle. Turns out he has a subscription ticket – this is his seat! Oh no! A computer snafu! Fortunately, the staff acted like this was not the first time duplicate tickets had been sold over the internet. The kindly gentleman insisted that the ushers immediately find seats “for this nice young couple” and so they did, just across the auditorium.

I was amazed that there were any empty seats in the hall since Zankel Hall holds barely 600 people. The acoustic is maybe a bit too dry and clinical for my taste, but it is an extremely intimate setting to hear baroque orchestral music. More problematic is the fact that its location deep below street level allows for a substantial amount of subway noise to enter the hall, sometimes quite distractingly. Nevertheless, the sound of the woody oboes, honking bassoon, and breathy recorders and flutes were all finely detailed while the strings and continuo were well balanced and crystal clear.

And what fun it was to watch! These musicians are definitely not the stereotypically musty and stodgy performers you might expect, despite their obvious scholasticism. They are clearly way into it: their body language, watchful interaction, and synchronistic ensemble playing indicate that the group operates more like a “band” than what you might normally think of as an “orchestra.” This band-like sensibility enables this so-called “ancient music” to really come alive – to rock. For example, during the Handel Op.3, No.6 , Richard Egarr and William Carter improvised a lovely harpsichord and theorbo duet to supply the “missing” second movement. The program offered many wonderful coloristic effects, as the orchestra split into smaller “concertinos” such as flutes and bassoon, violin and oboes, cello and violins, etc. while Telemann’s Concerto for Flute and Recorder showcased the astonishing virtuosity of Rachel Brown and Rachel Beckett. In all, it was a thoroughly captivating performance.

The Academy of Ancient Music is playing a brief U.S. tour in support of their new CD/SACD of the entire Handel Op.3 on Harmonia Mundi. Anne Midgette’s review of this concert appeared in The New York Times on April 28.


Energized by the fantastic music, Lizzy and I decided to walk for a while down through the neon frenzy of Times Square. However, it was such a nice night, that we wound up walking all the way back to the hotel – about fifty blocks! It took us right about an hour. There was a time that I remember well when we would have been seriously ill-advised to take such a walk, but New York has changed. Heck, I remember when Times Square was a place to scrupulously avoid. Now it is a Broadway theme park. So it goes, I suppose.



Christopher Murray said...

I've been eagerly awaiting this report. And I agree that New Yorkers are not what most people would assume. My last visit there was nothing but pleasant.

I am somehow amazed by the fact that the subway noise was audible within the hall. I certainly understand it, but it is surprising nonetheless.

Sounds like a fabulous trip though ... and the description of the food makes my mouth water. I am very happy to hear you both had such a nice time.

We're heading there for a wedding at the end of the month. But we will not have the time, I fear, to enjoy the wonderful walks and moments you describe.

I can't wait to hear more ....

Christopher Murray said...

Broadway theme park ... I like that. Yeah, I remember a lot of pretty unsavory times myself down in old Times Square.