(Le) Poisson Rouge


Since it first opened in 2008, I’ve been wanting to experience (Le) Poisson Rouge, the “multimedia arts cabaret” on Bleeker St. in Greenwich Village, in the space that once housed the Village Gate (with a Duane Reed drugstore there for part of the interregnum, a friend thinks).  Alternative presentation of classical music is one of my strongest interests and a theme in the first-year seminar course I teach at DePauw.  So a visit to LPR during this visit-my-daughter trip to New York was a top priority.

Last night there were two contemporary-classical events, each a CD release party.  At 6:00, Nonesuch hosted a reception in the Gallery Bar for Alarm Will Sound‘s new album, “a/rhythmia.”  Then at 7:30 PM the incredible flutist Claire Chase performed a concert introducing works from her debut solo album “Aliento” in the main space.

My daughter and I arrived about 6:15 PM to find the front staff, friendly early-twenty-somethings, surprisingly unsure of exactly what was going on.  The Alarm Will Sound party was free, but the Claire Chase event was $10 or free with a $50 annual membership, which grants admission for two to all free-for-members events.  The kids working the front didn’t know this, though;  one told the other to look it up on the website.  Then they didn’t know how to sign me up for a membership.  One went off and came back with the slightly rumpled Justin Kantor, the cellist (about 30 or so) who is a co-founder and manager of the club.  Justin, who I recognized from some how-to–play-the-cello videos on the web, had the membership forms, gently explained to the kids what to do, and had a nice chat with me before going back to work.

As all this was going on, my friend and DePauw colleague Cleveland Johnson, who is on leave directing the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship program in NY, emerged from the darkness.  He’d emailed me earlier in the day about getting together while I’m in town, and I’d emailed him back that I was going to LPR that evening.  Turned out he was as well, and was there with his daughter, a graduate student at Columbia.

“Alcohol is our patron,” Justin and his business partner like to say, and this became clear quite quickly.  The Gallery Bar was beautiful, the drinks fairly (although not overly) expensive, and the food menu inviting.  By this time it was, say, 6:30 or so, and nothing was yet happening regarding Alarm Will Sound.  “Things here often run late,” Cleveland, a LPR regular, explained.  “Some things don’t start for an hour after they’re scheduled.  And you never know how crowded it will be. You can show up for something you think no one would come to, and there will be a line around the block.  And then you come early for something you think everyone in New York will want to attend, and there’s hardly anyone here.”

My daughter and I were going to order food, but I spotted a buffet table with food waiting to be uncovered.  About 6:45 PM the coverings came off and guests started helping themselves.  The sound system was still playing something that was definitely not Alarm Will Sound.  A bit before 7:00 PM the new album did start playing, but by the time the Johnsons and the Edbergs migrated to the main space (about 7:15 PM) for the Claire Chase event, there were still no CDs or group members or Nonesuch execs around (or at least identified).

Now this event was well organized and produced.  To our delight, there was a table with CDs and flyers, and the CDs were free.  Now that’s a release party!  (On the other hand, I think they could have sold a bunch of them.)  The main space is visually extraordinary, and the stage had alto and bass flutes on piano benches.  I didn’t look at my watch, but it must have been quite close to 7:30 PM that Claire began her program, performing works for flute and electronics (two using prerecorded tracks, one with live processing including some looping) by Dan Fujikura, Nathan Davis, and Du Yun.  It was an extraordinary performance by an artist who has consummate technical command, musicality, and emotional involvement. The pieces were fantastic.  I was especially moved by Dy Yon’s Run in a Graveyard, which was given it’s world premiere at the event.

The lighting and amplification was brilliant;  a lot of money has gone into this space.  There was a two-item-per-person minimum, so despite being pretty full from the Alarm Will Sound party, we ordered food from the $5 appetizer menu along with drinks.

Now I had been wondering how things would work in a cabaret setting.  Surprisingly well.  The music was amplified, and the audience, at least for this event, was remarkably quiet and attentive, even while eating and drinking.  The wait staff was quietly efficient.  I look forward to hearing an unamplified acoustic event there and see how that goes.

As soon as Claire’s performance ended, the doors between the Gallery bar and the main space were opened.  After good conversation with DePauw music alum and extraordinary flutist himself Eric Lamb (who is a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble which Claire co-founded and serves as the Executive Director for) we headed out through the bar, a bit before 9:00 PM.  Now there was a table with Alarm Will Sound’s new CD;  I bought one.  The band (or some of them, there are 20 in it) had come and gone.

My daughter and I had a lovely walk uptown to her dorm, and made plans to see the 50th-anniversary hi-def digital restoration of The Wizard of Oz this afternoon at a nearby theater.  Of all the movies in New York . . . well, what could be a more nostalgic father/daughter outing?  It’s what we both want/need today, I think.

Great links about LPR here, here, here, and here (the last is on the design firm’s site and has a gallery of photos).



Filed under alternative classical performance, Le Poisson Rouge

2 responses to “(Le) Poisson Rouge

  1. Rachel

    I hadn’t heard of this place until now, but next time I’m in the city, I’m definitely going to check it out. It sounds like exactly what every city should have: a stimulating venue for new interesting music.

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