Monthly Archives: April 2011

Pianist Greg Kallor at Weill Recital Hall Tonight: Getting (an Audience) to Carnegie Hall

Late this morning, I spotted pianist-composer Gregg Kallor’s performance tonight in Weill Recital Hall (at Carnegie Hall).  Here’s the blurb from Time Out New York:

The composer-pianist’s recital starts off with Chick Corea’s Children’s Song sandwiched between works by Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, demonstrating Kallor’s fluid ability to move between the jazz and classical realms. Also on the program are works by Bartók, Louise Talma, Thelonius Monk, Brad Mehldau and Annie Clark, plus a world premiere of Kallor’s own A Single Noon.

This sounds (or should I say “looks”?) fascinating. So I’m going. I love composing performers and performing composers and think we need more of that. Performing musicians who create music.  And juxtaposing different musical genres is fascinating as well–doesn’t always “work,” so we’ll see.  I’m wondering how this sort of program will feel in a formal space like Weill.

Getting (Yourself) to Carnegie Hall

There’s old joke.  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” a tourist asks a man with a violin on a New York street.  “Practice!” he replies.

To elaborate:

The idea is you get good, and Carnegie Hall books you.  That’s rare, unless you have a big name, either as an established artist or as a fast-rising young/unconventional performer or group.  It takes quite a bit for Carnegie Hall itself to hire you to play.

The alternative is you get good and someone else rents the hall and presents you.  Tonight’s concert is an example.  It’s underwritten/presented by the Abby Whiteside Foundation as part of a series of four concerts this spring.  Each recital has, or had, a very interesting mix of music, including a lot of new music. I’ve enjoyed exploring the foundation’s website–obviously Ms. Whiteside was a inspiring teacher.

Getting an Audience to Carnegie Hall?

Well, there’s the publicity and marketing.  What do the presenter and the hall do to let people know about the concert?  When it’s a rental, like tonight, it’s all up to the presenter.  The hall will post information on it’s website and sell the tickets, but the real responsibility is for the people presenting the concert.  The web is so important–as I said, I found tonight’s concert from the Time Out New York site.  What else was done, I don’t know.  Some organizations hire a publicist for their events.  I get a zillion emails from publicists about events here, but I’m evidently off the radar for the publicist for these concerts (if there is one).

Some other thoughts:

I don’t quite understand why the Whiteside Foundation website pages for these concerts, each of which are in Weill Recital Hall, feature the same photograph of the Perelman Stage of Stern Auditorium, cluttered with chairs for an orchestra concert.  Why not use a photo of the actual venue?

Carnegie Hall has recently revamped it’s website, and it looks a lot better than it used to.  Still pretty boring, but no longer mystifyingly ugly, so it’s a big step forward. Ironically, while it has nifty panoramic photos of the interior of the halls, there are no easy-to-find, easy-to-download photos (hence the lack of photos here).

A good, well, let’s say terrific, website for a major performing arts center is a massive, expensive operation.  To be genuinely engaging, especially for people under 40, it needs extensive multimedia integration with audio and video.  Maybe more of that will emerge as time goes by.

But why wait? If [le] poisson rouge, which has at least as many events as Carnegie, can have such an effective multimedia website, why can’t Carnegie, now?  Surely Carnegie Hall could could get plenty of interns to do the work. So maybe there’s something going on over there to prevent much video.  Even the New York Philharmonic, which is often criticized for a supposedly-boring web presence, has extensive video integration.

Meanwhile, the listing in the Time Out New York music pages, run by the amazing Steve Smith (who has superhuman energy and dedication to the musical life of New York) made me much more interested in tonight’s concert than this description on the Carnegie Hall site:


  • Works by Bartók, Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, Gregg Kallor (World Premiere), Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Stravinsky
Steve or one of his colleagues must have taken the Foundation’s press release and written the paragraph I quoted above. I’ve had the experience of seeing a long, unfocused press release and then how beautifully it was transformed into an engaging short paragraph by someone at Time Out.  I wrote earlier about hearing Steve, along with his NY Times colleague Nate Chinen, talk about a sense of mission in his work: it’s about getting people to go experience events. And you can tell it from his writing.  Someone at Time Out took the time to write a paragraph that makes you want to go, that states succinctly what’s fascinating about this concert.  The Carnegie Hall listing simply tells you what’s on the program.
Something seems backwards here. Why should a music writer be working harder at this key element than the people putting on the concert?  In the best of all possible worlds, the concert presenter would supply the hall, in this case Carnegie, with some engaging copy.  Maybe even a photo.  Here, the Foundation doesn’t even have engaging copy on its own website.
I don’t mean to bash anyone here.  As I say, it takes a lot of work.
I organize a dozen free concerts every summer in Greencastle, Indiana.  I’ve been doing it as a volunteer, and I don’t have a huge amount of time to put into publicity–especially audio and video. I look at my own press releases now and realize how much they, well, suck.  But my thoughts are turning to how to draw in more people to our concerts in Indiana, and to concerts everywhere.  It’s obvious that good, short press releases and a genuinely engaging web presence, including a website, blog, and active presence on Facebook and Twitter are essential.
Oy!  Such a lot of work.  And I need to practice.

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Filed under Composer-Performers, Greg Kallor, Publicity and Publicists, Stern Auditorium, Steve Smith, Time Out New York, Weill Recital Hall

Office View

I wrote the other day about how moving operations to a coffee shop (from my NY bedroom) was helping productivity.  It was a Starbuck’s that day, right in my building.  Looked up from the laptop at one point and discovered this view:

I guess the moral of the story is that you never know when some asshole with an iPhone is going to take a picture of your, well . . . ass.  So keep it covered, unless you want it broadcast all over the Internet.

Stayed at home yesterday, which was enough to validate the thesis that renting “office space” for the price of a cup of coffee beats being stuck in my room .  So I’m at another Starbuck’s today (it’s true, in NY there seems to be one every other block).  I picked this one over a Cosi, which has more comfortable-looking chairs, because it had an open table near an outlet for my charger.

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Filed under and everything, life in NY

The Sublime (Briefly Interrupted By the Ridiculous): the Juilliard Orchestra and Alan Gilbert

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that while in New York on sabbatical, I most often attend new-music or alternative-venue/presentation concerts. I’m developing a course on entrepreneurial skills and where classical music may be headed.  I already know how traditional concerts work; I’m looking to see what new things people are doing.  So I haven’t been going to many big orchestra concerts, or mainstream chamber music performances, etc.

But I got an email from Alan Gilbert‘s publicist asking if I’d like to review last Friday’s Juilliard Orchestra concert (April 15)  in which he conducted the Mahler Ninth Symphony.  Well, when people invite me, I like to go.  So I did. And it’s always fun when someone has heard about my blogging and I did feel a bit flattered, I guess, to get invited by a big-shot publicist. I know another publicist who’s a friend of mine put Gilbert’s publicist up to it, but it was still fun to get the email.

I also knew it would be something that my NY sister-by-choice, Katherine, would like to go to.  She doesn’t care for what my publicist friend calls “squeak-fart music,” which describes a lot of what I go to, but she loves Mahler. There was no hesitation in her acceptance of my invitation.

I heard the Juillard Orchestra (which I assume is the top of several orchestras–I think there were five when I was in school there) about five years ago, in Carnegie Hall, and it was phenomenal.  When I was sorting out for myself issues raised by the now-settled Detroit Symphony strike, I speculated about whether or not the DSO management might be hoping a lot of the musicians would just quit, and mentioned the extraordinary level of the Juilliard Orchestra as an example of why someone might think you could just hire an all-new, fabulous orchestra, at substantially lower salaries and with more flexible attitudes.

Someone in a chat forum for cellists didn’t like that.  The Juilliard Orchestra may be good, came a comment, but it certainly is no Detroit Symphony. It takes years of playing together to create a great symphony orchestra.  And so on.

All of which is true.  The comment certainly resonated with me.

So I sat in Avery Fisher Hall Friday night, where I’ve also heard the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic this trip, and part of the time tried to compare the three ensembles. So I could say why the Juilliard Orchestra isn’t as good as them.

But at least as they were playing under Mr. Gilbert, I was stuck.

I’m reminded of occasional experiments where great old-master, multi-million-dollar Stradavaris and Guarneris are played, behind a screen, side by side with newly-made instruments.  The rankings come and, for the most part, people–players and music lovers–can’t tell which is which.  The new ones are often ranked above many of the old ones.

It was like that for me.  I think that the New York Phil strings, on their best nights, are warmer and richer. The Budapest band played Haydn with a humorful nuance that has got to take years of playing together to be able to achieve.  But for accuracy, clarity, precision, energy, dynamic range . . . I just don’t know how any group could be any better. Virtually flawless, with just a cracked brass note or two, which you hear with the greatest of orchestras.  The strings were so together, so tight, that I was reminded of an extraordinary  Cleveland Orchestra concert where the strings seemed like a string quartet.  It was that good.  Turn on the radio in the car, hear Friday night’s performance, and I doubt anyone would think “that’s a student orchestra.”

And no one in the orchestra looked bored, which is a common complaint about one of the groups I’ve mentioned. “What a thrill it must be for the students to play under Alan Gilbert,” I heard someone say.  Absolutely.  And I bet it was a thrill for him to work with attentive, excited, enthusiastic, brilliant and accomplished young people.

I’ve never heard any orchestra play with the delicate, daring softness that Gilbert drew from the Juilliard students as the last movement was inching towards its conclusion. Honest to god, I could hear people breathing–it was that quiet.  Sublime.

And then someone’s fucking cell phone went off.  In a purse or pocket.  So it had to be fished out and got louder when it emerged. It was promptly silenced.  But then, either that person or someone else turned off a phone, which did one of those longish “I’m shutting down” tunes.  Argh!

People say Fisher Hall’s acoustics aren’t so good, but that sucker carried.  

Katherine and I were thrilled to have been there.  As we walked out, I was struck by the sad thought that for many of the students, this may be the greatest orchestra, and the greatest concert, they’ll ever play in–there just aren’t jobs for all of them in top orchestras. When I have students on a sports team at DePauw, I’m always struck by the bittersweet quality of the last game of the year.  For the seniors, they’ve reached their peak and won’t ever play on that level again.  I’m sure it is the same thing for some of these young people.

But if so, what a way to go out.

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Filed under Alan Gilbert, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Conductors, Juilliard Orchestra, Juilliard School (The), Music Schools and Conservatories, Uncategorized

Writer’s Block

The last couple of weeks brought writer’s block, and now I’m two weeks behind regaling myself, and those of you along for the ride, with tales of the musical events I’ve attended.

“I write about my experience going to concerts,” I was explaining to my personal trainer today (by the way, the best way to get yourself–or at least myself–to actually work out is to purchase an insanely, near-irresponsibly expensive, non-refundable package of personal training sessions), “and the experience part started taking over and getting too personal to put on my blog.”

That’s the thing about writer’s block, I’ve been told–it’s almost never that you don’t have something to say, it’s that what wants to come out isn’t what you’re looking for.  So I gave in and did some unpublished writing (i.e., journaling).  All the real juicy stuff, the emotionally authentic stuff, which I’d to share somewhere but not necessarily with high-school cellists thinking of coming to Depauw to study with me.

I also sat around feeling stuck and sorry for myself (anyone else good at that?). And did things like post videos here so the blog wouldn’t just disappear.

Yet I’ve had some fantastic times, too.  Honest to gosh, last week was a combination of peak experiences and periods of despondency that seemed to respond only to lots of sleep.  How do you spell mood swings?  E-R-I-C.

I was describing this to someone who explained, “Oh, you’re creative.  Isn’t that just how creative people are?”*

Well, maybe.  I’ve felt like Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless, all disheveled and forlorn and stuck, before he starts taking the pills that turn him into a superman (man, did I want me some of those!). So I’m starting to imagine just how difficult it would be to write for a living.  Lucky for me, my on-sabbatical paycheck keeps coming regardless of when something gets posted here.  No deadlines, except self-imposed ones.

Part of it is that writing, like practicing the cello, is so damned isolating.  I don’t like being stuck in my “lonely room” (as Cole Porter put it in “Night and Day”). An Andrew Sullivan post this morning inspired me to go write in a coffee shop, and damned if it isn’t working.  (I see people typing at their laptops in Starbucks all the time, but it never dawned on me that it would be a better place to write than at home.)

It’s a cool afternoon, so I threw on a sport coat as I was heading out with my backpack.  “Going to the office?”asked one of my apartment mates.

Guess so.

OK, that’s off my chest (I hope).  Now back to musical experiences in NY.  With this two weeks stored up, I’m going to try writing about them in a random and probably  mashed-up order.  I can’t do separate reviews for each one.


*Back when we were married, Allison (who’s a magnificent violinist) complained (justly, I’m sure) to Thelma, our elderly, old-school neighbor, about some sort of asshole behavior I’d committed .

“Oh, he’s an artist,” Thelma told Allison, serenely excusing whatever I’d done.

“You’re an artist?  What about ME?” Allison exasperatedly berated me later.  After all, she’s as much, probably more, of an artist than I am.  (And has better rhythm. Right, sweetie?)


Filed under and everything, blocks (of the creative and writing variety), creative process

“New York State of Mind” and “Union Square Pillow Fight” (James Bernal videos)

I discovered young photographer/filmmaker James Bernal through Andrew Sullivan’s posting of the “New York State of Mind” video below. James must have moved to NY  about the same time I did (I’m here temporarily and will be back in Indiana this summer). This video made me realize how deeply in love I’ve fallen with NYC.  And, along with the Bill Cunningham New York documentary (which is such an inspiring look at a man who is the joy that is his work), how much I love taking photos and videos–albeit on a much more amateur level than what James does.  But it’s still fun.  So now when I’m bored during the day I realize I can go out and explore what’s going on.  Camera in hand, it feels like a project rather than just goofing off or avoiding harder work.   I’m especially fascinated by all the music going on in parks, on streets, and in the subway.

Definitely click on the icon between “hd” and “vimeo” to watch in full screen mode.

This one is great, too.  My daughter and I showed up in Union Square just about an hour after the pillow fight was over.  Oh, well.

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Filed under Bill Cunningham, Filmmakers/Videographers/Photographers, New York life, sabbatical journal, videos

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (video)

OK, trying to get my writing juices flowing today.  You know I love percussion music, and, meanwhile, I’m going nuts for video/film this week.  This is great. 9:30 goes by very quickly.

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Filed under Percussion Ensembles, videos

Only in New York: Break Dancing in the Subway

My daughter and I were taking the Q train to Times Square Sunday Saturday evening.  Between Union Square and 34th St., things were anything but boring:

Glad I had my iPone with me!

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Filed under New York life