OK, catching up on my musical adventures.
The last event I wrote about was the Dueling Fiddlers at [le] poisson rouge (LPR) on Sunday Feb. 6. After a flurry of attending something virtually every night since I arrived in NY mid-January, I took a few nights off. I was moving from one place to another, and perhaps there are only so many events one can attend without a bit of time to mentally relax.
Thursday Feb. 10 made for a difficult choice. Richard Stolzman was performing at LPR, and there was an Ecstatic Music Festival show at Merkin, both of which I really wanted to experience. I opted for making music myself, and accepted an invitation to read string quartets with three fine New York freelance musicians. Each around my age (50s), each getting a lot less work than before. None seemed bitter, though, and all four of us were happy to sit in a living room, reading Haydn, Schumann, and Beethoven. The others have played together for years, and there was the kind of old-friends bickering about how the chairs should be arranged, where the lamps should go, which volume of Haydn to start with, etc. There are so many Haydn quartets that few of us who don’t play string quartets for a living are familiar with all 68 of them. There was such joy among us, as twists and turns, unexpected modulations and surprising dynamics presented themselves. “Oh, wow!” “That’s fantastic!” Whatever life’s challenges, professional or personal, playing chamber music with friends (old or new) seems to make it all better, at least for a while.
I was playing the cello again on the evening of Friday Feb. 11–improvisation and Bach as part of the music for Robin Becker’s Into Sunlight work-in-progress modern dance showing at the 92nd St. Y. Playing for dancers, watching and responding to them, is such a stimulating experience, very different than playing a concert. A blog post about that difference is in the works.
So it was Saturday Feb. 12 when I again heard others perform. Back at Drom in the East Village, I had dinner while listening to the Blue Moon Ensemble perform what the club billed as a St. Valentine’s Day Special, with music “dedicated to love and lovers.” “Mashups” (here less the overlap of multiple, formerly discreet pieces, and more the close juxtaposition of music from differnt genres) and “remixes” were the spirit of the evening. Early jazz, progressive jazz, traditional classical music, Byzantine chant (arranged for instruments) . . . a wonderful array, played with enthusiasm. The Blue Moon combines the forces of a traditional jazz sextet (trumpet, sax, guitar, piano, bass, drums) with violin, cello, and clarinet. It makes for lots of interesting combinations.
I got there after the show had started, but thankfully there were several empty tables, including one with no “reserved” seat sign on it, so I didn’t have to stand or sit at the bar. This being New York, though, the empty tables didn’t stop the waiter, once he finally noticed me, from asking if I had a reservation, and, when I said no, saying he would need to move me to another spot. I pointed out the empty tables with “reserved” signs on them, and he somewhat sheepishly relented. That was OK, but what really irritated me was that Drom doesn’t serve tap water, and charges $5.00 for a bottle of water. I was quite thirsty, was going to get a glass or two of wine anyway, and found this annoying and inhospitable. It’s the only place I’ve been in New York, or anywhere else, where they won’t serve you water along with whatever else you order. I enjoyed the music but left irritated with the venue, which undoubtedly will influence my decision-making process when there’s a which-of-the-four-things-I’d-like-to-attend night in the future.
There was also another music-in-clubs phenomenon: overly loud people at the next table. As the evening progressed, a group of four very expensively (leather, fur) and fashionably-dressed middle-aged women formed at the table next to me. They were excited to see one another, and once the fourth arrived, their conversation, in an Eastern-European language (Turkish? Armenian?), got so loud that to hear the music I left my seat and went and stood in another part of the room for a while. They noticed, I think, and lowered their voices.
The social contract in a club is obviously different than in a concert hall. A certain level of sound, not from the stage, is inevitable, expected, accepted, and generally not bothersome. And usually people don’t talk, or keep their voices very low, while the music is being performed. So this was unusual. They were so obviously excited to be in one another’s company that they lost awareness of the rest of the room, it seemed. When I moved so I could hear, they noticed, and became appropriately considerate. And so I returned to my hard-won seat.
I like Drom. I’ll be back. I do wonder if the irritation not serving free water triggers doesn’t outweigh the short-term benefits of the markup on bottled water (I did pop for a Pellegrino and at least one glass of wine). But heck, it’s their business model, not mine.