Category Archives: performance practice

Composers performing, performers creating, and the virtues of mingling (Sabbatical Journal IV)

“I envy you,” a friend who recently moved out of Manhattan told me the other day, “getting to go to all these things.”  I’ll probably envy me, too, once I get back to Indiana this summer.  Meanwhile, some what I’ve been up to since my last post, and what it has me thinking about:

On Sunday 1/30, I played some Bach and improvisations for a work-in-progress showing of Robin Becker’s developing Into Sunlight project.  We performed, in a studio at the LaGuardia High School for Music, Art, and the Performing Arts, for the cast of a major Broadway show, along with some potential donors.  I’m new enough to New York that I’m still excited by proximity to celebrities; it was fun to look up at see faces I recognize from television.  Robin’s choreography is brilliant and moving.  I’ve seen it evolving since November, and it’s a privilege to be involved in the creative process.And it was fun to mingle a bit, especially with those who were enthusiastic about my playing.

Then a cab ride (I’m trying to avoid them, because they can eat up a lot of money fast) to another emerging East Village alternative venue, Drom. Like [le] poisson rouge, it’s a very appealing space, well designed, beautiful bar, great lighting, etc., described by co-founder Serdar Ilhan on its website as a “home for eclectic and underrepresented genres of music, a place where the destination [is] the journey itself.  That’s where the name Drom comes from; in the Romani (Gypsy) culture, a drom is both a journey and a road.”

What brought me, spending money willy-nilly on a cab, was the Composers Concordance 2nd Annual Composers Play Composers Marathon, which had already started when I finished up on the other side of town. Nineteen composers, nineteen performances, each with the composer performing, either solo or with a small ensemble.  (I got there late; the first of the three sets may have included an additional piece in honor of Milton Babbitt, who had just passed away). A wide array of musical styles–eclecticism at it’s best, I’d say.  I absolutely loved the celebration of composer/performers and performer/composers.

The thing that is so stupid about current classical music training, and one of the cancers that has eaten away of the vitality of classical music, is that we’ve made composers and performers into different species. It’s true that not everyone with a great gift and skill at composing has the gifts to be a great performer, and vice-versa.  Nevertheless, you aren’t a healthy, whole musician without creating and performing.  And serious art music in western culture might have stayed in a more audience-connected culture if new music hadn’t been artificially isolated in the academy. I can go on and on and on about this.

But this event was a dose of the antidote. And as with my LPR Metropolis Ensemble trip a couple of nights before, it was standing room only.  OK, for my 52-year-old feet’s sake, I’ve got to get to these places early so I can sit! (Which I will do tonight at LPR.) There were some great couches in the lobby, though, so I did get a bit of relief at times.

What’s great about these venues is the mingling along with the drinks and food.  I met and chatted with a number of the composers and additional performers.  Wonderful time.  The social aspect of the event made it much preferable to me than sitting in, say, a university recital hall for a similar new-music marathon with two intermissions.  That would take a big commitment, along with steely resolve.

On the other hand, a commenter on my previous post points out that club venues like this can be cliquish.  If alone, a traditional hall’s anonymity is more egalitarian. I met a friend at this event and ran into another, so perhaps my experience would have been different otherwise. It’s a good point; I’m not as enthusiastic about this evening’s solo LPR excursion as I would be if I were going with or meeting a friend.

Tuesday night I went to an actual old-school night club, Club Cache, in the basement of the Edison Hotel near Times Square, to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, a big band playing early jazz on period instruments (enthusiastic New York Times articles here and here).  This was no chance happening; introduced by mutual friends, I’ve gotten to know the extraordinary Andy Stein, who plays violin and saxophone in the group.  I walked in and thought, “I feel like I’m in a club from Boardwalk Empire.”  Surprise! Turns out that these guys recorded much of the music, and appear in (at least) the opening episode.  I loved their gig, and it struck me funny that the period-instrument movement, so important in classical music these days, reaches even into jazz.  Or, rather, has a parallel there in the person of Mr. Giordani, who Andy tells me is as passionate and knowledgeable about the instruments and performance practice of early jazz as any treatise-addicted early-music fanatic.

The music was great, and so was my surprisingly inexpensive ($12) seafood salad ($15 food and drink minimum).  I might have felt lonelier here had I just walked in by myself and not had Andy chatting with me on breaks. But–and this is what I think is brilliant and why I’m writing about it–Vince came over during a break when Andy was not keeping me company, introduced himself,thanked me for coming, asked what had brought me there, and chatted with me. As far as I could tell, he worked every table in the room.  As is the case with any good networker, he seemed genuinely delighted to meet me, and everyone else, and to enjoy hanging out.

And so, otherwise a stranger, I was mingled with. Not ignored. Since I was nuts about the music, I’m wanting to take friends there.  And I know that even if Andy isn’t there, Vince is sure to come by and chat.  Definitely an attracting factor, and definitely something all of us working with small venues would do well to model.




Filed under alternative venues, Andy Stein, Composers Concordance, Drom, jazz, Le Poisson Rouge, performance practice, Robin Becker, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks