New York City Soundtrack 

(published first at ionarts)

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S.Reich, City Life, New York Counterpoint, Eight Lines, Violin Phase..., Ensemble Modern
The soundtrack for New York is Steve Reich’s City Life / New York Counterpoint. It’s an accessible and very involving modern work and if you want to find out where John Adams got his ideas for the Grammy-winning 9/11 memorial “The Transmigration of Souls” from, go no further. The soundtrack of New York is the bustling of pedestrians, cars honking, tourists chattering and (though less and less) someone screaming obscenities in broad daylight that would leave a Yugoslavian truck driver green with envy. I opted out and imposed my own audio-footprint onto the city.

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W.A.Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, HvK
Thanks to my Koss headphones that double as earplugs, I blocked out the sound of everything but the honking of those cars that almost ran me over (since I didn’t hear them coming while habitually jaywalking). Last week, Chinatown was transformed into a Seraglio from which J.E.Gardiner abducted me. Wiggling my head in infantile delight to “Martern aller Arten” (admittedly one of the lesser numbers of Mozart’s “Entführung aus dem Seraill”), the walk to Gramercy Park received a janissary lilt that was most enjoyable. Part of DG/Archiv’s new “opera_House” line of budget reissues, the recording can’t be a first choice for lack of a libretto – but given the circumstance and the fair diction of Cornelius Hauptmann (Osmin), Stanford Olsen (Belmonte), Luba Orgonasova (Konstanze), Hans-Peter Minetti (Selim), Cyndia Sieden (Blonde) and Uwe Pepper (Pedrillo), that wasn’t an issue.

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W.A.Mozart, Don Giovanni, dir. Peter Sellars
The Mozartean New York experience inexorably evoked a living Peter Sellars production of one of Mozart’s DaPonte operas, Don Giovanni especially. Speaking of which… Don Giovanni is by far the best of the recently released three Sellars-DaPonte-Mozart collaborations. (As the Unitel archives are finally open to Universal, we saw and will see some very fine performances – not just in opera – appear on DVD for the first time!) From the overture over pictures of dilapidated areas in the Bronx to the brilliant depiction of Don Giovanni as a rapist (not one ounce of comedy here!) it is a must-borrow-and-watch-at-least-once kind-of DVD. Some find the singing good – I think it is pretty awful and not to well recorded, either. One very notable exception though: The bubblegum chewing, second generation Italian Donna Anna! The blonde singer/actress turns out to be none less than Lorraine Hunt (pre-Lieberson) and she’s splendid all around, with acting that stands out in a cast of mostly fine actors. I can’t believe it’s the Vienna Philharmonic playing, though… the band sounds scrawny at times, and underpowered. And the production is at a few points so dated, so 80’s, that it hurts. Still, the portrayal, acting and especially characterization makes it one of the most important Don Giovanni’s to see, especially if you are interested in the interpretive possibilities this opera offers. How the Perry borthers' twin-pair Don Giovanni / Leporello leaves no humor in the second act's opening scene and rape, threaten and bully their way through this most perfect of all operas will forever change your perceiption of Don Giovanni.

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G.Donizetti, L'elisir d'amore, Ferro
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R.Strauss / R.Wagner, Orchestral Works (rec.1953), H.v.Karajan
Keeping with the Mozartean spirit (roughly) was the most enjoyable L’Elisir D’Amore/Irving Street experience. I may come around to Italian opera yet, given how I took to Barbara Bonney, Gösta Winbergh, Bernd Weikl, Rolando Panerai and Antonella Bandelli under Gabriele Ferro’s leadership in the reissue on the mentioned opera_House line. Donizetti and Mozart both aided my operatic recovery after the “Shadowtime” experience the previous night that had already been treated with a late-night emergency download of Alfred Brendel’s late Beethoven sonatas (iTunes.com) the same night.

Before Marc-André Hamelin’s recital at the Mannes School, I gave my ears to Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia in Strauss and Wagner on a new Testament release. With a superb Till Eulenspiegel I took the L-Train out of Greenpoint with the reasonable goal of 8th Ave./14th St. to then switch to the A or B train to 86th. Not quite, though. For lack of hearing anything other than Strauss (least of all any announcements over the intercom), I entered Union Square station and… before I had even heard the last note of a fine Don Juan, found myself back at 1st Avenue. The L simply refused to go further than Union Square. Still plenty of time, though, Tod und Verklärung played, and back again. Venus Mountain music (from Wagner’s Tannhäuser), the transfer-bus 14D to 8th Avenue – and maybe a bit late for my meeting with an acquaintance to get good seats at the first-come/first-serve concert. Jumping on the train and listening to that Till again is one smooth move. Excellent. Times Square. Plush Strings, exquisite pacing. 59th Street. Great rhythmic energy in the Philharmonia’s playing. 125th Street. Shit. E-train was a bad (Express) decision. Don Juan and back again on the next train. The D-train, unfortunately, wasn’t a wise choice, either – as I reckon when I get off to T&V, rather annoyed, at 59th Street again. Maybe I’d get to the Mannes for the second half? The A-train (good pick) back up and at 8.05 (two hours after my departure from a lovely Polish Bakery) I sat at the back of the stage, behind the Steinway, after all. I may forego music on future metro rides.

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L.v.Beethoven / J.Brahms, Symphony No.2, M.Jansons / Concertebouw
To be on the safe side altogether, I walked back from 85th to Gramercy – stopped at the Lincoln Center Tower classical department and cried. It’s a temple! They have CD’s that are not even supposed to be available in the US. And a separate room for opera – tons and tons of opera and every available Parsifal recording under the sun. The rest of the way was Beethoven’s 2nd, which, in Mariss Jansons’ live recording with the Concertgebouw (to be released in early September) sounds like broad, flattened Mozart. Times Square at night to the second movement of that symphony is an experience – slightly on the surreal side – I recommend to everyone. I whistled (badly, probably) all the way to 37th, where Brahms’ second symphony took over. A tremendous performance under Jansons. While the Beethoven is very good in its backwards-looking, robust way (pointing to the Jupiter more than the Eroica), the Brahms is energetic with great momentum that propels the listener through the first movement in no time. The strings sound excellent (they must sound even better if played on an SACD player) and the brass and woodwind have character on top of impeccable playing. It lasted until L’Express a 24-hour Bouchon and alleged hang-out of Joshua Bell’s. The rest of the Symphony was enjoyed many hours and several Ricard’s later at my pod around the corner.

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