Monday, January 9, 2012

Bright days and nights

Looking towards Fifth Avenue and 75th Street from within Central Park. 11:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, January 9, 2012. June in January or so it almost seemed this past Saturday in New York when the sun was bright and the temperatures hit the low the 60s.
Looking north along Fifth Avenue from 74th Street.
Last Thursday night David and Julia Koch held a musicale at their Park Avenue apartment, with a performance by violinist virtuoso Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk on the piano. The duo have a new CD “Joshua Bell Jeremy Denk French Impressions” (SONY), and their program included excerpts from composers Camille Saint-Saens, Cesar Franck and Maurice Ravel.

This was a very special occasion for a couple of reasons. Firstly I’d heard and seen Bell once before -- a couple of years ago at his loft, where Kipton Cronkite had organized a little concert for about fifty people. I love music, including classical music, and although I love listening to a great violinist, I tend to regard myself as  “piano man.” I can play – like a poor amateur, alas, but great performances thrill me. The first time I heard Joshua Bell play, however, changed that. I am a violin man now too.

And secondly, how many times in anyone’s life is one given the great privilege of hearing great performances of great music live in someone’s living room? It’s magic for the spirit.

The duo's new CD.
Scenes from Joshua Bell's performance on his 1713 Stradivarius on the occasion of his 41st birthday in his Manhattan apartment. 12/10/08.
Bell’s appearance is so un-longhair, so almost Beach Boys American, that he looks like he could be up onstage with a rock group. He is a boy from Bloomington, Indiana -- albeit now 44 -- and he looks so boy-next-door when you first see him that you wonder if he’s all that great.

Once the music begins, there are no more questions. What we think of classical music is transformed into contemporary, as if brand new. You understand what “classical” really is: now and forever. And the kid is suddenly the maestro.

Thinking how I’d describe him, I thought of the simple term “virtuoso violinist.” Uncertain of the authenticity of the phrase, I Googled it.

This is what came up:

The word virtuoso (from latin virtuosus) is an Italian word meaning in English "an individual who possesses outstanding excellence" in any specified field.

Thus virtuoso violinist simply means somebody who is a performer of outstanding excellence on the violin such as the great Paganini.

The term would normally only be used today to refer to a violinist who is a star performer such as being a brilliant soloist in a great concert performance of a Concerto for violin and orchestra or in chamber music, rather than to describe all or any of the first or second violinists playing in a symphony orchestra.

Simply put. It is an extremely talented violinist.

Watching him perform in person with his Stradivarius is as compelling as watching Mick Jagger on stage -- same idea, different musical venue; same dynamic. You can’t take your eyes off him, and the sounds he slides and plucks out of his violin grab you and get the juices flowing, even roaring at times. You get the dual experience of watching genius mesmerize, and hoping you can keep it in your head.
David Evans Shaw, Joshua Bell, Glenn Close, Jeremy Denk, and Christine Baranski.
Christine Baranski, David Koch, and Gayle King. Julia Koch and Frederic de Narp.
Thursday night’s performance was enhanced by the collaboration with Jeremy Denk whom I’d never seen or heard before. He too communicates the depths of the self with an intensity and a flourish on his keyboard. Evidently the two men collaborate frequently. Watching them you can see why: they are on the same wavelength with their music, talking, singing, rhapsodizing, and suddenly you are too.

The Kochs' large living room had been cleared for the guests’ chairs. Julia Koch had earlier told some of us that she’d bought the piano (a beautiful Steinway grand) when her daughter began taking lessons. It had occurred to her that perhaps a plain old upright might be a good way to start on, but they did have the space for something larger, and this one was a beauty.

I had my first lessons on a Steinway by Mrs. Mary Furber Anderson, “teacher of pianoforte” ages ago, and I can attest that that’s an excellent place to start. The child doesn’t realize until he or she’s a little older, that it’s a gift that stays with you all your life.
Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts. Glenn Close and Naomi Watts.
The evening was called for 6:30. Guests gathered in the Koch’s gallery and library for wine, sparkling water and champagne, with hors d’oeuvres of caviar and baked ham and biscuits. When I arrived about 7, there were about 30 or 40 already there.

There was an excitement in the air knowing we were going to hear something special. Even in New York, it’s very infrequent that any of us are invited to hear a great performer in concert in someone’s home.

The Koch’s guest list included Muffie and Dr. Sherrell Aston, Christine Baranski, Karen LeFrak, Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts, Princess Firyal of Jordan, Boaz Mazor, Debbie Bancroft, Campion Platt, Patrick McMullan, Barbara Walters, David Evans Shaw and Glenn Close, Carolina Herrera, Tory Burch, David Kleinberg, Brad Comisar, Julie and Billy Macklowe, Bronson van Wyck, Emily Smith and Paul Deleon, Frederic de Narp, Whitney Flesher, Paxton Flesher, Tamara Mellon, Nicole Miller, David and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Jeff Fuhrman, Jacob Bernstein.
Tory Burch, Dr. Sherrell Aston, Muffie Potter Aston, and Carolina Herrera.
At about 7:30 everyone was seated. Our host introduced the musicians and told us that the violin was his favorite instrument to listen to. Then Joshua Bell spoke, telling us about the first piece on the program, a Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major by Cesar Franck.

Growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, he’s very American Midwestern with his easy yet straight forward manner and relaxed (but neat) appearance. Telling the audience about the music they were about to hear, he brought a professor’s informing “human interest” to his descriptions, providing an intimate relationship with it for them.
David Koch introducing the musicans.
Then when he started to play, he moved into his material like a great actor building a story with a song. The musical influence of his own American era is apparent as he proceeds with that relaxed appearance of a rocker combined with distinctive passion of a maestro as he plays. The performance lasted about a half hour. Bell and Denk played the Franck, then Saint-Saens and then Ravel, introducing each with some history.

The concert lasted about  a half hour – which flew by.

The guests gave the performers a long standing ovation. It was so great that David Koch felt moved to ask Joshua Bell if they might have an encore – as we were all hoping. He responded politely, while wiping his brow, that they had really played themselves out of energy (my words, not his) and politely said they couldn’t accommodate.  There was another standing ovation and our host invited everyone to stay on for a bit for to mingle and talk. Which everyone did, including Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk.
Lucie Arnaz at at Feinstein's at Loew’s Regency.
Also last Thursday night at Feinstein's at Loew’s Regency opened its Winter 2012 season with the return of Lucie Arnaz in a show based on her new CD “Latin Roots.” The show ran for four nights only, ending last night. Paige Peterson was there to cover it for NYSD.

Lucie, a child of Show Business, daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, has had a diversified career of now more than 40 years in the business including stage, screen and television.
From Paige: Lucie’s show starts in nostalgia, Lights out, an audio clip begins: Desi Arnaz singing to his infant daughter. Then the lights flash on, and there is Lucie Arnaz, backed by the tightest band north of Havana, belting out "I'll see you in C-U-B-A.” And she’s off, romping through songs as varied as “Johnny Angel” and "Blame it on the Basso Nova.”

If Lucie Arnaz were a wine, you’d taste notes of Peggy Lee and Tina Turner. But it’s her Hollywood lineage that defines her; she delivers her mother’s irrepressible energy and her father’s musicianship. At Feinstein’s, she told stories about her parents and sang “Leader of the Band” with a clutch in her voice that brought tears to many. And when she finished on a rousing note, she got multiple standing ovations. Her spectacular encore was "El Cumbanchero" --- shades of the Copa, all those years ago. 
Lucie with her band: Steve Samuel, Brian Nalpeka, Roger Squitero, and Ron Able.
Lucie with husband Larry Luckinbill. Valarie Pettiford.
Ron Abel, Lucie, Michele Lee, and Chuck Steffan.
Lucie with Tommy Tune. Lucie with Hal Linden.
Last night was also the first installment of the second season of Downton Abbey. I’d gone to dinner earlier at Sette Mezzo with a friend who had to get back by nine o’clock to see the show. I’d seen the first season, or most of it. When I got home, I decided to plug in my TV and watch it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a signal (probably from having it off for so long – I can’t remember when I last looked at it) so I went down the hall to my neighbors whom I know were watching it.

I’m hooked, like a lot of other people. Someone told me that the reviews were less than glowing. Who cares? How often do you watch anything that you can't take a moment away from it? How often do you see a simple romantic kiss that has more erotic intensity than any sex scene you’re already over-exposed to? And how often do you get a glimpse of the real emotional catastrophe of war on ordinary people? We’re insured to practically everything these days when it comes to performance. Downton Abbey gives you exactly what Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk provided the other night at David and Julia Koch’s: you can’t stay away for a moment.

My friend Adam Brecht, who is an executive with Creed fragrances here in New York, in his intense enthusiasm for the show was prompted to send me this list afterwards of what he called “Downton Abbey fragrance speculation”:

Lord Grantham: CREED Santal Imperial; Lady Grantham: CREED Fantasia de Fleurs; Lady Mary: CREED Orange Spice;The Dowager Countess Grantham: CREED Fleurs de Bulgarie (made for Queen Victoria under royal warrant); Mr. Matthew Crawley: CREED Neroli Sauvage; and Downton House fragrance: Pekin Imperial beeswax candle.  
Patrick McMullan (Koch)

Photographs by Stephen Sorokoff (Arnaz)

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