It’s a jungle out there

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En plein air. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Mid-60s and grey yesterday in New York. Rain in the forecast turned out to be very brief spritz (about 30 seconds). The forecast for the next few days is in the mid-50s or thereabouts (cooler at night) but we’re only ten days from the first of Spring, and in the park with the dogs this morning I saw the first daffodils blooming as well as some forsythia. JH, who was over in Central Park, saw a whole cast of characters, too.


A man and his cat.
The cat’s name is Remi, a sweet-natured 2-year-old Bengal who loves Central Park.
A man and his dog (and his iPhone).
Taking a stand.
And just for good measure, a friend of ours spotted this guy on the checkout line at Gristedes.

Yesterday I had to go to the dermo for a topical issue. Our brief chat led almost instantly to the virus. Doc said it was going to get much worse, and advised that I stay inside, out of groups of people — theatre, restaurants, subways; go out for walks and fresh air, and even order my food sent in. No mention of cabs, although I drove to my appointment, having already taken that potential warning.

As one who is single and spends the majority of his daily time at desk reading or writing, much of it is solitary — with four canines nearby to keep me on my toes. So I like to get out to dine, lunch, or even breakfast with friends as much as possible, and to talk to people. It’s a job description, but also the great thing about living in this city.


Lincoln Center was open for business with the NY Phil performing a program of Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin and the Met Opera staging Der Fliegende Holländer. There were, however, a number of empty seats in both venues.

The “subject” gets more intense daily with new warnings coming from near and far, hither and yon. Just when I’ve emotionally adjusted to the barrages, another one, like the doc today, reignites the anxiety. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this state of mind. Last night, thinking about the Bernie/Biden campaigns out there in the hustings, I found myself wondering about those guys campaigning amidst mobs of people! 

However, when one does get out and about for whatever reason, in New York there are people everywhere. I’d taken the FDR to save time and it was moving well (meaning not heavy traffic). I found a parking spot on Irving Place and 17th Street (right across the street from the original home of Elsie De Wolfe and Bessie Marbury — for those of you who know about those girls), and walked across Union Square to the doc’s office.


49 Irving Place, the residence Elsie de Wolfe shared with Bessie Marbury over 100 years ago.

The foot traffic was lighter than usual for a weekday, but not remarkably. And pedestrians were doing what so many do all the time 24/7: looking at or talking on their phones. And most of the cabs passing by were empty (in one of the busiest commercial parts of town.

Epidemic or pandemics aside, last Saturday, March 7th, here in New York over at David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center, at 11 a.m., the New York Philharmonic held its first-ever family benefit, Fun at the Phil: Sleepover at the Museum. 

This was a very special event, and interesting for everyone involved, especially the children. The “Museum” in LeFrak’s book is the AMNH, one of the most popular museums in the city, all ages, even the little ones. I love watching them taking in the permanent exhibitions. Many of the kids, full of wonder, and if they’re old enough to walk and talk, are in awe, and have visited often enough to know what they’re observing! 

The event, a fundraiser of the Philharmonic, honored Karen LeFrak — a Vice Chair of the Philharmonic Board of Directors  —  who is the author of the children’s book “Sleepover At the Museum.” Karen, besides being a mother, grandmother, wife, children’s book author, and philanthropist, is firstly a composer.


Karen LeFrak with husband Richard, son Jamie, and her grandchildren.

Her works have been performed by symphonies all over, including here in New York, California and St. Petersburg (Russia).

Her musical life started when she was a four-year-old. One day she sat down at the family piano and started playing! Without music in front of her! Her parents who were not particularly musically inclined could nevertheless see this was unusual and got her to a piano teacher.

The event began with a one-hour concert for children ages 6–12, featuring a new multimedia orchestral work by Karen based on her children’s book Sleepover at the Museum, with illustrations by David Bucs; followed by  Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, featuring Philharmonic pianist Eric Huebner and guest pianist Steven Beck. Ankush Kumar Bahl conducted the concert in his Philharmonic debut.


Jamie Bernstein narrates Karen LeFrak’s Sleepover at the Museum.
Karen LeFrak bows after the New York Premiere of her piece Sleepover at the Museum, narrated by Jamie Bernstein and conducted by Ankush Kumar Bahl.

More than 265 attended, many with their small children who were rapt with attention as the Philharmonic played and Jamie Bernstein narrated Karen’s Sleepover at the Museum, followed by Jack Prelutsky’s setting of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. Ms. Bernstein, a writer/memoirist, and filmmaker, naturally communicates her own excitement about orchestral music, inspired by her late father the great Leonard Bernstein.

The special event raised about $1 million for the Philharmonic’s education programs. After the concert, attendees of the family benefit gathered on the Grand Promenade of David Geffen Hall for a festive lunch catered by Restaurant Associates, with the décor was provided by Van Vliet & Trap.


Lunch on the promenade following the performance.

Among those attending, many with family, were: Karen LeFrak; Bradley Cooper; violinist Joshua Bell; Jane Eisner; Lloyd and Laura Blankfein; Jane and Ned Sedaka; Peter Cohen; Ann Barish; Alberto Cribiore; and New York Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda. Gala Co-Chairs were: Dr. Kathryn Beal, Serena Boardman, Samantha Topping Gellert, Sarah Jane Gibbons, Beth Kojima, Caroline LeFrak, Katherine LeFrak, Margo Nederlander, Stephanie Sirota, and Filippa Williams.


Young guests arrive at David Geffen Hall for Fun at the Phil Sleepover at the Museum, a family benefit in honor of Karen LeFrak.
Co-Chairs Serena Boardman, Margo M. Nederlander, Stephanie Sirota, Sarah Jane Gibbons, Karen LeFrak, President & CEO Deborah Borda, Dr. Kathryn Beal, Samantha Topping Gellert.
L. to r.: Marco and Katherine Birch and their children; Co-Chair Serena Boardman and her children.
Co-Chair Serena Boardman, Joanna Baker de Neufville, Sana Clegg, and Austen Cruz.
Ann Barish and Denise LeFrak.
Director Emeritus Paula Root, President and CEO Deborah Borda, Karen LeFrak, and Rebecca Rosow.
Joshua Bell and his sons.
Judy Hart Angelo, Lloyd Blankfein, Ned and Jane Sadaka.
L. to r.: Fun at the Phil Co-Chair and Board Member Sarah Jane Gibbons with her husband, Trevor, and their children; Peter Cohen and Alberto Cribiore.
Judy Hart Angelo and Karen LeFrak.
Karen LeFrak, Ankush Kumar Bahl, and Jamie Bernstein.
Dr. Holly Andersen, Co-Chair Margo Nederlander, Kathleen Kirchgaessner, and Francine LeFrak.
President and CEO Deborah Borda, Jane Eisner, and Judy Hart Angelo.
Lauren Cohen Starr and her kids with Karen LeFrak and Peter Cohen.
L. to r.: Illustrator David Bucs and Karen LeFrak; Dr. Kathryn Beal and Samantha Topping Gellert.
Maxwell Federbush, Stephanie Sirota, and Robin van Bokhorst.
Ann Barish, Karen LeFrak, and Julie Barish.
Denise LeFrak, Karen LeFrak, Rebecca Rosow, Director Emeritus Paula Root, and Carol Ross.
Nora Creedon, Caroline LeFrak, Karen LeFrak, and Matthew Lentz.
Katherine Birch and daughter.
Acting Associate Principal Clarinet Pascual Martínez Forteza and wife Gema Nieto Forteza and their children.

Photographs by Linsley Lindekins & Chris Lee (NY Phil)

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