New York im Licht

January 31, 2008

images-1.jpg3781_175.jpg When Carnegie Hall presented its marvelous “Berlin in Lights” festival this season, lots of us were thrilled by many of the varied offerings and by the concept itself. Perhaps nothing about the series was more effective than Carnegie Hall’s going out into the field, as it were, instead of just waiting for the folks to come to it. (This is of course paradoxical for a producing organization that owes its very existence to the great Hall itself, but so be it.) I’ll never forget the production of The Rite of Spring at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, using uptown public-school children as dancers and the very Berlin Philharmonic as the pit band. It raised many possibilities, in the imagination, of what Carnegie Hall might do to match the excitement of that festival in the service of other cultural milieux.

It’s doubtful that they could have come up with a better idea along those lines than the one that was announced this week for next season, in which Jessye Norman will curate a wide-ranging series called “Honor! A Celebration of the African-American Cultural Legacy.” It’s a great idea, and Ms. Norman just may be exactly the right person to put it together. A daughter of the deep South, long a prominent resident of New York, she has achieved an intensively international career in which she has succeeded in interpreting artifacts of many cultures to many cultures; she’s a woman with an always-astonishing sense of style and of theater. Could Carnegie Hall have done better? (I’m trying to picture the meeting at which the idea first came up. Did everyone’s eyes light up as mine did on first hearing of it?) Jessye Norman will be facilitating the presentation of rich material that will be at least as foreign to much of its intended audience as the Weimar-era cabaret music, klezmer bands, or “The Rite of Spring” were to the average American this season.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s Stravinsky project seemed made for its uptown venue, but in fact they had done it first back home in Berlin. Might some of the coming African-American events be as successfully presented in Berlin? We owe them, after all.

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