I first heard the now-famous Hespèrion XXI more than twenty years ago in a not very large church in an evocative little square near the cathedral in Barcelona. They were not world-famous then, and I kept wondering during that concert how they would go over in New York. The wild applause at a 9 o’clock concert in Alice Tully Hall tonight, on the first evening of the Hall’s formal opening festivities, certainly answered that question.

But, as I sat in the sparkling new concert room, I couldn’t help meditating on abounding ironies. The church where I first heard them, dedicated to Sant Felip Neri (whose first oratory, in Rome, gave us the term oratorio for the new kind of sacred stories in music performed there), is on the edge of the old Jewish quarter (the Call), and tonight Hespèrion was performing a whole concert of Jewish music of the Sephardic Diaspora. (And it was only two weeks and two blocks away that I heard The New York Festival of Song serving up their own feast of Diaspora repertory.)
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Alice Tully Hall 2.0

February 17, 2009

Alice Tully Hall, the last of the original Lincoln Center venues to open, was so inseparably — and justly — associated with the woman for whom it was named that it used to seem unimaginable that there would ever be a day when she did not preside from her box there. This was not a case of a magnate giving money on the condition that the hall be named for the donor — an unedifying epidemic of which New York seems to see no end of in recent years. (It’s largely a new practice; even Carnegie Hall was known simply as the Music Hall until after its builder’s death.) Instead, a woman who had tirelessly supported chamber music for many decades held out for a certain kind of chamber-music hall in the new complex that the tirelessly-building Rockefellers (after first demolishing on a vast scale) were pushing through on the site of another famous, if fictional, West Side Story. It opened forty years ago and served us for many events for which it was suited and many for which is was not so well-appointed.

This evening I heard the first pre-opening tryout of various kinds of music with a full crowd inside the radically rebuilt hall. All I can say is that we’re in for a real treat for years to come at the corner of Broadway and 65th. What Miss Tully would have thought of her much-revised home for chamber music many will no doubt try to imagine. What I felt was genuine delight in an attractive and acoustically glowing room.

UPDATE: The New York Times, New York, and The New Yorker.

Gramophone Banquet

February 13, 2009

250px-his_masters_voice Many readers will be very pleased to learn that the invaluable Gramophone magazine has now archived all its numbers from 1923 to the present issue. Just as fortunately, they offer the articles not only as digitalization of the original graphical page but also in searchable text.

This is a feast many of us will delight in. The problem, as I see it, is that classical-music lovers now confront a consumer of hours that may actually rival YouTube.


February 8, 2009

birthday-cake2 It’s surely striking that Lincoln, Darwin, and Mendelssohn were born within a few days of each other.