Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not the stuff of nightmares

When I moved to London, I was so taken with the city that I was a dedicated tourist.  I spent whatever spare change I had on tickets - train ones, theatre ones, concert ones.  When London was all about The Proms at Royal Albert Hall, I went there and I had an amazing time.  So when I moved to New York, I was curious about the OTHER famous concert hall I'd heard so much about - Carnegie Hall.  The fact that it has taken me over a year to get there is immaterial, really.  Because tonight I finally made it.  Not on stage (yet), but propped up nice and tall on a plush red velvet chair in a box seat at Carnegie Hall.  I'll take that.

Right at the outset though, I have to give London props.  From the street, Royal Albert Hall is way more impressive than Carnegie, architecturally-speaking at least.  Royal Albert Hall is this imposing monolith that stands alone on a busy London street, opposite the gorgeous Kensington Gardens.  Carnegie Hall, on the other hand, is one of those buildings that is on top of you before you realise it.  The Hall is in a busy part of New York, surrounded by restaurants and diners and tourist hotspots.  It's the sort of place you need to stand back from in order to appreciate it.  And whoever gets that chance in this city?  On the plus side, Carnegie Hall is beautifully-situated for the geographically-challenged.  I emerged from my subway station tonight and it was just right there.  No lead-up, no fanfare.  And really, I didn't mind that so much.

The entry and hallways of Carnegie Hall are like a throwback to yesteryear.  Chandeliers, framed photos of famous musicians and conductors, red velvet carpet, and uniformed ushers.  I wanted to see if the splendour extended into the bar area, so I headed downstairs to order something bubbly.  With the exception of some slouchy waitstaff, there was nobody there.  My plastic glass of cava was less than satisfactory, made more disappointing that the barstools are set up around the room, but facing the walls.  I'm not sure what kind of pre-show atmosphere the interior designers were aiming for here.  With 15 minutes to spare until showtime, I called into the gift shop to have a look around.  Nothing too remarkable, other than one of my Pilates instructors working at the register.  Small world, no?

Ascending the wide marble steps to the second tier of the Hall, I was quite excited as the usher showed me down a narrow hallway, past all the numbered doors to the box seats.  Tonight I had what was behind door number 54, a front-row seat, from which I began to people-watch from up on high.

Tonight's show had a bit of buzz about it.  A Little Nightmare Music is a collaboration by pianist Richard Hyung-Ki Joo and violinist Aleksey Igudesman (known as Igudesman and Joo).  They made it big on Youtube a while back and people have been raving about them ever since.  I read about them on some random email that found its way to me, but otherwise I'm sorry to say I'd never heard of them.  The guys are classically-trained but they take the beautiful classics that we all know, and they manipulate them.  They change the keys, the time signatures, they even do mash-ups with pop songs or Broadway tunes.  And they're genuinely funny too, so the energy on-stage is really good.

Unbeknownst to me though, tonight's show was an extra special treat because of two surprise guests who turned up to play.  Firstly, the world-famous violinist Joshua Bell performed.  Do you remember him?  There was an email going around this guy playing violin in the subway, and no one stopped to appreciate it.  So the message seemed to be we're all self-centred a-holes who are too busy to stop and notice the simple beauty of music.  Anyway, that was Joshua Bell playing the violin in that email.  And hey, I paused at Carnegie Hall and I really liked him.  Joshua did good, man.  But the second special guest - and the one I almost lost my shit about - was the one and only BILLY JOEL.  I honestly thought they were pulling my leg with that one.  It was the only point in the show that I regretted being so high up (and old, and needing new glasses).  How old is Billy Joel anyway?  I don't even care - he has still got "it".  The man is a legend, and he hammed it up with the guys so well, performing his own hit that he wrote for Ray Charles, "Baby Grand".

American audiences are good with the standing ovations, but even I got in on the act this time.  Igudesman and Joo are really talented and if you get the chance to see them, you really should.  Just cross your fingers they bring Joshua and Billy along.  Meanwhile I'm going to find out where Mr. Joel plays these days.  He's got to be, right?  He's the Piano Man, for pity's sakes.

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