Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Entrée?

Finally – someone has written an exasperated article in the food blog Grubstreet about a growing trend that drives me and the missus absolutely crazy, given that we’re even bigger “acoustics snobs” than foodies.  We will turn-and-bolt in a flash if the noise level – or shall we say “sonic misfortunes” (like weird cone filtering or slapback) are on the menu in a trendy new spot.    The good news is we’re not alone…

 

But ask any weary gastronaut about the single most disruptive restaurant trend over the past decade or so, and they’ll give you a succinct, one-sentence answer. It’s the noise, stupid. When I began reviewing restaurants over a decade ago, we critics whiled away our days in hushed, cocooned dining rooms, quietly noting the lightness of this or that soufflé in our little leather chapbooks. Not anymore.

The BAD news, however, is that we’re on the wrong end o’ the trend. Writer and food critic Adam Platt goes on:

Most of the restaurants I write about these days aren’t restaurants at all in the classic sense that she would recognize. They’re noisy bars, built for sound, that happen to serve good, sometimes excellent food. ….. “It’s a snowball effect,” one of the chefs who’s worked for both restaurateurs told me the other day. “You get a hundred drunk people in a small room and crank up the music, and soon they’re screaming at the tops of their lungs to hear each other. It’s the perfect storm.”

Platt paints a pretty grim picture of New York joints with 90dB levels and more…and even food critics taking decibel meters with them.  But is it really the customers that want the volume pumped up….or the owners?  A CNN article calls it a classic table turnover trick: :

It turns out these not-so-good vibrations might be on purpose. Studies show people drink more, eat faster and leave sooner when the bass is thumping, so restaurants are bringing the noise.

Yikes!  Makes me hanker for a classic Italian restaurant with a violinist going table to table..Image

Helen Keller, Beethoven Fan?

HelenKellerRadioAstonishing post in the San Francisco Classical Voice about a 1924 letter that blind, deaf, and mute Helen Keller wrote to the New York Symphony (the rival of the New York Philharmonic before they eventually merged in 1928), recounting the experience of tuning in to a  broadcast of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the radio:

Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm.

 

What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibration, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roil of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voices leaped up thrilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still.

 

Really? Congrats to San Francisco Classical Voice Writer Janos Gereben for this bit of sleuthing – the letter was apparently in the Helen Keller Archives of the American Federation of the Blind.  But I’m rather surprised that this story has never come up before – and the skeptic in me wonders is Ms. Keller did not indulge in a bit of a creative flight of fancy.  I don’t tend to think of a 1920s-era radio as capable of “surround sound,” but it sure is fascinating notion to imagine that someone who was doubtless as hypersensitive to vibrations as Helen Keller could actually pick out and detect a symphony that way.   Can anyone corroborate this?

Remember My Name: Courtney Lewis To the New York Philharmonic

lewis_courtney_225x168Nice to see 29-year old Courtney Lewis of the terrific Boston chamber orchestra Discovery Ensemble get an appointment as the Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic.   Seeing the Belfast-born Courtney in action – in our WGBH Fraser Performance Studio, in live concerts, and in interviews – I’m convinced he’s a great talent, and a genuine Good Guy to boot.  It seems the NY Phil Music Director Alan Gilbert

 “We discovered Courtney Lewis after an extensive audition process, and he emerged as a very promising future colleague as our next Assistant Conductor,” – 

Bravo, Courtney, and good luck in New York!  You can read the entire press release here.

And click here to hear Courtney lead the band in their season-opening live broadcast concert from October 2012.

Discovery Ensemble in Concert

 

Macca Joins The Choir

Macca on Music

With all of the hoopla and remembrances this month about the 50th Anniversary of the “Beatles Invasion” of the US, I’ve been thinking about Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle, post-Wings, career as a budding classical composer.  Which,  it should be remembered, tended to veer towards choral works like the Liverpool Oratorio and the symphonic poem Standing Stone, featuring the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and New York Choral Artists.

The American premiere of Standing Stone was my first brush with Beatlemania, when I produced the live broadcast from Carnegie Hall for NPR…which the Fleet Street-inspired PR folks for McCartney hyperbolically declared the live web/broadcast as “The Single Largest Classical Music Event in History.”  (Remember, this was 1997, folks, when a “Web Cast” was a totally new phenomenon!).

But I digress.  Here’s the Macca quote, which I think is such a nice summation of why people can be freaky about singing in a choir:

MaccaChoir

As it happened, Standing Stone turned out to be the first of many shows I produced for NPR involving McCartney.  One of the most successful I think was another choral program: A Garland for Linda, a “choral song cycle” written as memorial for Linda McCartney/benefit for The Garland Appeal breast cancer research fund.

The 1999 Album/Concert "A Garland for Linda"The 2000 Garland, which featured contributions not only from Macca but such leading UK composers as John Tavener, Judith Bingham, David Matthews, (not to be confused with Dave Matthews),  John Rutter, Roxanna Panufnik, Michael Berkeley, and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, was in turn inspired by the 1953 Garland for the Queen, featuring contributions from such composers as Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, and Arnold Bax.  And there was an even earlier precedent, according to the British music blog The Land of Lost Content:

The Garland was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain, to celebrate the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1953. One wonders if that ‘quango’ would be active in anything so ‘establishment’ in our age? The ten poets and ten composers were bidden to create settings for mixed voices. The idea was to craft a 20th century ‘replica’ of the famous The Triumphs of Oriana (1601) which was presented to Queen Elizabeth I. The present series of songs is not a parody of the earlier cycle but it is certainly influenced by it. The madrigal is a creative inspiration for both of these composite pieces.

The Garland program was a live broadcast from the cavernous Riverside Church on New York’s Upper East Side, featuring conductor Helen Cha-Pyo leading the excellent Riverside Choir. NPR’s Susan Stamberg and WNYC’s John Schaefer were the hosts…and we actually broadcast from the 3rd level “side aisle”  on the right side of the church (click here for your handy glossary of cathedral architecture).   The playlist for the complete program is here.…and posted below.  It reminds me that someday I need to dig up the piece that I don’t think was ever recorded: the USA premiere of Peter Broadbent‘s arrangement of Four Songs for Chorus by Lennon & McCartney:

For No One; Here, There and Everywhere; And I Love Her; Good Day Sunshine

Don’t think it ever appeared on a recording.  Peter was really the driving force behind the entire project, as I recall.

riverside2

The Garland project actually turned out to yield a broadcast, a Bob Edwards interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, and even a CD, as we recorded a benefit concert at the Supper Club in NYC that featured a performance by the rather impromptuly-assembled Loma Mar Quartet  of string-quartet arrangements of a few of the pieces.  Alas, no chart action on Billboard, however…

Linda+McCartney+-+Selections+From+A+Garland+For+Linda+-+5"+CD+SINGLE-398473A Garland for Linda Selections CD- back cover Read more