Tuesday, May 21, 2019

New York Postcard April - May 2019

We have had yet another frantic but enjoyable time in New York City, our 27th annual Hajj to this sacred isle, each time encompassing medical, cultural, social and even religious events, despite being securely secular ’selves. 

And as so often is the case some of the best things in New York are free of charge. 

* Hudson Yards, monument and moguls with adjacent Hi-Line walkway.   
* Easter Sunday Service at Trinity Church Wall Street (see below). 
* Christie’s Auctions hold previews at their showrooms at Rockefeller Center.  
* Central Park changes each day from bare winter to jungle in just a few weeks. 
* Amateur orchestral concert on Friday evening in a church hall at Lincoln Center.

Hudson Yards:

Unless you believe there is a benefit in being a dozen storeys closer to some celestial deity I can think of no other more useless yet beautiful structures since the leaning tower of Pisa.  “Vessel” is a massive fantasy stairway-to-heaven opened in March on the reclaimed river foreshore called Hudson Yards.  It was designed by brilliant Englishman Thomas Heatherwick and cost 200 million dollars.  It is worth a look along with its high-end shopping centre, adjacent to the north end of the Hi-Line walkway near 34th Street.  Tickets to walk up the 15 or so flights are free but need to be purchased ahead of time on line.  There is also an elevator.  

'Retired' soprano Renee Fleming has been playing in an alternative two-person show at the expandable venue adjacent to 'Vessel' called 'The Shed' on the Hudson foreshores.  It can accommodate up to 2000 patrons when fully expanded.    

There has been some criticism of the overall redevelopment of this area, some of which is located above the shunting tracks which serve Penn Station just a few blocks away.  It can be easily accessed using a new extension of the 7 subway line from Times Square.  

Auction previews: 

It is always worthwhile looking up Christie’s, Sotherby’s and other New York City auction schedules … we have been fortunate two years running to coincide with sales of European master paintings and old world antiquities.  But there are sales of carpets, watches, clocks, gem stones, jewellery, sculptures, motor cars and more.  And there are experts on hand to answer questions … we had a virtual tutorial on Dutch and Northern French flower paintings from a knowledgeable curator with a fine arts degree.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a special exhibition of Dutch Masters in their rear gallery at present.  There are four Vermeers and perhaps a dozen Rembrandts plus numerous of their contemporaries.  The Met is no longer free unless you are a New York resident when you may pay what you wish. 

Central Park in spring:

A couple of photos … need I say more?  The lungs and recreation of a city. 

‘Amateur’ symphony orchestra in three concerto highlights:

Australian Maestro Russell Ger was guest conductor of a small 'amateur' but highly competent NYC Concerti Sinfonietta playing Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto, 1st mvt; Tchaikovsky violin concerto, 1st mvt and Beethoven piano concerto No. 4 all 3 mvts.  We sat in the front row which was an extraordinary experience.  Some will recall ‘Seven Year Itch’ with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell which used the Rach 2 to hilarious effect.  Each piece was played consummately by the three soloists Ben Lerman, Seth Schultheis and Stanley Sisskin ... and to be so close was incredible at the old Presbyterian Church which backs onto the Julliard School in West 66th Street near Broadway.  ‘Amateur’ in New York can be the equivalent of professionals performing elsewhere. 

A high point was the Met Ring cycle in our second full week.  An extraordinary and exotic if irrational entertainment New York uniquely does the entire cycle’ in a week, being Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  This puts strains on singers, orchestra, audience, etc yet there are the ‘lay days’ in which we found a Poulenc dress rehearsal and amateur concert (see above) to fill in the time. 

Besides the Ring, we also saw the Met Don Giovanni, La Clemenza di Tito, La Traviata, Rigoletto plus Dialogues of the Carmelites.  I was asked to hear the choir and Cantor Helfgott at Park East Synagogue but to attend shule on a Shabbos morning and then Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods in the evening would seem out of Halachic order, even for a gentile, so I politely declined and went to the local markets instead.  A few enthusiasts wore horned helmets and there was a lovely Birgit Nilsson centenary display retrospective on the lowest level of the Met. 

I had the pleasure of accompanying my 16 year old niece Audrey Elwin to a performance of La Traviata with Placido Domingo singing Papa Germont.  He sang and acted with exemplary style and one was not aware of his being 80 years of age.  I also took my brother Richard and his belle ‘Mel’ Pearce to Don Giovanni with a stellar cast headed by Peter Mattei.  By a crazy coincidence I just ran into old Sydney Uni friend Dr Eddie Howe and his wife Helen.  Eddie is a fan of American mezzo Joyce DiDonato (who isn’t?) singing Sesto in Clemenza di Tito. 

I have to give a plug to Qantas whose new Dreamliner 787 connection from Los Angeles to JFK has made all the difference to a long and sometimes uncertain connection.  The A380 across the Pacific is as good as it gets and the decade old planes are due to have an upgrade with new seating and configuration or so I am told by an insider. 

Having elaborated a few freebies now here are a few new experiences which were more costly.  We were hosted by generous friends to some exotic venues as so often happens in the Big Apple.  “La Grenouille” is a fine French restaurant in Midtown which has a signature of multiple glorious flower arrangements.  First I thought we had walked into an exotic florist shop!  They served Dover sole and Sancerre by the glass on elegant full service tables … and we happily partook! 

The Century Club is an old institution started around 1850 for writers, poets and other arty types but is now just a classy establishment club with slight left leanings in an 1891 three storey architectural marvel Italian Renaissance-style palazzo with everything a city club needs (except a tennis court, perhaps).  The food is good club food, staff good club staff who remember members’ names and a fine art collection on the walls of its grand salon rooms.  

Eddie Howe treated his wife to a meal at Number Eleven Madison, supposedly the best restaurant in the world.  I look forward to their descriptions!  Our favourite restaurants remain Jean-Georges Nougatine, La Bonne Soupe, CafĂ© Luxembourg and the Wu Liang Ye (Sechuan).  

It is impossible to have a long conversation with anyone in America and not get around to the opioid overdose crisis since it has affected so many families.  Frequent newspaper items target avaricious doctors, drug companies, pharmacies and illicit drug markets.  Yet few mention the elephant in the room that opiate maintenance treatment is unavailable to the vast majority of those who might benefit from it.  In almost every other western country methadone or buprenorphine are available from private doctors and community pharmacies for those with established opioid addiction.  Once stable these patients are protected to a very strong degree from overdose death.  Yet in the USA buprenorphine is extremely expensive and methadone is still restricted to a small number of regulated clinics which often have waiting lists and are remote from where most people live (partly NIMBY syndrome).  More about these tragic matters on my medical blog.  Only in the Civil War was such carnage seen.  

Anyone who got to this point in my Gotham narrative deserves commendation.  Thank you for reading.  AB .. 

Andrew, Audrey and Allan 

Andrew, Susan, Ed and Allan attending The Ring

Rob, Caroline and Allan at Shakespeare and Company in Broadway. 

Andrew, brother Richard, Mel and Allan

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