Monday, November 7, 2022

Andrew finally gets back to the Big Apple, November 2022.

I am so delighted to be able to write again from New York after the Covid closures. 

Topics: Covid consequences in NYC; 

Opera season; Newly re-opened Geffen Hall and NY Philharmonic concert series; 

Reaching out to medical colleagues and advocates; 

Christie’s art auction preview trumps Met Museum of Art; 

NY Marathon; Halloween; ‘Only in New York’!  

Travel from Australia to mainland US via Hawaii highly recommended.  

Leopoldstadt; Mendelssohn at Carnegie Hall; Haydn at Rockefeller University. 

This city is much changed after the Covid tragedy played out … like Shakespeare's tragedies, a relentless infringement on humanity ... and at the same time all else that makes up our society.  The worst days were obviously only experienced by those who were here, mostly locked-down and either too sick or too frightened to go out for anything but absolute essentials.  And deaths in numbers we Australians find hard to comprehend. 

The most obvious visible change in New York is that cafes and restaurants are now permitted a covered pavilion on the street in front where diners were permitted to eat during the lock-downs as they were considered 'outdoors'.  This means that in both streets and avenues there are major lanes of traffic and parking completely blocked by these 'temporary' structures.  Many, however, look extremely well built, weatherproof and heated yet none I saw had ventilation which is so important for avoiding the virus.  I read that food scraps and crumbs falling onto the roadway below caused a rat problem in some areas.  Nothing is easy.  And many businesses are gone completely.   

The virus is still around: the very first person we met on the mainland rang us a week later to say he had Covid-19 and was in isolation, mildly symptomatic (and despite 4 vaccine shots).  

As always, I came here partly to continue to spread the word about the effectiveness of D&A treatments as well as opera and catching up with friends including a psychiatrist who turned 100 years old last month … and who is still active in our field of drug dependency.  I have participated in Zoom meetings and finally have a face-to-face meeting at Columbia University which I have not been able to attend physically for 3 years.  New York now has it first injecting rooms which are called 'overdose prevention centers' (OPC).  This is 30 years after they were opened in Switzerland and 20 after Sydney's own MSIC in Kings Cross.  

The miracle is that things still tick along at all in this city.  Kids go to school again, transport is running, some stores and restaurants are still operating while museums, parks and galleries are open.  Halloween is the last day of October and like Christmas it has been totally commercialised and goes for many days - we saw it start in Honolulu the week before!  And sadly it has been exported with those terrible consequences reported from South Korea. 

The opera has been marvellous and for the first time in decades I have gone to the stage door to meet and greet the artists afterwards (Tosca and Medea).  It is always a strange experience since one by one people exit and you don’t know if it is the title star herself/himself, a stage hand or even the second trombone.  Post-performance dressing room visits at the Met have been banned due to Covid concerns, even for generous donors and supporters and family members. Don Carlo also splendid, looking forward to Rigoletto.  Tucker Gala booked as well.  Then 'The Hours' with Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato and Kelli H'Hara. 

Verdi’s longest opera Don Carlos opening was sandwiched between two performances of Tosca (with difference casts) then with the terrible Greek infanticide tragedy Medea - all wonderful experiences.  No house was more than three quarters full, some less.  In both Hawaii and New York we have seen some old friends and made some new ones. 

It seems almost daily that something happens which is a ‘first’ for me.  I saw aloe vera plant fronds on sale … yet I would have no clue what to do with them.  Yuzu lemons on sale, popular with the Japanese, are like a cross between lime and lemon with yellow/green dappled zest, enormous white seeds and modestly juicy flesh.  Great in gin and tonic. 

On the subway I saw a young man dressed in just a large cardboard box while his friends were also in fancy gear, some mimicking a skeleton.  I saw Brussels sprouts sold on their stems for the first time … I did not even know that they grew on stems! “Baby cabbages?” I must be a city boy.  Never before heard Cherubini.  I was also a Bruckner novice.  Never before seen a cannabis dispensary … but our local Broadway bakery has been replaced by a cannabis shop!!  Very annoying! … unless you dote on dope for breakfast.  And two doors further up is a shop selling pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia!  Last time I was here these would have been indictable offences!  

The David Geffen Hall is the home of the New York Philharmonic and has been closed for over 2 years for renovations like our concert hall in Sydney.  The October reopening has been a grand affair, formal and informal Gala nights, televised and projected performances including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  Our visit revealed many similar attributes to our own opera house … greatly improved acoustics with extensive wavy wood panelling, relocation of the ugly escalators, better bars with baristas, efficient elevators and wider passageways for the disabled, additional stairs and balcony bar overlooking the circular Lincoln Center fountain. Surprisingly the box office windows are gone forever, replaced by receptionists smiling at computer/printer desks "May I help you?"  No more shouting into an ill-positioned hole in the glass!  

The stage has been advanced substantially allowing a large bank of ‘organ gallery’ seats installed (for choir or overflow audience).  Hence everyone is closer to a more centred stage.  Only a couple of orchestra members wore masks along with about 10% of the audience (including me).  Mozart’s 22nd piano concerto with Bronfman playing was half an hour of aural joy, then the huge experience of an hour of Bruckner’s 7th symphony, at times almost painful for the ear drums as we were in row C and the orchestra was at its full compliment. 

A young friend is visiting from Chicago to participate in the NY Marathon which is 42km (the distance from Marathon to Athens according to Google Maps) starting in Staten Island, going across the Verrazano bridge to Brooklyn then across the Queensboro Bridge and up second avenue to cross briefly into the Bronx, back to Manhattan and ending at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park.  Sydney’s City to Surf ‘fun run’ is 14km (one third of a full Olympic marathon). 

We have learned that when you see a queue (‘line’) in New York you should consider joining it.  There is likely to be a good reason like best bagels, free admission to a gallery or other opportunity to be had in this amazing, diverse but competitive city.  The Christie’s auction preview was for the estate of the late co-founder of Microsoft, Paul G. Allen.  It was phenomenal! And all for free with knowledgeable guides (after a short wait outside on the sidewalk). About 20 paintings were marked "estimate on request". We were told these were all over 50 million (gasp!) dollars! There were many magnificent recognisable classics by Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Bonnard, Breughel, Seurat, Dali, Tanguy, Ernst, Turner, Bacon, Kandinsky, Hockney, Klimt, Canaletto, Botticelli, etc, etc. Also a lot of hugely priced 'garbage art’ (my own derogative) including a Mondrian ‘rectangles’ of which an example was recently reported to be hung upside down by mistake for 40 years in Europe!  There was a room full of spun circles of multicoloured paint to my mind of little artistic value at all despite a wonderful display of colour and splatter.  Yet some such art is highly valued and it’s a free world!  The entire auction is expected to realise up to a billion (one thousand million) dollars!  The funds go to various charities. Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I (

For the first time in decades I did not travel direct to the US via California but was persuaded by my wonderful travel agent to do a big triangle: Sydney, Honolulu, New York, LAX, Sydney.  Air fares have skyrocketed in recent months so this allowed my long delayed reunion with friends in Hawaii along with the New York trip.  Hawaiian Air and United both have direct 9 hour flights to New York.  

"Leopoldstadt" on Broadway by Tom Stoppard was a brilliantly staged event lasting just over 2 hours (no break).  At the same time an entertainment, a catharsis, wrenchingly ended and in parts, hilarious.  We learn about Vienna high society, Anshluss, the Riemann hypothesis of prime numbers, Seder blessing, secular ‘Jewish’ Christmas and baptisms with circumcisions.  The only ‘real’ character (who does not appear) is Sigmund Freud.  It is an autobiographical product of a brilliant playwright who learned about his Jewish heritage late in life.  This play is highly recommended but I don’t think it will change anyone’s life, apart from the author whose parallel character ends the play alone on a darkening stage, in tears. 


Mendelssohn’s Piano concerto No 1 and Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music … wonderful with St Lukes Orchestra, Trinity Church Wall St Choir, conductor Harry Bicket and Benjamin Grosvenor on keyboard. 

This Carnegie Hall event was indeed a high point.  The piano was like a constant cascade of double trills up and down the keyboard in a varied and melodic concerto with all three short movements played without breaks (attacca). 

Midsummer Night's Dream (incidental music) is indeed a discrete piece of theatre and the Bard would be proud I’m sure.  The narrator was David Hyde Pierce who spoke Shakespeare’s immortal words beautifully.  At times he was accompanied and there were two soloist ‘fairies’ plus the large Trinity Wall Street Choir (only soprano voices).  A high point was the wedding march which is one of the most recognisable pieces of music ever written. 


Halloween and 'temporary' restaurant booths. 

Allan at Hudson Yards on High Line. 'The Vessel' in background.

Central Park

Bakery replaced by cannabis store.  

New York Marathon rules; below our mate Rob with his medal at the end of the race near Tavern on the Green. . 

[Acknowledgements: Thanks to Allan Gill for several of the photos and to Lilla Elwin for help with editing.] 


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