Monday, February 4, 2008

A Follow-up to Our Date with Brooklyn, Joanna Newsom, Thomas Beisl and Barack Obama

I loved our date with Brooklyn the other night! It reconfirmed everything I love about our home-borough and leading a lush life. Annie Ricci, General Managing Diva of Opera on Tap, is also a stellar companion for such pursuits.

Brooklyn is the understated diva-borough of New York City! It has everything Manhattan has without the superior attitude. It even has its own lovely, 2000-some seat opera house! The Howard Gilman Opera House is replete with ornate ceiling and red velvet curtains, carved box-seats and characteristically, vertiginous nose-bleed seats that still have a great view of the stage (That's where we sat). The opera house is only one of the great venues at BAM, one of the most innovative artistic centers in the city, and it's mine! I do share it with the other 2,465,326 residents of Brooklyn, but it's still mine! I'm so rich!

Annie already described our evening and our meal at Austrian restaurant, Thomas Biesl, in sumptuous detail, I just thought I'd add a few things. First off, Thomas Beisl has great beers on tap: Gosser, Czechwar, the original Budweiser from the Czech Republic, and another German pilsner I recognized from my time in Berlin. Yumm!

Also, in view of tomorrow's big event, Super Tuesday, a wanted to mention that Joanna Newsom's drummer plugged Barack Obama during the show on Thursday night. He even talked about campaigning for Obama in Iowa. Joanna herself continued the conversation and said that her whole band were Obama believers. That was more than 2,000 captive fans receiving the message that the cool young folks like Obama. Pretty powerful endorsement!

I was interested to hear how the orchestra would be used in this project, never having heard Newsome's album “Ys”, and was a bit disappointed. Pop-classical cross-overs and collaborations are always difficult. The two genres are difficult to blend due to the practicalities of governing a large group of musicians at the same time. Rehearsals are necessary to make things sound organic. A conductor has to know what kinds of tempo changes are going to happen and where a band-leader might take liberties. If not, the music falls apart. On the other hand, if a band has to play with metronomic strictness, their style and uniqueness can disappear.

The music didn't fall apart the other night, but it also wasn't very tight. The orchestral writing of Vandyke Parks was unimaginative and pale, unfortunately acting more to diffuse the intensity Newsom's music than to enhance it. Her solo song in the middle of the orchestral section of the show came into beautiful focus after the muzzy, bland string harmonies and very occasional bits of brass or wind. I was hoping the orchestra would be like another member of the band, telling the story, heightening the emotion, setting the scene, but twas not to be.

Newsom's solo music is captivating. The unique, unstudied, unselfconsciousness of her singing and the almost human sounds of her harp are so personal, her lyrics so evocative and non-linear, I had the feeling I was observing her dreaming instead of performing. It's useless to pull her songs apart. The individual elements aren't impressive on their own, but they create an experience for the audience; take listeners on a surreal, emotional journey.

If I had to pair an alcoholic beverage with Joanna Newsom and 2,000 idealistic and stylish young people in a Brooklyn opera house, I'd say something floral, clean, post-racial...a delicious cold sake. I'll hope to be tasting some in the near future and will get back to you with specific recommendations. Until then, yay Giants! I'm still recovering from the decadence, and get your asses to the voting booths!


Friday, February 1, 2008

Jessica and I on that whole New York “dinner and a show” thing

I’ve heard of this NY “dinner and a show” thing for years now and have often wondered what it would be like. My career as a struggling artist exiled me to the retail and weekend nanny industry for years (this has ended, having traded in the cliché artist retail job for the cliché artist office job) As is the case with retail and weekend nannying, my work schedule severely cut into my ability to attend shows that started at the typical 8 o’clock time. For the first time in my not incredibly young life, I’m on schedule with the masses and promptly end my workday at 5pm. Hence the time excuse no longer applies. However, post-experience, I have a new one. You need some serious cheese to do the “dinner and show” thing!

In honor of this blog launch, Jessica Miller-Rauch and I decided to go on a hot date and do just that. Because we like to think ourselves unconventional, we chose to have our virgin-NYC date experience in the great borough of Brooklyn. To BAM we went! But FIRST to Thomas Beisl for Austrian fare. This cozy little Viennese bistro has the fortunate circumstance of being located right across the street from the most important performing arts institution in the borough. Hence, it was the perfect restaurant to begin our journey. We arrived just before the Theater rush and took a seat in their dining area which really is an indoor porch replete with heat lamps and tent ambiance. For starters we split two items (since that’s what people do on dates. We decided not to feed each other in order to not incite suspicion from our other halves). First up were fried mushrooms and chicken liver mousse with cranberry compote paired with Grüner Veltliner. The wine complimented the mousse well. The mushrooms might have been better served by a sizable stein of lager. For entrees, we had braised beef cheeks with spätzle and chicken paprika with spätzle. The beef was perfectly cooked but a little under-salted. Nothing tragic though. I loved it almost as much as the glass of Zweigelt I had with it. Zweigelt is the premiere red wine grape of Austria, first developed in 1922 at the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology of Klosterneuberg, Austria by the soon to be director of the institute, Dr. Fritz Zweigelt. Zweigelt is a cold weather grape (resistant to frost) hence is successfully grown in such regions as its homeland as well as Canada and Hungary. It is delightfully light on the palette, well-balanced with nice fruit. It stood up to those beef cheeks well! The cheese strudel that followed capped off the evening nicely.

2 glasses in, we were officially warmed up for some proper music-experiencing. On the program was Joanna Newsom and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Newsom is a classic example of a classically trained musician taking a pop medium to new heights. Her music is multi-textured, beautifully structured and, of all things, through-composed! The first half she played with the orchestra backing her as she performed pieces off her second release "Ys". The songs were interesting, but I felt that the orchestra kind of got in the way. In what seems to be the plague of big-production classical music-making, it felt like the orchestra and band could have used a couple more rehearsals to really have exquisite give and take. It seems to me that in order to put new music into production, it might be better to think small. The concert got better after the orchestra exited the stage and we were back with just the band. My gauge? Well, the first half, I was on the verge of falling asleep in my starchy food/wine induced barely conscious state. The second half I couldn’t have fallen asleep if I tried. Newsom has a gorgeous voice-clear as a bell and child-like in timbre with a whimsical and unique vocal style. She does this really cool squeaky thing that I want to learn how to do! Anyway, enough vocal-nerding. Her songs are very melodic. A whole lotta times I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was saying, but it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of her performance. Hm. Long pieces through-composed pieces.. sung in an un-intelligible way… Sounds like opera! The audience was rapt and it gave me hope for the future of our youth and their ability to concentrate on something for more than a minute. Yay good art!

All in all, the evening was grand. If I could pair music with our restaurant experience, I most likely would’ve picked Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing Viennese operetta arias, but Joanna Newsom made a fine substitute. Hm, to pair a wine with Newsom… Definitely a honey mead.