Stephanie and I heard the NY Philharmonic in a concert called *Authentic Selves: The Beauty Within.* They were conducted by their music director, Jaap van Zweden. The guest artists were downtown cabaret chanteuse Justin Vivian Bond and A-list opera counter tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. For the sake of brevity I'll refer to the three of them as JvZ, JVB, and ARC.
They opened with "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1,* a piece from 1986 by Joan Tower. Started with a BANG. It had your typical trumpet toots, but she clearly was writing a fanfare on her own terms. She wrote some delightfully messy music for a quartet of French horns. And near the end the tympani player was going to TOWN.
Next was the world premiere of a NY Phil commission, *The Places We Leave* by Joel Thompson on a poem by Tracy K. Smith. Thompson is only 33 years old! The piece was gorgeous. Stephanie used the word "cinematic" and it definitely sounded like first-class movie music. At first I thought Hitchcock but then I decided it was more like music from a Douglas Sirk melodrama. It had the grand emotional sweet and the unnaturally saturated colors.
The music was very confident and self-assured. ARC sounded great - - nice writing for the voice, the poem was very well set, I could always hear him and understand the words. There were some showy florid moments in the fast middle section. The final section started with a disarming intimacy, it was the emotional center of the work. It was a great piece. I'd love to hear it sung by a mezzo. Susan Graham comes to mind.
Here's what Stephanie thought about *The Places We Leave*: "I was thinking ELIZABETH TAYLOR ELIZABETH TAYLOR and the movie EBB TIDE. Not in a bad way! Also thought of Tatiana Troyanos and Teresa Stratas (not necessarily their voices per se but their characters)."
The first half ended with the Prokofiev Symphony No. 1, the "Classical" symphony. This is one of Stephanie's favorite pieces. They played it with elegance and a dash of cheekiness. The highlight of the first movement was seeing the string players play their big phrase with a hell of a lot of bow, often a full stroke of the bow on each note. That was fun to watch, they were working hard. JvZ's conducting was graceful, dancing, and full of expression. There was a trill in the gavotte that made me laugh out loud. Stephanie turned to me, smiled, and nodded. The finale was suitably furious. Stephanie said, about the piece on the whole, "Every single part if hard, wicked hard. And it's gotta sound like cotton candy."
Intermission. The audience was full of middle-aged gay men there to see JVB and ARC, so there was a whole lot of in-your-face fashion to behold. Floral jackets, silver sneakers, and the like. Why not?
JVB and ARC performed excerpts from the *Only an Octave Apart* show I saw them do in Brooklyn this fall. Here's my review from that show:
You know I like to post YouTube clips - - I found this one of the two of them singing "Summertime."
The chamber arrangements for the Brooklyn gig were by Nico Muhly (another young 'un, born in 1981) and he souped up the arrangements for the NY Phil. The songs they did were:
"Only an Octave Apart"
"When I am laid in earth" paired with "White Flag"
"Walk Like an Egyptian" paired with "Hymn to the Sun" from *Akhnaten*
"Non piu mesta" from *Cenerentola* paired with "The Waters of March"
"Deh placatevi con me" from *Orfeo ed Euridice* paired with "Dont' Give Up"
Stephanie's favorite number was the Egyptian pairing. My favorite was "Autumn Leaves." The Muhly arrangements were perfect throughout but that song was particularly rapturous, especially the ending.
Let me say what they were wearing. ARC had a black suit and black shirt with a silver sequined object going from his shoulder under his arm across his torso. Was it a sash? A piece of jewelry? It was gorgeous. Stephanie described it as "more like a stiff metallic sash that was oval-shaped and slightly Star-Trek-esque, don't you think?"
JVB wore a black crepe dress in the Norma Kamali style. It might have been Kamali for all I know. It was accessorized with a silver necklace and one black sequined glove. Stephanie reminded me of JVB's big black patent leather platform boots, which were divine. JVB said, "For this gig I had to get my big girl hair." The hair was quite extreme. Why not? JVB's other funniest line: they were talking about the COVID protocols surrounding the rehearsals and performances and JVB said, "Who knew my spit looked like that?"
Stephanie wasn't at the Brooklyn show and had never seen JVB before so I was curious to hear what her reaction was. She gave it an A for effort but we both agreed that it didn't quite land. The show was fantastic and perfectly calibrated for the smaller Brooklyn venue and the smaller ensemble. It didn't really translate to the larger Lincoln Center venue or the NY Phil - - the delicate balance of high and low art was overloaded on the high art side, which threw the whole show out of balance. But kudos to the Phil for presenting it, it still was worth seeing.
I'll give Stephanie the last word: "Yeah, some things just don't 'scale up,' do they? It made their between-song banter really artificial and contrived, and they both seem sort of RESIGNED to pull it off rather than having much fun. A lot of pressure though, on both of them.
"I love them both for trying so hard and I don't hold it against them or anyone else that it didn't entirely work. I went right home and watched the Bangles in 'Walk like an Egyptian' and 'White Flag' - WHICH I LOVED!"