Taking the bus – any bus – from Washington, D.C., to New York is not the most dignifying experience, and it’s one of those things that just never get any better for trying it more often. That said, the slew of ‘Chinatown Buses’ that make this trip less expensive than a cab ride from D.C. to Alexandria have become fairly reliable, moderately punctual, and offer vehicles that meet all the basic hygiene standards that one could reasonably expect. A perennial drawback, however, is the unfortunate combination of opened lavatory doors and air-freshener, which invariably ends up smelling like someone fouled into a peach basket.
For years now I have been too lazy to fix my watch, so my time measures in units other than hours and minutes. From Downtown D.C. to the Holland Tunnel it takes two Shostakovich Symphonies No. 14 (Jansons, Rattle), one DSCH First (Rattle), one DSCH Third (Jansons), one complete Mahler Tenth (Inbal, Cooke II), and the Adagio of the same symphony (Gielen, Cooke III). By the time I seek timely shelter from the rain at the 24-hour Bagel Café on 87th and Broadway, the Gielen Tenth has whispered its last chords, too. A slice of mushroom pizza is of moderate quality by New York standards, but a delicacy compared to any and all such gustatory offerings available in D.C. after midnight. I only wish the drum beats were more muffled in Gielen’s last movement. Even if he and Inbal don’t exaggerate as much as Rattle or Sanderling (not even blunted, there), does anyone, apart from Barshai, get them quite right?
K. Saariaho, Cello Music
“Making more of Me – that’s why I go to NYU” can be read on the ads on the subway. For anyone in the New York region who wishes to engage in “Continuing and Professional studies,” this must be tempting. Except, well... one wonders about the strength of their English department.
I can’t think of a work any less “New York” than Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Espresso-fueled and with the 57 Street Station exit spitting out and swallowing up people right in front of my nose, Gerontius’s melancholic, confident, consoling, beautiful, and utterly lukewarm oratorio is something for greener pastures. I’ll gladly watch a lonely cow lick her brown spots and swat flies with her tail. But city buzz is alien to it. David Rendall, the tenor on the new Colin Davis recording (LSO Live 0083) isn’t doing anything that might overcome a tame, indifferent feeling to it all.
Dream of Gerontius, Sir Colin Davis
Wolf Songs, Bostridge/Pappano
Wolf Songs, Güra/Schultsz
The nature and character of New York more than any other town I know is its constant change. Still, we bemoan the loss of favorite places or the character of a neighborhood as we once knew it fading. Columbus Circle has for some time been a glitzy affair, and the grit of the surrounding blocks is fast giving way to a clean, kempt, tourist- and business-friendly environment. The dark ‘piano seller’ cross-streets are still there, but I am dismayed at the exodus of a small, un-noteworthy Café-Restaurant-Bar half a block from the circle: “Cosmic.” A stone’s throw from the polished chrome and glass of the Times Warner Center sat this near-dingy hangout with mediocre espresso, decent burgers, cheap coffee, and cheaper soup. I have spent (and killed) many budget-friendly hours in one of its little wooden booths waiting for a performance at Lincoln Center or Merkin Hall or the Times Warner Center’s performance spaces – scribbling away wildly into little notebooks and emerging, caffeine-buzzed, with that slightly wily determination that besets out-of-towners when they start feeling like a “real New Yorker.” You can still read the faint letters “Cosmic” on the black façade where its sign once was. Next year it might be a bustling Starbucks. A Venti Java Chip Frappucino© Blended Coffee ($4.75) just around the corner.