In the days immediately after 9/11, our regular programming on WNYC 93.9 FM was suspended and we were doing wall-to-wall news coverage from NPR’s New York studio in midtown. I had been on the scene that Tuesday morning and was badly shaken by the events; and staying at home with nothing to do was definitely not helping me. So when NPR called to ask if I’d cover a live performance of the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré, and gather some sound from people at the church, I was relieved and grateful.
The Fauré Requiem is a tender and consoling work, especially in its final minutes, which are anchored by a lovely, lilting phrase that repeats in the organ. (I first heard the piece at Carnegie Hall back in the '80s and heard more than one audience member whistling the organ tune on the way out – how often does that happen with a requiem?) It was exactly what we – or at least, what I – needed to hear. It would’ve been the wrong time for, say, the Verdi Requiem, a great piece but one that sounds like the orchestra is mounting an assault on heaven’s gates. What we needed was healing, and since that wasn’t going to happen with one concert just days after the event, we’d settle for consolation.
A year later, I was faced with the question of what music to hear when the World Financial Center reopened its Winter Garden atrium. The eastern half of this big glass-and-steel cathedral-like space had been destroyed, along with the footbridge that had connected it to the north tower. I’d been producing and hosting music events there for several years, and of course the Fall 2001 season had been wiped out. But the WFC had committed to rebuilding and reopening its space in time for the first anniversary, and to everyone’s amazement, they did.
On September 11, 2002, the Winter Garden was rededicated. (I was given a memento – a rounded piece of the old floor, its smooth Italian marble surface etched with the tracks of that day’s destruction.) It was time to bring music back to lower Manhattan. But what? After conferring with the WFC, we all quickly agreed that anything specifically about the attacks would not be healing, but rather the opposite; and it might strike a ghoulish note as well.
I had recently heard Ryuichi Sakamoto, the veteran Japanese-born, New York-based musician, actor, producer, and environmental activist, doing some of the lesser-known works of the late, great Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim. He recorded these with two of Jobim’s former colleagues, Paula and Jacques Morelenbaum. There was nothing here to connect with 9/11, and yet…
To this day I cannot explain why I felt this unlikely Brazilian/Japanese trio would work. But I will never forget the feeling that night. It was November 6, 2002. The Winter Garden was packed; it was the first live music event in the Winter Garden, and the gaping wound across the street was on everyone’s mind – and was clearly visible through the glass back wall of the atrium.
M2S, as they referred to themselves, performed a set that was stately and restrained, but full of beauty and joy, and life. When Paula’s last softly-sung notes rang in the air, and the piano and cello subsided, the whole room seemed to take a collective breath, and the ovation that followed was like a huge exhalation. Afterwards, I felt like I was walking an inch above the ground; some audience members were crying. The Morelenbaums and Ryuichi, clearly moved, would rush to a Sony studio the next day to record that set. The resulting album is lovely; but the feeling that night in the Winter Garden was different. It was electric. And consoling. And, dare I say it, healing somehow.