John Schaefer: The sounds of New York City. Traffic noise, for sure. Pigeons everywhere. Maybe the chime from a closing subway door. All of them, part of the soundtrack to life in New York City. But there's also this. Yes, New York City is the classical music capital of the country. It's not bragging, or maybe it is bragging, but it's certainly true to say that some of the greatest artists ensembles and concert halls in the world are here. I'm John Schaefer, welcome to New York in Concert. Your guide to the city's classical music scene.
Now, obviously that scene has been a lot quieter in the past year, but each week we'll spend an hour reliving some great performances from the recent past, as we inch our way closer to getting back together again for live music. So this first chapter in our radio guide book to classical music in New York will be sort of an overview. We'll give you a whirlwind tour around town from Le Poisson Rouge in the Village up to Carnegie Hall and all of it with zero traffic.
Let's start in Central Park. When you walk in at 72nd street from either side, East or West and go straightish towards the Mall, you'll end up at the Naumburg bandshell. It's a white neoclassical structure and there've been summer concerts there for more than a century. Couple of years back Ensemble LPR associated with Le Poisson Rouge ,opened that summer series with Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. It's a fairly well-known work with several different layers of string ensemble, but there's something magical about hearing it outside in Central Park. And at moments where the texture clears, if you're listening carefully, you'll hear the sounds of some of New York's other inhabitants, the birds, going about their own musical business while the performers are on stage. Here's the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and performed by Ensemble LPR live at the Naumburg bandshell in Central Park.
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ensemble LPR 15:56
John Schaefer: Recorded live at the Naumburg bandshell in Central Park, that's Ensemble LPR in the summer of 2016, performing a work by the 20th century English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. His Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. That bandshell was under repair for the last year and then of course there was COVID 19, so there weren't any events there anyway. But it does look like live music is coming back this summer in some form. This is New York in Concert, and of course, live music in New York never fully goes away. Even during the pandemic, it simply moved online. And that is where our next concert comes from.
Maxim Lando is a young pianist actually, although he's only 18, he's already played in many of the city's most prestigious venues. But until February of this year, Maxim had not played at the Morgan Library. Now that may seem like an unusual place to be a classical music hotspot. It was, after all, a literal library owned by JP Morgan, but his collection included a number of music manuscripts. And at some point in the sixties, somebody there thought, well, let's put these manuscripts into action. And so now there is a concert hall nestled inside this magnificent Murray Hill building. And that is where Maxim Lando performed.
Maxim Lando: I'd never been there before, which is a crime because I live in New York. So, um, but it's beautiful. I got a tour of the building ahead of time. The hall was, was fantastic. They brought in a great piano. So I, I was very lucky in that sense, you know, when, when you have a great setup like that, it's, um, you know, it's kind of an easy job to do.
John Schaefer: Right now we'll hear a work that he performed at the Morgan Library as part of their streaming concert series. Here's Maxim Lando at the Morgan Library for the very first time with the first movement of the piano Sonata in F by Jean Sibelius.
Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 12 Jean Sibelius
1st movement: Allegro
Maxim Lando 5:58
John Schaefer: That's the first movement of the piano Sonata in F by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius played by pianist Maxim Lando streaming live at the Morgan Library back in February of 2021. Let's stick with Finnish music for the moment, but something a little different. Something that was the result of a very curious phenomenon that happened up in the Northeastern corner of Europe in the first half of the 20th century.
And that is the tango came in from Argentina and it took hold and it took hold hard in Finland. For whatever reason, there developed a whole tradition of particularly Finnish tangos. They're generally in minor keys. They tend to have a kind of melancholy sound to them, but they were hugely popular and remain so in Finland to this day. And one of the most famous composers of Finnish tangos was Unto Monnonen. And we're going to hear one of his well-known pieces played by the violinist, Pekka Kuusisto live at the downtown club Le Poisson Rouge, often nicknamed simply LPR. It's an interesting place. It's the site of the former village gate, which was an old jazz club, but now it's home to many different forms of music, classical included, and we heard the Ensemble LPR performing that music by Vaughan Williams earlier. Now at Le Poisson Rouge, we'll hear Pekka Kuusisto and his arrangement of a song called Tähdet Meren Yllä, Stars Above the Sea.
Tähdet meren yllä Unto Mononen
Pekka Kuusisto 3:18
John Schaefer: A Finnish tango called Tähdet Meren Yllä, Stars Above the Sea. Composed by Unto Mononen but played live by violinist and whistler Pekka Kuusisto. That was recorded live in 2013 at Le Poisson Rouge, not far from our New York public radio studios in lower Manhattan. This is New York in Concert, your guide to the city's classical music scene.
This week, we're giving you a quick tour of some of the city's best music spots from the before times. In a moment, maybe the most iconic New York classical piece ever written. From the most iconic New York concert venue: Carnegie Hall. I'm John Schaffer.
John Schaefer: There is only one concert hall in the whole world that has its own joke. And yes, it does take practice, practice, practice to get to Carnegie Hall. If New York city is the capital of classical music in America, this is the White House. Although, in the past year, it's been a White House, not open to the public.
Many of Carnegie's programs of the past year were moved into an online series called Carnegie Hall Live. But a lot of the concerts that normally would have taken place in this splendid cathedral of music, were simply canceled. And one of the casualties of course, was opening night. Every year, opening night at Carnegie Hall has been something special. On opening night in 2017, we were there when Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, opened the season in a most unusual and memorable performance. It featured not one, not two, but two and a half pianists. The legendary jazz master Chick Corea, the famed classical pianist Lang Lang, who was recovering from an injury and could only use one arm, and so he shared a piano with Maxim Lando, the pianist we heard earlier at the Morgan Library. Maxim was all of 14 years old when he got the call out of the blue, offering him the opportunity of a lifetime opening Carnegie Hall's season with two of the legends of the keyboard.
Maxim Lando: So Chick was on his own piano Lang Lang and I were sharing a piano. I remember the rehearsals, Chick changed it up every single time. There was never a time when he played the same notes. He always improv-ed. He always did something different. And the best thing I think about it, is that it led into just such a fantastic relationship. You know, I'm so lucky that I got to spend the time that I had.
John Schaefer: Recorded live at the 2017 Carnegie Hall opening night Gala, here is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and featuring Lang Lang, Maxim Lando, and the late Chick Corea on pianos.
Rhapsody in Blue George Gershwin
Lang Lang/Maxim Lando
Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
John Schaefer: Rhapsody in Blue performed by pianists Lang Lang and Maxim Lando sharing one keyboard, and the late Chick Corea at the other. Live performance from Carnegie Hall's Opening Night Gala in 2017 with the Philadelphia orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Well, we've given you just a taste of some of the places in New York City where classical music can be found. Carnegie Hall and Central Park, just literally a couple of blocks apart, but sonically worlds away from each other. And one of the things we'll do on New York in Concert is to bring you some of the surprising places, both above ground and below, where you can find classical music in New York. Now all of this music has been instrumental, but next week we'll hear some of New York's amazing choirs from Trinity Wall Street all the way downtown, to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine all the way uptown. Hope you'll be with us then.
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