New York’s Worst-Kept Musical Secret
A. Schiff (© Coco. T. Dawg)
Atop the same wooden stage which launched Martha Graham and Doris Humphreys, where Anais Nin, Dorothy Parker, and Tennessee Williams delighted audiences, where Truman Capote introduced an ailing Carson McCullers...
Atop that same stage, András Schiff was finishing a blueberry muffin, drinking coffee and speaking of Bach, India and literature two mornings ago.
Somehow, nothing seems uncommon at the 92Y–a.k.a. the 92nd Street Y, a.k.a. the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, though nobody ever calls it that any more. Butt the rarity of its performances is rarely displayed to out-of-towners. Inevitably, visitors to New York gravitate to Lincoln Center–the Met and the Phil–or might actually go out to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for drama and shows. 92Y is still a secret.
But this week, the announcement of its 2012-2013 series would make any serious concertgoer jump with anticipation. Opening will be András Schiff launching the 92Y’s season with two concerts of “the 48” preludes and fugues. The great Hungarian pianist couldn’t contain his pleasure during the announcement this week.
“To begin the day with Bach,” he said, “is like starting the day with a spiritual exercise. You need nothing else.” This is Schiff’s “Bach Project”, which he will continue with more Bach that he will conduct and play with the New York Philharmonic later in the year.
H. Arie-Gaifman (© Coco. T. Dawg)
Bach, though, notes Hanna Arie-Gaifman, director of the Tisch Art Center, the concert/lecture division of 92Y, “is a continual theme throughout the season.” Performers include Marc-André Hamelin, Jennifer Koh, recorder player Mchala Petri and guitarists Raphaella Smits and Benjamin Verdery.
But 92Y is as well known for its speakers and symposia, so one whole morning next March will be devoted to a conference on interpreting Bach. NY Phil conductor Alan Gilbert, the week before conducting the B Minor Mass will join Masaaki Suzuki three days before he conducts Bach with the Phil and his Bach Collegium Japan, and Jennifer Koh, after her Bach concert at the 92Y.
The Bach Project is the 92Y’s homage to the past. The future encompasses 24 living composers playing their own works (including the New York premiere of Hamelin’s own Paganini Variations).
Outside of large orchestras, the musical treasures of 92Y are so numerous that they must be confined in their own bijoux boxes. The polymathic Ms. Arie-Grafman–she is a serious pianist, literary scholar, linguist and artistic manager–divides them into categories for the next season.
First is the aforementioned “Bach Through the Season,” highlighting Schiff, Koh, Hamelin and several guitarists. Next is “Masters of the Keyboard”, Peter Serkin (who plays with the Shanghai Quartet, including a premiere by Bright Sheng), Inon Barnatan, Hamelin and Lars Vogt.
“Chamber Music” highlights the wondrous Jaime Laredo in three concerts, playing with Andre Watts, Pamela Frank and his own Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. “Contrasts” highlights Christian Tetzlaff and his colleagues in three concerts.
The 92Y has a quartet-in-residence, the Tokyo String Quartet, premiering a work commissioned by 92Y, by Leon Auerbach, as well as Haydn and Bartók.
For an organization which began in 1868 to help poor Jewish immigrants, the 92Y has been literally transformed. Not a single writer, poet or musician of note has failed to appear here over the past 80 years. Musically, András Schiff explains its “special place” as due to “the perfect size, the fine acoustics, the intimate atmosphere”, but as a sometime habitué, I remember two occasions.
One as a 12-year-old child listening to Dylan Thomas performing his own Under Milk Wood on this stage, with four other actors, then shaking his hand in the lounge after. The other just this year, listening to a 103-year-old Elliott Carter verbally dueling with Heinz Holliger on the meaning of music and Mozart in the same auditorium.
Somehow, only the 92Y has the eclectic and electrifying artists to make this possible.