(Thanks to masck (old skool) for the photo)
By Justin Davidson
Thought I: Lincoln Center is Molting
Remember a few years ago, when the talk was that Lincoln Center's gaggle of constituent organizations would never stop bickering over the renovation plans, never raise the money, never take the plunge? The travertine dowager, it was said, would keep sinking elegantly into disrepair. But take a look at it now: Juilliard has shed its skin, in preparation for adding a whole new wing, including a glass-walled dance studio facing onto Broadway. It's more than a little ironic that the dismantling begins with Pietro Belluschi's Juilliard building, which architecture critics of the 1960s praised as the one true incarnation of modernism in a campus rife with aesthetic compromise. Ada Louis Huxtable, the dean of critics at the time, called it “a marriage of form and function in terms of rational simplicity and bare-boned solutions.” Neither Huxtable nor anybody else, however, has been leading protests or writing novella-length Op-Eds defending the building against depraved acts of renovation. Maybe that's because generations of Juilliard students have found the building more a marriage of ugliness and unfriendliness in terms of labyrinthine confusion.
Thought II: Long Way to Go
As I squirmed through New York City Opera's superfluous new production of Rossini's "La Donna del Lago" (loosely translated as "The Lady who Jumped in a Lake"), I kept imagining the company's new director-in-waiting Gerard Mortier sitting rigidly in the audience, his Flemish frown getting longer and deeper by the minute. The company is usually better than this, and the lame-duck director Paul Kellogg should at some point get his due as a resourceful executive with good taste and an ear for talented young singers. Still, it's a long way from lame Rossini to the extravaganzas of vulgarity and bold vision that Mortier is famous for. Will he be able to sweet-talk some extra millions out of City Opera loyalists to support his plans, or will the company only be able to afford a few knockoff shockers?
Thought III: Mini-Moderne
Children are the cruelest critics. They need better music, better playing and better seats than adults do before they'll clap like they mean it, let alone jump to their feet. So I was delighted at the reception that the New York Philharmonic Young People's Concert of "modern" music on Saturday got from the pre-tween crowd, including my own discriminating 9-year-old. "I liked that," he volunteered, which in today's praise exchange rate is equivalent to a wild, stomping ovation. The young conductor James Gaffigan made his debut on that concert; I authorize his publicists to use my son's endorsement for marketing purposes.
And get this: the boy's favorite work was not by Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky or Copland. It was "Katydid Country," a movement from Mason Bates' symphony, "Rusty Air in Carolina." Composed in 2006. Bates uses field recordings of the noisy bugs - a solo, plus a choir of millions - and turns them into an electronic rhythm section for his high-energy orchestra. (My son also enjoyed Webern's "Five Movements for String Orchestra," which the orchestra played three times.) When I pointed to a photo of John Adams in the program (the Philharmonic did a lovely job with his "Tromba Lontana") and bragged that I knew him, my son answered coolly: "How come you don't know all the other composers, Dad?" There's your audience of the future.