Preview: SongStudio Returns to Carnegie Hall

Elina Garanca SongStudio 2020
Soprano Elina Garanca and student at Carnegie Hall's SongStudio, Jan. 16 2020

After going virtual last year, Carnegie Hall's SongStudio returned live to the Resnick Education Wing this week. The Weill Music Institute's premier program for young vocalists, SongStudio offers singers and "collaborative pianists" (a.k.a. accompanists) a crash course in everything from stage presence to vocal diction, exploring both the classic and current song repertoire with an eye towards pulling the recital experience into the 21st Century. Led by renowned soprano Renée Fleming - who took over for the late mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne in 2019 - some twenty young singers and pianists have spent the week working with some of the brightest lights in opera and song, including Fleming, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard (whose masterclass is tonight.)

The weeklong program culminates tomorrow night with a recital in Zankel Hall, overseen by Fleming. Limited tickets for tonight's Isabel Leonard masterclass and tomorrow's recital are available for purchase on Carnegie's website or at the box office. If you plan to go, please take note of Carnegie's new policies to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. 

New Year, New Leaf: Igor Levit at Carnegie Hall

Igor Levit at Carnegie Hall
Well, it's been a rough couple of months here in NYC. Just when we thought we were almost done with COVID-19, it came roaring back around Thanksgiving, shutting down bars, restaurants - and lots of live music. This month alone has seen the cancellation of both the PROTOTYPE opera festival (they say it's "postponed") and the Winter JazzFest Marathon (which is now the "Virtual Marathon," which started this week.) Not to mention seemingly half the shows I see listed on Ohmyrockness.

The city's opera and concert halls, on the other hand, have largely kept their doors open, which is ironic given the relative size of their auditoriums and potential risk of infection. Guess some folks like to freak out more about Omicron than others. (Full disclosure: I caught COVID just before Christmas, and experienced relatively mild symptoms for about a week. Thank you, Pfizer!)

One of those venues that's persevered is Carnegie Hall, which has navigated this year's various COVID-related travel restrictions by filling its three stages with soloists, chamber groups, and the occasional local orchestra. To be frank, it's not been a banner year of programming thus far. BUT, things are ramping up quickly here in 2022, with stalwarts such as the Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, and the Emerson String Quartet all set to perform in the coming weeks. 

Safety is of course a top priority at Carnegie, and was in clear evidence Thursday night by the line snaking around the corner of 57th and 7th to check ID's and proofs of vaccination. Fair warning: all tickets now come with a designated entry time and one of several designated entrances, though I'd recommend getting there at least a half hour before curtain regardless of what your ticket says. And, for God's sake, don't forget your mask!

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Patti Smith Comes Home to City Parks Foundation SummerStage in Central Park


Patti Smith SummerStage 9.19.21
Patti Smith at City Parks Foundation SummerStage 9.19.21 Photo: Pete Matthews/Feast of Music

If you're a music lover like I am, these past few weeks have been a joyous return, a reminder that music offers its own special form of healing, sometimes with words, often just through magical chords and beats. It's also been a literal return to places I haven't seen in a couple of years, such as Tanglewood, BAM and BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! at the Prospect Park Bandshell.

A week ago Sunday (9/19), I found myself back at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield, home of the Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage to see the legendary Patti Smith and her band. I was a bit apprehensive about being in a crowd of strangers without any ability to social distance, but everyone had to show their New York Excelsior Pass or other proof of vaccination upon entry. (Yes, I realize some people consider this an infringement on their personal liberty. No, I don't care.)

After a nearly two-year break, Patti, who is now 74, could be forgiven for being a bit nervous and shaky at her first NYC show in 18 months. (She was supposed to perform alongside Bruce Springsteen at the big Homecoming Concert in Central Park last month, but Mother Nature had other ideas.) On the contrary: Patti's full-throated voice was as strong and powerful as ever, ripping through classics such as "Free Money", "Because the Night", "Land" and "Gloria" with all the ferocity of her CBGB days. Joining her onstage were longtime bandmates Lenny Kaye (guitar), Tony Shanahan (bass), and Jimmy Doherty (drums), as well as her own talented offspring Jackson Smith (guitar) and Jesse Paris Smith (keys and vocals). 

In between songs, Patti shared some of her poetry and other musings, such as a paean to the Harvest Moon rising in the east and remembrances of Charlie Watts, Lee "Scratch" Perry and former husband Fred "Sonic" Smith. Patti also had some choice putdowns for those who tried to make unsolicited requests. ("What? Yeah, just like a guy to say that.") Wearing her usual androgynous outfit of baggy black suit and white t-shirt, Patti was part earth-mother, part punk goddess, part priestess. More than anything, Patti played the role of healer, making it feel like everything was going to be ok after this awful year-and-a-half apart, punctuated with an encore performance of her classic "People Have the Power", to which we all joyfully shouted along. 

Patti Smith SummerStage 9.19.21
Patti Smith at SummerStage 9.19.21 Photo: Pete Matthews/Feast of Music

There are still a few shows left at SummerStage, including a free show this Friday (10/1) with Yo La Tengo and Mountain Movers, and benefit shows with Joyce Manor (9/30) and Kenny Beats and Friends (10/2). Tickets and information available on the SummerStage website.

More pics and setlist below. Additional pics on the photo page.

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Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue Close Out BRIC's 2021 Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival

Trombone Shorty BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 9.18.21I've had the good fortune to witness the human dynamo that is Trombone Shorty on at least a half-dozen occasions over the past decade, in all sorts of contexts: at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2011, at Carnegie Hall in 2012, at Bonnaroo in 2013, and at Tanglewood in 2019. Each and every time, the crowd enthusiastically responded to his high energy blend of jazz, funk, and overall New Orleans showmanship. 

But, nowhere have I seen a crowd so fired up by Shorty as the one I saw Saturday night at the Lena Horne Bandshell in Prospect Park, where he and his longtime band Orleans Avenue closed out the pandemic-delayed 2021 edition of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. After seeing all of last summer's Celebrate Brooklyn! cancelled due to COVID-19, it was great to see live music back in the bandshell, even if the star wattage this year was a bit dimmer than usual. (Other shows I caught included jazz trumpeter Theo Croker, songwriter and social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, and veteran MC Kool Keith, all free.)

It was also great to see a packed house after a summer of ongoing COVID fears led to half-full audiences for many shows. Of course, this was only possible thanks to NYC's strict policy of showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test upon entry, which resulted in slower than usual lines. No one seemed to mind in the least.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue went onstage around 920pm and played for well over an hour, pumping out hits such as “Buckjump,” “Hurricane Season,” “Fire and Brimstone,” “On your way down,” and “No Good Time.” Shorty was all over the stage, jumping up and down while blasting both his trombone and trumpet. The crowd got up, and never sat back down. 

Openers included local girl pop collective MICHELLE and LA's "black acid soul" diva Lady Blackbird, who seemed to be doing her best Tina Turner impression with her spiked white wig and leather bustier. 

Thanks to everyone at BRIC for pulling together Celebrate Brooklyn! in time for us to have something to do other than Netflix this summer. Can't wait til next year.

More pics below and on the photo page

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