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April 2017

Britten's War Requiem at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Britten War Requiem St John Divine-001

"My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity ...

All a poet can do today is warn."

- Wilfred Owen

At first, I thought the timing of Thursday's performance of Benjamin Britten's War Reqiuem at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine - in early Spring, with the forsythia and daffodils sprouting - was a bit odd. But, as the Rev. Patrick Malloy, St. John the Divine's Canon for Liturgy & the Arts, reminded us before the performance, April 6 was the 100th anniversary of the day the United States entered into World War I - the same war that Wilfred Owen, whose poetry Britten weaves through the Latin Mass for the Dead, fought and died in. Rev. Malloy also made note of Tuesday's chemical weapons attack in Syria, emphasizing that the horrors of war are still around us. (More on that later.)

The War Requiem, as noted in several previous performances, is without question one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century: a majestic work of searing power and sublime, oracular rapture. Here, the combined choirsters of St. John the Divine, the Manhattan School of Music Choir, and the Oratorio Society of New York - all led by Director of Cathedral Music Kent Tritle - delivered a visceral performance that was done in only by the overly-reverberant acoustics of the soaring cathedral interior (which were also apparently an issue at the work's premiere in 1962.) Among the soloists, Met Soprano Susanna Phillips - who impressed in Britten's Peter Grimes in 2013 - was the clear standout; she was joined by tenor John Matthew Myers and baritone Matthew Worth.

I was grabbing a slice nearby afterwards when a TV broadcast the news that we had just launched a military strike against Syria,m; it had apparently taken place during the performance. Britten's message at that moment could not have been more resonant - or more foreboding. No matter how many times we hear it, we never seem to learn.

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John O'Hurley at the Café Carlyle

John O'Hurley Cafe Carlyle(Photo: David Andrako)

"The definition of a Celebrity is that you're allowed to do what you otherwise have no business doing." - John O'Hurley

Anyone fan of Seinfeld remembers Peterman, Elaine's pompous, larger-than-life boss who appeared on the sitcom from 1995-98. And what they probably remember the most about Peterman is his distinctive voice, which apparently was modeled after "'40s radio drama, combined with a bit of a bad Charles Kuralt."

Turns out the real Peterman, John O'Hurley, sounds a lot like the character in real life, which I discovered when I saw O'Hurley make his Café Carlyle debut last week. O'Hurley calls his show "A Man With Standards," referring to both songs by Henry Mancini, Hugo Peretti, Anthony Newley and others, and the gentlemanly manners that have been all-but-forgotten. Like Peterman, O'Hurley's show is peppered with anecdotes from his own colorful life, like the time he found himself in Frank Sinatra's Palm Beach home and, when asked to sing, performed one of Sinatra's own songs: Joe Raposo's "You Will Be My Music." (After an awkward silence, Sinatra told O'Hurley: "You sounded good.")

O'Hurley was long-winded at times, and he's not going to win any accolades for his singing voice, which was powerful but uneven. (Backing O'Hurley were Steve Rawlins on piano, Ron Vincent on drums, and Rusty Holloway on bass.) But, it's still an impressive, entertaining show, filled with unique stories from O'Hurley's New England upbringing, his years on The Young and the Restless and Seinfeld, and his more recent forays into reality TV with Dancing with the Stars and the National Dog Show. And, just when you thought you couldn't take any more of his pomposity, O'Hurley remind you of how he's fought and scraped for his success, with his perseverance eventually landing him on the biggest cabaret stage in New York. I guess I'd feel pretty good about myself, too. 

O'Hurley appears at the Café Carlyle through Saturday April 8, which is currently offering a special 2 for 1 deal without food and beverage minimums Tuesday-Thursday. Reservations and info on the Carlyle's website, or call +1 212 744-1600.

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Attacca Quartet Plays John Adams at National Sawdust

Attacca Quartet_John Adams_National Sawdust-012

"I can't tell you how much I love this quartet. The way they play this music is just amazing. I actually just sat with them backstage and told them: 'We have the same DNA.'" - John Adams 

After two days of rain and cold, the sun finally popped out Sunday, and I was tempted to spend a lazy afternoon in my back garden, just starting to bloom with crocuses and tulips. All I wanted to do was read a book, or catch up on some other things I'd been putting off. But, I had a show on the calendar, and so I dutifully put away the lawn furniture, packed up my bag and trudged off to Williamsburg. 

The moment I surfaced at Bedford Ave, after a painfully long ride on the G train, I wished I'd never left my garden. The crush of iPhone-blinded hipsters and wide-eyed tourists made it nearly impossible just to walk down the street. But, I pressed on, past the hordes of buskers and brunchers to National Sawdust, where the Attacca Quartet (Violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nate Schram, cellist Andrew Yee) was already halfway through their first piece, John Adams' String Quartet No. 1 (2008). I sat quietly upstairs in the balcony; almost of the cocktail tables downstairs were full.

The Attacca tore through the music, mixing stop-and-go rhythms with gentle melodies before ending with a Bartòk-like stretch of haunting dissonance. During the applause, they acknowledged a slight white-haired man standing directly beneath me, applauding vigorously. I almost dropped my notebook when I looked down and saw that it was Adams himself. Did he really fly all of the way from Berkeley just to be here? Not exactly: turns out Adams was in town for both the St. Louis Symphony's performance of The Gospel According to the Other Mary at Carnegie on Friday, and the star-studded Bob Hurwitz/Nonesuch Celebration at BAM on Saturday. Still, it's not every day that you spot one of the world's greatest composers sitting in an 80 seat theater in Williamsburg.

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