We had experienced temperatures in the 80s during the week but left Washington D.C. in a windy, cold rain. The skyscrapers of Manhattan make a big impression, but our accommodations would be on the other side of the Hudson River in Jersey City. More than 25% of the musicians in the Metropolitan Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic live in the “Garden State” of New Jersey. It has some beautiful areas. By the time we left New Jersey a couple of days later, I felt like a million commuters had been on the subways at the same time with us.
My son Kendall, living in Brooklyn and going to school in Manhattan, was the perfect tour guide. He met us in Jersey City. Kendall knew all the right trains to catch, sights to see and restaurants to frequent. We took the subway to NYC and then went to the Chelsea Market for some amazing chicken and cactus tacos and the number one tourist attraction, the High Line. The High Line is fairly new and runs for almost a mile and a half on the elevated tracks of an abandoned railway. All of it offers the greatest views of the Hudson and block after block of giant buildings.
New York City is alive and growing. Most of the growing seems to be up and not for office space but for apartments and condos. People are moving into this slender slice of the Big Apple. Under construction was a huge modern apartment building advertising apartments with 2-5 bedrooms at a price tag of two to twenty million dollars. We decided we’d have to keep looking. The City seems cleaner and friendlier than my memories of 30-some years ago. There are very few abandoned buildings or unused space. We enjoyed Union Square and the various sights used by The New School, where Kendall is getting his masters degree. We would dine at “Republic”, and like all the restaurants we would try, it was really good.
“Aida” at the Met was on the agenda for 7:30. The opera house was opulent and grand. Winding stairways, beautiful statues, shining chandeliers, great art and expensive gowns were everywhere. The Egyptian-style sets (almost four stories tall!), a cast of 200 people, horses, carts, dancers, a terrific chorus and a stellar orchestra kept our attention until the final curtain at 11:15pm. Aida, was sung by Liudmyla Monastyrka and Aida’s father by Zeljko Lucic. They were the standouts, but individual members of the opera orchestra like flutist Denis Bouriakov, oboist Elaine Douvas and clarinetist Jessica Phillips Rieske had their moments in the spotlight. The orchestra sings with a fine-tuned expression.
The subway ride back to our Doubletree hotel in Jersey City made us feel like a couple of sardines in a very big can of fish. Many travelers were in costume from Halloween parties (a day early!) and despite the wall to wall humanity, the mood was jovial. With the late concert and train delays, it was 1:00am when we finally got back to the hotel.
The next morning we met at “Juliette” in Brooklyn for breakfast. Kendall gave us a tour of his apartment on Jefferson, and then Lisa and I went to the September 11 Memorial in NYC. Hundreds of other people were there to see the dramatic memorial and look up 105 floors to the top of the new World Trade Center 1. Heavy security is all around the construction sights and new buildings. We also took time to visit Trinity Church, one of the oldest in NY, where young children were parading around the cemetery in their Halloween costumes and young students in period dress were recreating scenes from America’s past.
We met the Sirineks of Ridgewood, NJ for dinner at the “Atlantic Grill”, close to Lincoln Center. Bob Sirinek is a former trumpet player for the the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the present orchestra manager for the same orchestra. His wife is Elaine Douvas, the orchestra’s principal oboist for more than 35 years and one of my oldest musical friends. Our friendship goes back to our high school days at Interlochen, Michigan. The Sirineks also brought their beautiful daughter, Portia, who is in med school at Columbia and was just joining us from a recording session. Portia plays the horn and like her mother, spent many summers at the National Music Camp at Interlochen. Dinner was great, and of course it was fun to catch up. Elaine taught James Hall and Titus Underwood at Juilliard and sang the praises of Lori Wike from their time at Aspen together and Jennifer Rhodes from Jen’s time as a student at Juilliard. Though Elaine is the most petite woman, her influence has cast a wide shadow.
Lisa and I went to hear the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fischer. Kendall and his friends Ian and Davis would join us. This concert was the centerpiece for all of our “hear-the-orchestras” tour because of the Christopher Rouse Flute Concerto. Appearing as soloist was Robert Langevin, the orchestra’s principal flutist. There’s nothing like hearing a great player live. I felt it with Emmanuel Pahud, Josh Smith and Lorna McGhee and would feel it again with Robert Langevin. Before the flute concerto, the orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin played Copland’s “El Salon Mexico”. The orchestra played with a strong degree of bravado. In the flute concerto, Mr. Langevin was in complete control. His tone was rich, focused and controlled. Many of the technical passages were over-balanced in favor of the orchestra, but Langevin kept my interest throughout. After the intermission the orchestra played an arrangement of Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”. There was some beautiful playing by oboist Liang Wang and bassoonist Judith Le Clair. “Bolero” was last on the program. It started out surprisingly loud and the players went through the piece in the usual fashion. Being Halloween, it was another crowded and colorful trip back to New Jersey.
We had breakfast with Kendall again and said our goodbyes for who knows how long. He plans a trip to Korea to see his girlfriend around Christmas and will look for a job, who knows where, when he graduates in May. Gerri and Gayle Rhodes of Hopewell Junction met us for the Met production, “Carmen” by Bizet. The glowing red lighting, the passionate pas de deux in the beginning and then again later, the giant sets, a fabulous cast and orchestra, a terrific chorus, and the live simulcast made for an exhilarating experience. The music is so heart-wrenching and the artists above and below the stage so great, it can make the most seasoned instrumentalist teary-eyed.
Our time with the Rhodes was really wonderful. Their beautiful home reflected years of exciting travel, raising two precious girls and creating many happy memories. We drove to Hyde Park to see the homes of the Vanderbilts (from the outside) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (inside and out). We were all fans of FDR before the tour and more so after the tour. We dined at a diner Gayle knew from long ago. The chili he ordered was still as good as it was 30 years ago. We talked until late about Gayle’s career with IBM, the challenges of a career in music and their grandson, Anderson. Sometimes it’s a two year old that can put it all in perspective.
– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes