It's 7:00, Saturday night, Manhattan. One entire hour early I arrive for a neighborhood concert, to be greeted by one hundred bobbing heads, predominantly white or gray plus a few bottle-brunettes, all on line. I think: "On line," New-Yorkese for "queue up," antedates the computer age. Like these septuagenarians.
Says the woman ahead of me to her two male colleagues, "Why don't the young people come out for these? The price is so reasonable." Seems unfair for her to have Man #1 and #2 when many "women her age" have none. Unfair to whom, I am uncertain. She is a typical vigorous septuagenarian, all incredibly vigorous, septuagenarians, octogenarians, even the nonagenarians, here tonight and for every Peoples' Symphony Concert at the Washington Irving High School. To call them spry insults the word vigor. Not that health problems never intervened. Once a string quartet paused a full eight minutes for an octogenarian to receive oxygen.
I'm a pre-genarian (for the pushing-50, my dictionary contains no "-genarian" equivalent.) A not-a-genarian? Whatever, I "came out" for the concert.
The woman's colleague, Man #1, pipes up, "They'll wait on line if it's one of their concerts." Are they Generation X, as of Smashing Pumpkins? Certainly not of Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, concertizing for Dvorak's death-centennial tonight. Does man #1connote only the recently dead, like that smashed Pumpkin. Or, rather than Generation X, maybe he means yuppies. They will stand on line for classical music. If it has the right ephemeral cachet.
Cachet explains what happens 20 minutes later. Having reserved my seat crammed among- genarians who beat me to the eighth row, I take a walk, past Union Square toward Broadway. I haven't the genarian's energy to pursue a full hour of rapid, animated, and elevated conversation. At Broadway I stop, in shock: a Banana Republic has superseded the old Barnes and Noble Annex, the real Barnes and Noble Annex, the one before malls, the one where I bought all those books on the cheap back in the '60s and '70s. Still have them, still trying to read them: Marx, Marcuse, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Proust, Woolf, Sterne, even Jonathan Livingston Seagull I bought there. Now the books are replaced by manikins.
Before, at Irving High, the woman had countered Man #1, "There are so many conservatories in New York. All those serious students with so little money. For the best music ..." "Oh they're so specialized in conservatories." Man #1. "Oboe players only go to hear other oboe players these days."
Wrong. Conservatories "these days" fill enrollment with Oriental females, acquiring an Eastern version of cachet: Western music training brings brides better matches in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, even Hong Kong. I have this on good authority: a violin instructor was so disillusioned over musicians who quit Bach to marry, he turned to heroin.
Now, I have nothing against marriage myself. Too, some female Oriental conservatory graduates make great violin careers. A recent excellent Peoples' Concert in fact, by Music from Marlboro, featured string players who were young, female, serious, Oriental. My friend can quit drugs.
New York thanks god for such women. It's the one city where anti-immigration will never provoke a Proposition. Hope for ethnic diversity brought us to New York. Me, with my Southern drawl. The genarians tonight, who've been peppering New York with clipped European consonants since before I was born.
And our trio musicians. Sharon Robinson's lusty cello tones hail from Texas. When I lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a doctor friend recounted he'd been with her in a Houston high school orchestra, demurring on "with her," so outclassed was he by her ability. Her husband Jaime Laredo's precise violin bowing originated in Argentina. Is Joseph Kalichstein's keyboard rubato from Russia or Eastern Europe? I'm embarrassed not to know.
Kalichstein notes the fitness of celebrating Dvorak's death-centennial here: Dvorak lived just two blocks away, when he composed tonight's "Dumky" trio in a fit of home-sickness. The living pianist quotes from the dead Bohemian's letter home: "New York is very wonderful. It's so quiet."
Such memories haunt this part of Gramercy Park. The originators of the Peoples' Symphony
Concerts, so ahead of their time (and ours) in socialist resolve to offer culture to the masses. The haunting Bohemian "dumky" dance theme of the Dvorak trio, recurring and recurring in every movement. After intermission, Kalichstein reports, from an attending -genarian, that the conservatory which employed Dvorak stood exactly on this site. Kalichstein, full of enthusiasm, points down, to the stage floor where he stands.
Now, recounting the music of last night, other memories haunt, too: the story of the headless horseman by Washington Irving, namesake for Irving High. Today's New York Times reports how their "Horsemen" won City basketball, took second in State. A placard on the house across the street records it as Washington Irving's home. Wrong. It did belong to the first professional interior decorator. With her lesbian lover, she was quite celebrated in her day.
Today, a Times Poll, same page as the hoop-dream story, finds over-65 New Yorkers to be twice as desirous as under-30s to stay in NYC. Genarians like it here. Man #2 put it this way: "For the young ones to come here, they'd have to turn us to soap first." The -genarians chuckled at the notion of being dissolved from their place on line.