WSJ Covers Holiday Under the Stars

Posted on December 12th, 2011 in Articles | Tags: jalc, new york, wall street journal

Well, I’d say this one calls for a toast: An item on my wish list for 2011 has actually come true. Last year—in this column on Dec. 27, 2010—I made a list of five ways that New York City could be a better place for the arts and audiences in the coming year. Admittedly, some of the wishes were improbable, such as a campaign alerting audiences that standing ovations aren’t the required response to every single show in town. Some things were practical: Why can’t there be an orderly, working cab stand at Lincoln Center?

And then there was this wish….

“Starting around Thanksgiving, visitors to the Time Warner Center were subjected to recorded music blasted at the exterior, as well as on the first floor. According to a spokesman for the developer, the Related Cos., the music was commissioned to go with the light show inside the atrium…..But the music was too loud, too electronic, too slow. Far from jolly, it sounded like a dirge composed on a shoddy keyboard. It made me not want to go to the Time Warner Center….In a city that is already painfully noisy, this is another assault on the senses. The Time Warner Center is certainly not alone in this nuisance, but the property also happens to be the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, which collaborates regularly with Related. If we’re going to be forced to listen to holiday music, please—at the very least—why can’t it swing?”

Lo and behold, the collaboration I wished for has happened. Gone is the atonal, anti-Christmas soundscape of yore. It has been replaced with jazz renditions of holiday classics recorded by Wynton Marsalis and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for the full-length album “Christmas Jazz Jam.”

There’s a New Orleans-style version of “O Christmas Tree” and a very Marsalis “Jingle Bells.” The music starts at 5 p.m.—and prior to that time, innocuous background music is played at inoffensive levels. When the jazzy Christmas tunes start, the 14-foot stars dangling from the atrium ceiling flash in time with the music for what’s billed as “Holiday Under the Stars.”

Of course, Culture City would never be so vulgar as to claim sole credit for what is clearly a brilliant—if completely obvious—collaboration. As it happens, the good folks at Related, the developer of the Time Warner Center, had this idea since the building opened in 2005. “I thought it was simple,” said the chairman and CEO of Related, Stephen M. Ross. “You want to create something special that people want to see. It takes time.”

Regardless of why it took six years (and one kvetching column, perhaps?) for this musical partnership to happen, I’m just happy that it did: It turns everyone walking through the Time Warner Center into a jazz listener. And that’s good for the music.

It also coincides with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s new holiday concert, “A New Holiday Revue” to be performed Dec. 15 to 17 with singer Kim Burrell. “People are always asking for more orchestra concerts,” said Mr. Marsalis, JALC artistic director. “We’re doing a Big Band concert with new arrangements.”

On tap are popular songs like “What Child Is This” and Leroy Anderson’s peppy “Sleigh Ride,” a favorite of the trumpet-playing Mr. Marsalis since he was in high school. “The trumpet makes the horse sound, and I always loved that,” he said.

As for contributing jazz to the Time Warner Center’s public spaces, Mr. Marsalis says it’s part of fostering a community feeling. “We want to be a part of it,” he said. “We’re always trying to figure out how to be better neighbors.”

Better living through jazz? That really does call for a toast.

Levine’s Impact
On a less happy note: The opera world heaved a collective groan Friday night when the Metropolitan Opera announced that music director James Levine will not conduct this spring nor in the 2012-13 season. Mr. Levine has been recuperating from three back surgeries and an injury, but he cannot commit to performance dates, even those far in advance.

Though he won’t be at the helm of the orchestra, what’s important to note is that the Levine era is not over. As he said in his statement, he will be fit enough to continue his other duties, such as artistic planning, coaching singers and working with the singers and pianists in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, which he founded in 1980.

That he will be able to continue to exert his musical influence is significant. Take it from soprano Deborah Voigt: “Maestro Levine has been one of the most important inspirations for me throughout my career, a collaborator, teacher and confidante,” she said in an email Friday night.

While the best-case scenario would be his full return, a behind-the-scenes return is not the worst case scenario.

- Pia Catton (The Wall Street Journal)