Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Next, the "Overture to Lohengrin," but first the Philharmonic would like to congratulate Sammy Liebowitz on his bar mitzvah

Last night, I attended an event at Lincoln Center that was part of their outdoor "Midsummer Night's Swing" dance season. My longtime friend and virtuoso saxophonist Michael Hashim was leading an exceptional band in a program of the music of Billy Strayhorn. In other words, consummate musicians playing some of the greatest music ever written.

At one point, I was dancing with a young woman around 21. She had come with a group of friends to celebrate one of the friend's birthday. While we were dancing, she complained to me that she had asked Michael if he would announce the friend's birthday and he had replied, "Uh, no." She seemed to think that his was some sort of bar band whose duties included taking requests ("Hey, can you play "Money, Cash, Ho's"?) and announcing milestone events in the lives of audience members. She hadn't the slightest idea that she had been granted the privilege of attending an event of rare musical importance and sublimity. (The Billy Strayhorn Orchestra, as Michael calls the band, plays many obscure arrangements retrieved from the archives of Duke Ellington and elsewhere, and the costs in time and money for research, transcriptions, copying, gathering the musicians, rehearsals, etc., puts practical limitations on the frequency of such concerts. In fact, the band hadn't played at Lincoln Center in four years.)

But all this was unknown and probably incomprehensible to the young woman.

Can you imagine some bozo attending a concert of the New York Philharmonic and asking Lorin Maazel, "Oh, before you do Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring,' could you play 'Happy Birthday' for my girlfriend?"

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