my life as an amateur violist
tour: biting the apple | # l
with me? Care for a sandwich to tide you
over? (Damn, which of these peripherals is
compatible with pastrami on rye?) Well, now that
weve been to the shrine of Dimitri Shostakovich and
have been duly humbled, Im guessing that
youre ready for more dirt. O.k.?
O.k. Tawdry weve got.
The whole story of the tour is just too long for this telling, so let me set the stage and Ill give you the highlights.
It is March 1984. The orchestra is catching a flight to Eastern Europe via NYC. Through a boggling set of coincidences, the New York Philharmonic is celebrating their 60th year of childrens concerts on this, the PYPs 60th anniversary. Our people talk to their people -- we get a gig *with* the New York Phil. And Leonard Bernstein. Woohoo! Then on to our regularly scheduled itinerary of multiple shows in Yugoslavia (not yet the former Yugoslavia) and Austria. Dig it?
My first bite of the Apple was more than anyone has a right to hope for.
My great-uncle, Bob Gjessing, is a long-time native of Manhattan and showed me the City the best way to see it -- on foot. We trekked from the Empire Hotel (around 50th St) down past Carnegie Hall (which was being remodeled at the time), through Tiffanys, into the newly finished Trump Tower, past Rockefeller Center, down to the Village, stopped at an automat for a bite and ended up at Battery Park. I have no idea why I thought that would be a good day to break in my Topsiders, but my feet paid the price the next day. We took the subway back to Grand Central where we parted company.
A group from the orchestra had bought tickets to A Chorus Line. Care for a time reality check? Cats was the hot new show. But no, I followed the herd later and bought a discount ticket to A Chorus Line. Fortunately I was seated across Schubert Hall from the official PYP group. I could see the utter mortification of Mr. A (remember the conductor?) seated with this contingent of impressionable young musicians (median age about 14) as the company vamped through Tits & Ass.
Oh yeah. We played a pretty good gig at Avery Fisher Hall under the baton of one Leonard Bernstein. They had to extend the stage to fit all 200 players. Can you say mondo-phonic? The New York Times gave us a mixed review, but hey, we werent complaining.
Great Uncle Bob followed through on my request and scored tickets for a taping of Late Night with David Letterman. Im not sure how hard it was to get Letterman tickets in 84, but I was damn happy to be there regardless.
Our tour manager (who became quite unpopular and had just purchased a very expensive, very ugly mustard colored pillbox hat at Macy's) had warned me that I was risking missing the tour bus to JFK if I went to the 6 p.m. taping. I weighed the risks. At worst it was a 15 block run from Rockefeller Center to the Empire Hotel. Worst case scenario: I miss the bus, have to spend a chunk of my meager Europe spending money on a cab. Im going to Letterman.
It was a memorable brush with greatness with a somewhat sad epilogue of which I will write at a later date.
After the show I raced back to the hotel only to end up waiting with the group another hour. Hurry up and wait. Damn, I was glad I didnt whimp out on that one.