Chopin at the World Financial Center–Heavy Hands Were Needed

Chopin at World Financial Center (Heavy Hands Were Needed)

Today is the official 200th anniversary of Frederic Chopin’s birth date.   (This is based upon Chopin’s dating of his birth at March 1, rather than baptismal records that stated his date of birth as February 22nd).

I celebrated Chopin’s birthday by realizing,  by chance, that there was a free concert going on next door to my lower Manhattan apartment at the World Financial Center, and (after hurrying my dog through her evening circuit) rushing over there to listen.  (Anxious not to be too late, I considered dragging my dog along too, but figured that the Financial Center’s security guards would not understand either Pearl’s affection for Chopin or her incredibly quiet nature.)

The celebration at the World Financial Center is quite remarkable;  they have set up grand pianos throughout the public spaces upon which preludes, etudes, scherzos, and fantasias are being played all day long (by student pianists.)   This evening, more student pianists, from NYU’s Steinhardt’s Music School, played in the Palm Court under huge cloth awnings that seem to have been set up to try to harness the space’s execrable acoustics.   Heavy amplification of the main concert piano was also used.

The student pianists were wonderful, but heavy amplification does not work well for Chopin—the runs of notes tend to run together, the swirls of arpeggio to become eddies, the little fillips at the end of lines to muddy into ponderous fillips.  Heavy amplification was required, however, because of the constant din of very loud talk.   I don’t mean just from people sitting in the audience, or the occasional child in stroller who would try to sing Happy Birthday in response to a maternal explanation of Chopin’s special day;  I don’t even mean people walking through.  (The concert I went to was “after hours” so there weren’t that many passers-by).  The talk seemed mainly to come from the very few restaurants and bars in the Financial Center, particularly, the Grill Room, that sits up above the Palm Court.

It’s really hard to understand how people’s talking (even when punctuated by the occasional hoot) can be so loud; it couldn’t be called a hum, even a buzz.   Din–the din of a busy market, the barrage of commerce.

The market/commerce aspect arises because it is hard to imagine that there are many people eating at the Financial Center’s few restaurants  other than employees of tenants, i.e. Merrill Lynch, Amex, Cadwallader, Wickersham and Taft, the Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal.  (Lehman Brothers used to be a tenant; don’t quite know what happened to that one.)

It really is wonderful that such tenants arrange for Chopin to be played; too bad they won’t shut up for it.

Okay, okay, I’m being unfair, snobby, hypocritical.   I make my living from commerce too, as does New York City.  I really am grateful.  The Center sponsors all kinds of strange and wonderful free events–parades of tubas, kayak races, outdoor movies, dance performances, avant garde music, non-avant garde music.   (The Chopin festival, for example, is to continue for five days.)   In our culture, such cultural events rarely happen  without corporate largesse.

But even as I am truly grateful, I am also conscious that every evening, there are also lines of limos and private cars waiting outside the Financial Center, blocks and blocks of big black cars.

It’s very possible that the people who will get into those big cars are not the same ones making so much noise.  Who knows?  Still, I  can’t help but feel that the financial world would spin in a slightly different way if everyone working in it took the subway every day (or at least some days.)  And was a bit quieter while Chopin was being played, live.

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