When I lived in an apartment on East 65th street for a brief time, I had a very grumpy next door neighbor who hated when I praticed, even if it was only to warm up for a half hour in the middle of the day. She used to pound on my door and yell "If I wanted to hear a concert, I'd go to Carnegie Hall!!" As much as her unsympathetic attitude annoyed me when I was just trying to get ready for an audition, she was actually one of the first people that came to my mind when I finally did sing at Carnegie Hall, and I recall those exchanges with great fondness now as a result. I think one of the reasons I can now enjoy it so much is that I know that it's a quintesentially New York story; It's not so unusual for crotchety old ladies to complain about noise, but there are certainly more loud opera singers per capita in New York City than anywhere else. Not to mention the fact that Carnegie Hall was evoked in a fight over a noise complaint - where else can you imagine that happening?
Which brings me to the reason for this blog post: Carnegie Hall's Spring for Music Festival is holding a competition for bloggers, looking for the "Best Blogger in North America." They pose a series of blog challenges, link to the blog posts on their website, and have the public plus a panel of judges pick the best entries. They then select one winner, who will earn the $2500 prize, as well as tickets to the Festival, which presents orchestras from around North America, innovative programming, and affordable tickets. Sounds like a win for everybody, no? Their first question piqued my interest, so I decided to throw my hat into the competition.
They ask: New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?
As someone who has called New York home since 1997, and who travels all over the world for my job, I have to answer that I believe New York can absolutely call itself the cultural capital of America. Why? Because of its residents. New York has the highest poplution by far of artists concentrated into one small area; musicians, actors, visual artists and dancers from all over have long made the pilgrimage to New York City as an arts mecca, and the city has continued to develop around its population. Because of the concentration of artists, and therefore artistic endeavors, people who are interested in culture are also drawn to New York and all it has to offer, and the cultural landscape continues to develop around the population. There is no other city that is able to maintain the sheer number of museums, galleries, theater companies, dance companies, orchestras, and opera companies both large and small that New York boasts, which in turn continues to lure more and more artists, hungry for opportunities and a chance to develop their skills. The reason my noise senstivive former neighbor was able to needle me when she knocked on my door is that like every musician in New York, making it to Carengie Hall is exactly why we all migrated here. And who knows - perhaps her little insult, combined with just how competitive New York City can be with its high concentration of talented artists, is what made me practice just a little harder and put me another step closer to that dream.
The wide variety of artistic programming available in New York City is one of the things that keeps me in the City year after year, despite the expenses and challenges of living here. One thing I've noticed during the experiences I've had working in Europe is that European artists sometimes have an advantage over American artists because they have so much more exposure to classic arts as part of their general cultural landscape for their entire lives. Operas are on tv far more often than they are over here, orchestral concerts are happening constantly, museums are on nearly every corner in large cities, and even children seem to be exposed to at least the existence of arts and culture from an early age. We don't generally have these advantages as Americans - unless we live in New York City. A lot of my European friends who have visited America said that they felt the most at home in NYC (although to be fair, they also loved cities like Boston and San Francisco, certainly) because of the cultural offerings, and because of how those cultural offerings affected the general population of the place, and vice versa. We New Yorkers make this city great, and The City makes us who we are.
All of the above doesn't mean that we don't face challenges in keeping our cultural landscape vibrant. In the March 12th issue of The New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross wrote an article entitled "Dimenuendo - a downturn for opera in New York City." He sums up his attitude about the state of opera in New York City, after the recent struggles of New York City Opera (which I wrote about in this post), in this final sentence:
This has been the most dispiriting opera season since I began reviewing music in New York, twenty years ago. Although the economic crisis has taken its toll, the problem is less a lack of money than a lack of intellectual vitality. Both the Met and City Opera are committing the supreme operatic sin: they are thinking small.
As someone who spent the first part of my career cutting my teeth at New York City Opera in the majesty of Lincoln Center, I was greatly dispirited myself to see the company struggle so terribly in recent seasons. Their tale should be a cautionary one to arts institutions in New York City - just becuase we are in this cultural capital, we can never become complacent. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to remain vibrant, forward thinking, and to use the resources this great City provides us to the best of our abilities. As the cultural capital, we not only have the ability to showcase the most current and exiticing talent in every artistic discipline, but we have the responsibility to show the country and the world what's possible.
* The voting has begun. Here is a link to the page where you can vote - blogs are listed on the right, and mine is listed as Trying to Remain Operational, near the bottom, should you wish to vote for me, oh dedicated readers (hint hint)*