When my boyfriend was invited to read a story of his at the launch of the newest issue of The Pinch literary magazine, based in Memphis, I convinced him we had to go. I love the South—for its friendly locals, music, and most importantly, for its food. Instead of spending upward of $300 on a flight, we decided to take a road trip. Surprisingly we only got lost once in 1,000 or so miles between New York and Memphis. And it was all because the ferocious beasts at Dinosaur Land distracted me from my navigatrix duties. Oops.
Where did author Jack Kerouac go to escape the legend that came with his life "on the road?" Big Sur. He holed up in a cabin along this vast stretch of California coast for over a month in 1960, desperate to find some inner peace while struggling with fame and alcohol addiction. He chronicled the experience in his novel Big Sur, one of his lesser known autobiographical works that now—40 years after Kerouac passed away on October 21, 1969—is coming to life in a new documentary film.
In T+L’s November issue I railed against the creep of background music into every corner of the traveler’s world, from airplane cabins to hotel lobbies to spa waiting rooms. I may have been, I now realize, a little harsh. True, most piped-in music functions like sonic novocaine: a fitting sound track for getting your teeth bleached. But there are bright spots. More businesses are realizing that background music need not be anodyne or obvious; that, in fact, a compelling sound track can elevate (pardon the pun) one’s experience of a place as effectively as smooth service or flattering lighting.
So maybe background music is improving. We’d better hope so. Given the sorry state of radio and the recording industry, hotel lobbies and day spas and the like are often the only places people hear new music nowadays. Bebel Gilberto sold a million-odd copies of Tanto Tempo, but how often was she played on commercial radio or MTV? Ditto Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Madeleine Peyroux, and Nouvelle Vague: many if not most listeners were introduced to these artists, consciously or unconsciously, at their favorite sushi bar or Sephora store. (Or, in the case of Feist, via an iPod ad.)
The New York cultural season, though just started, seems electrically charged as a new generation of conductors is stepping up and onto the podium. In mid-September, Alan Gilbert took over as music director of the New York Philharmonic, the first native New Yorker in the orchestra's 167-year history.
And on Friday, October 9, the New York Pops orchestra will introduce its young, dynamic music director Steven Reineke.
“The experience of live music is unique and its immediacy and impact irreplaceable,” states the program of the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, currently underway in Fort Worth, Texas, where 29 young pianists (upper age limit: 30) from around the world are competing in the most challenging, and certainly best-organized and innovative, classical music contest. The Cliburn, divided into three rounds—preliminaries, semi-finals, and finals—includes recitals, performances of commissioned pieces, chamber music, and concertos with orchestra, and is packed into little more than two weeks. It wraps up on June 7. Its aim: to discover talent worthy of a career and to provide a sustained push. When I was in Fort Worth last weekend, I heard two pianists in one of the preliminary sessions: Michail Lifits , born in Uzbekistan, representing Germany, and Alessandro Deljavan of Italy.
You know it as a staple of American Roots Music, but did you know that the banjo’s true roots lie in Africa? Grammy-winning Fleckstones frontman Béla Fleck (a banjo virtuoso if there ever was one) took five weeks off from his day job to explore his instrument’s origins—in Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia, and Mali. He did a fair share of jamming along the way, with everyone from the Jatta Family in Gambia—whose music revolves around the akonting, the banjo’s three-string predecessor—to Malian singer and international superstar Oumou Sangare. Sascha Paladino, his half-brother, got it all on film. The result?Throw Down Your Heart, a moving documentary with a stunning soundtrack that transports you to Africa via Bluegrass country (film and album both out now).
If you want to catch the act live, you’re in luck: next month Fleck will hit Bonnaroo and Telluride with Malian kora master Toumani Diabate, and on July 5 he’ll take New York’s Central Park SummerStage with Sangare herself. See belafleck.com for a complete tour schedule.
Christine Ajudua is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.
Lincoln Center recently opened the dazzlingly renovated Alice Tully Hall that provides an intimacy—even with a capacity of 1,100 seats—both palpable and rewarding for concertgoers. Tully (above) is now an enviable place for chamber music, and should be a lively spot for multi-media (there’s a state-of-the-art movie screen). The new hall prompted me to think of other spots in New York that put the listener on the frontline of the music-making. Here are some favorites:
Le Poisson Rouge The former Village Gate subterranean nightclub in Greenwich Village morphed last summer into the “multi-media art cabaret” Le Poisson Rouge. When pianist Simone Dinnerstein, much admired for her Bach Goldberg Variations, performed there, the piano was set on a platform in the middle of the space and the audience packed café tables and bar (yes, there’s a full bar). This month Poisson features an eclectic genre-bending line-up.
Baryshnikov Arts Center Pressed for time? Looking for something unusual and free? The Movado Hour concerts at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in far west Midtown offers 60-minute programs that blend the familiar with the less well known. Contrasts are engaging. Concerts start at 7 p.m., take place in a loft-like space, and are gratis (reservations are required). Performers are starry, audiences appreciative. There’s a cozy feel. On April 20, the St. Lawrence String Quartet devotes its attention to Mendelssohn and the String Quartet No. 3 by R. Murray Schafer, a contemporary composer known for evocative soundscape pieces. Rubin Art Museum Some of the city’s most innovative programming—lectures, music, film—materializes in the small, cherry wood auditorium of the Rubin Art Museum, which is dedicated to Himalayan art and housed in the former Barneys department store in Chelsea. But for the world premiere on April 23 of minimalist composer John Tavener’s Towards Silence—described as a musical meditation on death and the four states of consciousness—the setting shifts to the building’s dramatic spiral staircase (originally designed for the store by Andrée Putman), along which four string quartets and a player of the Tibetan singing bowl will be positioned. The music is bound to soar.
Mario R. Mercado is the Arts editor for Travel + Leisure.
If you were born at the Woodstock Festival (and it’s said that two people were), you’re celebrating a 40th birthday this summer. Congratulations! Of course, the 40th anniversary of the muddy shindig at Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York is also at the center of its own schedule of celebrations. The site of the concert (which as any amateur musical historian knows was not in Woodstock but in Bethel, nearby in Sullivan County) is now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, an outdoor performing arts center and complex, including the Museum at Bethel Woods. From now until May 30, visitors to the museum can wax nostalgic at “Rock Heroes: Selections from Hard Rock International’s Music Memorabilia Collection,” which will display the Gibson SG that Pete Townsend played and smashed on the Woodstock stage, a red vest once formerly owned by Jimi Hendrix, and many other mementos.
The Center’s Pavilion Stage, which seats 4,500 under its roof and an additional 10,000-plus on the lawn, is also hosting its usual variety of concerts this summer, with much of the schedule related to 40th-anniversary festivities. Most of the lineup isn't set yet, so check bethelwoodscenter.org for updates. Among the gigs that have already been announced: a gray-haired blast from Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire (June 14) and a burst of blues from B.B. King and Buddy Guy (August 27). If your aging-hippie ears can’t take all the noise anymore, put July 11 on your calendar. That’s when the New York Philharmonic comes to town. Just don’t take the brown acid.