I had always heard about this uptown/downtown dichotomy in New York but it's only after years of living here that I have come to the frustrating conclusion that it really exists. You wouldn't think two mindsets, separated only about about an 8 minute subway ride could still be fighting each other at this point in history, but they do.
"Uptown" in New York is a strange version of classical conservatism anchored by what happens at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Up there, where I first worked in New York right across from Carnegie Hall, the streets are wider, rigorously on the grid system, and the buildings are larger and more opulent. Most of the truly wealthy in NY either live in places like Central Park West or way way downtown by Wall Street, where there is no cultural life to speak of at all.
"Downtown" is still largely what you think of as portrayed in movies: clubs, galleries, etc. The only change is that the general level of wealth is higher across the board. So it's a lot of carefully designed spaces to make you feel as if you are in grungy old New York. The illusion is quickly destroyed as soon as you pay $9 for a bottle of domestic beer. For all intents and purposes it's just like Las Vegas at this point.
As far as classical/new music is concerned, the high brow uptown scene is as exclusive as ever before. Composers and performers have a hard time making inroads in both places. So it's with this that it's refreshing that on Monday night I was in Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie hearing a Philip Glass piece, and tonight I'm in a basement club in Greenwich Village hearing an uptown classical violinist take Glass' music to and audience who is drinking and enjoying themselves as they hear classical music.
Tonight I'll be heading down Bleecker Street to (le) Poisson Rouge for Robert McDuffie's preview performance and record release for Violin Concerto No.2 "The American Four Seasons." Last night I went to Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall for the Classical Recording Foundation's award ceremony during which Maria Bachmann and Jon Klibanoff received the Samuel Sanders Collaborative Artists Award for their about to be released recording of Philip Glass' Sonata for Violin and Piano (also with Schubert, Ravel, and Bach/Gounod). We were treated to a stunning performance of the Glass Sonata and composer John Corigliano gave an eloquent speech when presenting the two artists with the award.
It is amazing that the old attitudes still exist today. As I get older I have less patience for them. It seems to be the exclusive uptown crowd, with whom I feel a spiritual rightousness (tempered with the right amount of snobbism) about great music (though I don't have the money they do which is a big problem). I believe they are intent on suffocating and slowly killing the music they love by virtue of the exclusivity of the culture.
By contrast, I think the downtown crowd is as irrelevant as never before. On any given night you can hear boatloads of new music and that is wonderful, but when you have so much of it, it risks becoming worthless. And the downtowners don't have the big money and that, in so many ways, is what makes the world go round.
So tonight a very uptown player, Robert McDuffie – who will be performing the Glass concerto at Carnegie Hall in the big auditorium in November – takes the stage at LPR. My question is, why is it a different audience one place to another when they are only 10 minutes away from each other?