A Five-Handed Triumph at Carnegie Hall Gala Concert

by Michael Gross Photographed by Chris Lee and Julie Skarratt
Thursday, October 5, 2017

The headline making moment of the evening was the performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Suffering from an injured left arm, Lang Lang, the celebrated classical pianist, couldn’t play his part to his usual standard of perfection, but instead of bowing out, he shared the stage not only with jazz great Chick Corea, but also with his own 14-year-old protégé, Maxim Lando, who sat beside him at a Steinway and played with his left hand as his mentor and teacher used only his right one in a rare two-piano performance of the renowned jazz-classical fusion composition. Together, the talented trio won the first standing ovation at Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night Gala for the fall 2017 season.

But the real story of the night was the orchestra’s conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, soon to become The Metropolitan Opera’s new Music Director, a position previously held by only two artists in that company’s 133-year history, mostly recently by James Levine, who stepped down last year after 40 years in the position. Nézet-Séguin is currently the Met’s Music Director Designate. He will take over the full responsibilities of the position in 2020. But he demonstrated his utter love for his new home last night with a performance of three pieces that are synonymous with New York City. Indeed, it was a quintessential New York night, even if Nézet-Séguin was leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Gershwin was bookended by Leonard Bernstein’s 1954 Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront, and his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, composed in 1957. Bernstein’s 100th birthday is being celebrated around the world this year. As Nézet-Séguin turned again and again to beam at the trio playing piano behind his rostrum at the lip of the fabled hall’s stage, and then went into full Cab Calloway mode, pump;ing his arms, dancing along, and entreating the crowd to chant “Mambo!” during passages from West Side Story’s Dance at the Gym, he fully inhabited his new role as a premiere personality on the city’s musical scene.

Above him, in the first tier boxes, New York power people like gala chairmen Mercedes Bass and Hope and Robert Smith, gala committee members Beatrice Santo Domingo and Annette de la Renta, and Dr. Henry and Nancy Kissinger seemed to be having almost as much fun as Nézet-Séguin. Other guests included Barbara Tober, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Tiffany Dubin, Robert and Ina Caro, Barry Diller, Terry Lundgren, Eli and Susan Rose, Dan Garodnick, Paula Zahn and Michael Feinstein.

After the concert, many attendees boarded a line of buses parked outside the hall for the short trip to Cipriani 42nd Street, for the gala dinner. Several were party buses complete with drawn shades, lighting effects and stripper poles–which inspired considerable eye-cocking comment. /

The country’s mood seemed to inspire several of the speakers, but complementing the uplifting musical program, no negative words were heard, “First of all, wow!,” said Robert Smith, the Carnegie Hall board chairman, in his opening remarks. “What a concert! Music has always had the power to elevate our spirits [and] bring us together as a people. Carnegie Hall has always had a tradition of finding the greatest artists and bringing them to the greatest audience in the world. It gives me chills and goosebumps.” As did the announcement that the evening raised $4.6 million for the hall’s programs.

The Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson spoke next, pointedly singling out board chairmen Smith, a private equity firm founder, and one of his predecessors, banking legend Sanford Weill who, he said, “personify all the values I care about.” While the performance took place on the Stern Auditorium’s stage named for financier Ronald O. Perelman, who served briefly, and controversially, as the Hall’s board chairman between Weill and Smith, he also went unmentioned. The appointment of Smith to replace Perelman and become the Hall’s first African-American chairman has been widely praised as evidence of the diversification of New York’s philanthropic elite. The wildly disparate crowd at the concert seemed to reflect the Hall’s ever-broadening audience.

As Gillinson said of Lang Lang’s idea to add his protégé to the evening’s musical cast, “When you have a problem, find a solution that makes life even better.”

Over dinner, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, dressed in a glittering gold-sequined dinner jacket, pointed out that Carnegie Hall, “my favorite place to make music,” has been the Philadelphia Orchestra’s second home since 1902, and that he loves appearing there “to give pleasure, relief, thinking, jubilation…We can make a difference in the world,” he said. “New York has always attracted me since I was a little boy. It’s still the greatest city in the world. And when I’m here, I’m my most complete self.”


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