BEST & WORST OF 2012: CLASSICAL CDS

 
BEST CLASSICAL CDS FOR 2012
(Published in The Sunday Times on 24 December 2012)
 
 
 
 
LA NOCHE Works for Flute & Harp
ROBERTO ALVAREZ, Flute
KATRYNA TAN, Harp
 
This is a unique, unlikely to be repeated, anthology of new works for flute and harp by Singaporean composers including Ho Chee Kong, Robert Casteels and Chen Zhangyi and their Spanish counterparts from Asturias. All are World Premiere recordings, covering a wide and diverse range of voices and idioms with the mystery and splendour of night as unifying theme. Here is strikingly beautiful music, lovingly performed.
 
 
 
RACHMANINOV Cello & Piano Works
QIN LI-WEI, Cello
ALBERT TIU, Piano
Decca 8898195
 
The most celebrated cello and piano duo resident in Singapore has returned to the recording studio for Rachmaninov’s complete cello music, including the 40-minute long Cello Sonata in G minor (Op.19), two early pieces and song transcriptions. Here are the true voices of yearning and nostalgia, in an album that is the worthy successor on Decca to the beloved 1980s recording by Lynn Harrell and Vladimir Ashkenazy.
 
 
 
 
 
INTRODUCING RE:MIX
Foo Say Ming, Violin & Leader

Local cross-over band re:mix believes that classical music has taken itself too seriously, and its début album breaks down the demarcation between classical music and pop culture. Violinist Foo Say Ming’s method is to apply “classical” methods to popular hits in a novel and highly intelligent manner. Allied to this cause are Cultural Medallion winner Kelly Tang’s witty arrangements of Latin and Chinese songs, and his Two Contrasts, a work as eclectic as the ensemble itself.
 
  
WORST CD of 2012
 
 
ADAGIOS 101
Decca CD-Rama 4783985
Compilations are a lazy way to listen to music, and it is worse when a lack of thought and incoherence influence the programming. There is much fine music, performed by big-name artists (Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sir Neville Marriner and Kiri Te Kanawa among them) in this selection of 101 slow movements, but the overall effect is as dreary as Symphony 92.4 FM’s all-night broadcasts.


Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas to you and yours 

HAVE A BLESSED CHRISTMAS!

The Christmas tree at Citylink Mall

HAVE A BLESSED CHRISTMAS!
CHRISTMAS IN SINGAPORE 2012
 
The Christmas Tree at Marina Square

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, 190 years ago, that an iconic poem was written in Chelsea


On Christmas Eve, one hundred and ninety years ago today, wealthy landowner and august Columbia professor Clement Clarke Moore completed a seasonal poem to read to his children. He penned the whimsical little tale -- a throwaway, really, in comparison to his great and respected writings in Greek and biblical literature -- from a desk at his comfortable, snow-covered mansion which the family called Chelsea.

The home sat atop an old hill (at around today's modern addresses of 422-424 West 23rd Street) overlooking Moore's estate which stretched south from here. His estate, of course, gives modern Chelsea its name. At right, the Chelsea estate on a cold winter's night.

Moore was allegedly inspired that afternoon during an outing to Washington Market to purchase a Christmas turkey. The market (pictured below in 1829) would have another holiday claim to fame: it was the site of America's first outdoor Christmas tree market.



The poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and often referred to as "'Twas The Night Before Christmas," would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It's perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and, in the 20th century, the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom.  Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer.

But the poem was only originally intended for Moore's children. I'm not certain how many were around to hear it in 1822, but Moore and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Taylor would eventually have nine of them. One daughter, Mary Ogden, would later produce the first of dozens of illustrated versions of the poem.

At left: An illustration of Moore and his family from an edition published in 1896 (source)

The poem was published anonymously the following year, and Moore would only take credit -- at his children's insistence -- in 1844.

Given Moore's original hesitation, some scholars have suggested that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., may have penned it.  Until that is definitely proven, you are allowed to always think of the neighborhood of Chelsea -- just two blocks west of the Chelsea Hotel -- every time you hear it.

So jump in your 'kerchief, open your shutters and throw up your sashes, and give this little holiday poem a ripe rendition this year. You can find the full text here. But to quote the final section:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"


For more information on Moore and the Chelsea neighborhood, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel.

Pictures courtesy NYPL

T'ANG QUARTET'S UPSIZED CHRISTMAS / T'ang Quartet / Review



T'ANG QUARTET’S UPSIZED CHRISTMAS
T’ang Quartet
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (22 December 2012)


This review was published in The Straits Times on 24 December 2012 with the title "The T'ang of Christmas".


It is good to see that the T’ang Quartet can still pack a concert hall after all these years. Two decades ago, they were the “Bad Boys” of classical music, striving to do something different and make an impact. Today, they are the stylish middle-aged men of the local scene, wiser and wizened, but no less irreverent.
 
One could already anticipate the tomfoolery when they strutted on stage in Calvin Klein jeans, and with cellist Leslie Tan balancing precariously on an outsized armchair designed by Francfranc as they performed the first work. Professor Teddy Bor’s Eine Kleine Bricht Moonlicht Nicht Musik was the perfect opener, throwing up Mozart’s favourite serenade with highland melodies like Scotland The Brave and Auld Lang Syne into the mix.




Only the T’angs could bring out a barrel of laughs from the usually austere figures of 20th century composers Shostakovich and Hindemith. The former’s Polka from The Age of Golden was performed straight – itself two minutes of pure satire - and the latter’s Minimaxbenefited from scripted gags by Pamela Oei and Ivan Heng.


Minimax was Hindemith’s answer to Mozart’s A Musical Joke, a 25-minute spoof in six movements on musical clichés, poor technique and the chicanery musicians get up to. Prefaced by violist Lionel Tan’s remark, “Somebody did not practise again!” his brother Leslie was literally the butt of the jokes with off-pitched playing, mistimed cues and the breaking of wind.


There was the customary send-up to Wagner, the Johann Strauss waltz, the military march, and the rivalry between fiddlers as second violinist Ang Chek Meng attempted to upstage his leader Ng Yu Ying. Whether the reference to tonight’s AFF Suzuki Cup Final between Singapore and Thailand was intentional or not, both received red cards from referee Lionel, as Leslie blew a whistle for their efforts. Believe it or not, it is more difficult to deliberately play badly than one thinks.




Christmas music dominated the second half. Local jazz pianist and arranger Kerong Chok’s (above) medley was classy lounge music, opening with Mykola Leontovych’s Carol of the Bells and Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air from The Snowman, before incorporating The Christmas Song, Silent Night and Let It Snow. Chok’s cool and understated pianism was well supported by the quartet, who was already in cruise control.


Closing the show was Syafiqah Sallehin’s (left) medley Nutty But Nice which cleverly interpolated movements from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite with various seasonal favourites. A female Malay-Muslim composer arranging Christmas music for four Chinese guys is one for the books, the sure sign that our multi-cultural society has inexorably progressed.


Whoever thought of merging the Trepak with Feliz Navidad, using the ostinato bass of the Arabian Dance as rhythm for The Little Drummer Boy, or playing a neat game of counterpoint with Waltz of the Flowers and Silver Bells? Such surprises, coupled with the T’ang Quartet’s usual showmanship, gave the fuzzy, warm and happy feeling on seeing a well-filled stocking on Christmas morning. Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas, you all.  


We Remember Singaporean Pioneer Violinist SIOW HEE SHUN (1935-2012)

 
 
 
We remember pioneering Singaporean violinist SIOW HEE SHUN (1935-1912), who passed away on 23 December 2012 after a prolonged illness.  He was a member of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra when it gave its first concerts in January 1979, one of eight Singaporeans who were founding members of the orchestra. He was also a well-known violin teacher, who counts among his students her daughter well-known Singaporean violinist Siow Lee Chin and many others.
 
I was at his funeral wake when I found out that he was a survivor of the Japanese holocaust (Sook Ching or ethnic cleansing) that took place during the Second World War when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Singapore. He and many young Chinese males were rounded up by Japanese soldiers and were forced to dig their own graves before being machine-gunned at close range. He fell into the mass gave and feigned death despite being bayoneted as well. He laid in the grave till nightfall and after the soldiers left, before escaping into the darkness. His children remember being shown the stab wounds on his back.
 
After the war, he picked up the violin and had lessons with the legendary pedagogue Goh Soon Tioe. As he could not afford a formal education in music, he was largely self-thought and made a living by playing in string ensembles and bands in Malaya and Singapore. He is survived by his wife and three grown-up children. His eldest is daughter Siow Lee Chin, who dedicated her debut violin recital album to him, entitled "Songs My Father Taught Me". Like her father, Lee Chin is also a dedicated teacher and is presently the Head of Strings at the College of Music in Charleston, South Carolina. His elder son, Dr Siow Yew Nam, a consultant paediatric anaesthetist at Kandang Kerbau Hospital, is a very accomplished amateur violinist.     
 

 

Siow Lee Chin giving a violin masterclass at Raffles Institution.

Mr Siow suffered from Parkinson's Disease during his final years, but was still very moved by music. He also helped Lee Chin by actively listening to her takes during the recording process and was involved in the editing. He was well enough to attend Lee Chin's concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in January this year at the Esplanade. Although he became less responsive and could not recognised loved ones, Lee Chin remembers that whenever she played the violin for him, tears would roll down his cheeks. It was the love of music and his family that kept him on until his final days.
 
Without pioneering musicians and teachers like Siow Hee Shun, the musical scene in Singapore will not have been what it is today (With no thanks to the Japanese). For this, we owe him a debt of thanks.  

Where I Get My Hair Done


Fact: Bald men need to get their hair done, once in a while. So when my usual Malay barber at Bukit Timah Plaza closed down and moved out, I was in a quandary. What do I do next? Where do I go? Hairstylists are not for me, namely because they are expensive ($25 for a hair cut???) and usually they serve women. In order to maintain a nice trim a la Alexis Weissenberg or Shura Cherkassky, I had to find some place, somewhere fast. Then I discovered in Commonwealth Crescent (an old part of Queenstown)... Sin Palace



SIN PALACE. I just love the name of this place, just like something out of Las Vegas. If this were in Taipei or Shanghai, it would certainly be a front for dubious activities of ill repute. Once a friend of mine innocently went to a barbershop in Taiwan for a haircut, and the lady serving him excused herself to buy a pair of scissors. 


As this is Singapore, there are absolutely no fears here. Neither are there any women to be found in this establishment, a good old bona fide barbershop for real men. There are rows of barber seats, cropped hair on the floor and the reassuring sound of scissors doing its work. This certainly reminds me of my childhood, where my mother would bring my brother and I to the Modern Youth Indian barbershop on Orchard Road opposite the old Cold Storage, where a gleaming new shopping centre now stands. Haircuts were $2 a head in those days, and patrons also had the pleasure of perusing lad mags before their turns arrived (I read only the war comics then).   

Tools of the trade, in a real barbershop. Notice the pool of safety razors on the right.




A typical scene on a lazy Saturday morning at Sin Palace. Its clientele are mostly middle aged men and senior citizens. Many of the people in the shop come for friendly chats with the barbers, read the Chinese newspapers, gossip and to enjoy the air-conditioning. Some have their hair cropped. A radio tuned to a Mandarin-speaking channel is perpetually on, and this is de rigeuer in the Singapore heartlands.

The owner Mr Ong attending one of his clients.

Thumbs up from my personal hair-stylist Mr Chen, who retired as a bus driver many years ago to go into the hair business. 

The best part: men's haircuts go for $8 a head, while boys' haircuts are a modest $5. I usually tell them to keep the change. How much longer can these heartland barbers carry on, given their age and the increasing rentals from the Housing & Development Board? As long as I still have follicles on my head, these gentlemen get my vote!

SCHUBERT'S DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN / New Opera Singapore / Review

 
 
 
SCHUBERT’S DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN
New Opera Singapore
The Chamber @ The Arts House
Thursday (20 December 2012)
 
This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 December 2012 with the title "Sing, don't dance".
 
Almost everyone knows the prohibitive costs of staging an opera, so New Opera Singapore has exercised the option of appropriating a Schubert song cycle for the basis of a production. Why not, as all good vocal music deserves champions, and it is vanity to split hairs over what talented young singers should or should not sing.
 
The concert began unusually with all the performers loitering on stage, looking on idly as the audience made their way to their seats. A classic case of role reversal but put into practice.
 
Franz Schubert composed no great operas, but his three major song cycles are matchless. Die Schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid Of The Mill), 20 songs set to poetry by Wilhelm Müller, was composed around 1823. It is not the bleakest of the three but in certain ways is the saddest. The predictable plot of young love cruelly unrequited does not end in aimless wandering, as in the darker Winterreise (Winter Journey), but instead in suicide.
 
Five male singers, three tenors and two baritones, undertook the task of musical story-telling. Tenor David Charles Tay was the very able narrator, guiding listeners to the action and the protagonist’s ever-shifting moods. Transliterations in English were helpfully provided, and there was to be no excuse for not knowing what was going on.
 
Shaun Lee (left) and Lim Jingjie (right) opened the song cycle.

 
The younger and less experienced singers took on the earlier and less gloomy songs. Tenor Shaun Lee opened the cycle with Das Wandern (Wandering) in a hearty spirit, but his brash earnestness could have been served with better intonation for Mit dem Grünen Lautenbande (With The Green Ribbon). Baritone Lim Jingjie, who sang three songs including Wohin?(Whither?)  and Danksagung an den Bach (Thanksgiving to the Brook), has yet to attain the gravitas and experience to be truly convincing.
 
 
Baritone Jeremy Koh (above), armed with superior pronunciation and intonation, made a good case for the contrasting emotions of Ungeduld(Impatience), Tränenregen (Rain of Tears) and Mein (Mine), and the cycle was taking on a definitive direction and shape. It was little surprise that the final five songs, the emotional core, climax and denouement of the cycle, were shared by Tay and his twin brother Jonathan Charles Tay who as relative veterans both stole the show.
 
David Charles Tay was the excellent narrator, as well as sang five of the songs.

 
The paired songs on greenery, Die liebe Farbe (Favourite Colour) and Die böse Farbe (Hateful Colour), were wonderfully delineated as hope rapidly turned into despair. The cycle’s greatest items, Trockne Blumen (Withered Flowers) and Der Müller und der Bach (The Miller and the Brook), from David and Jonathan respectively, were coloured with a shuddering vividness and ultimately beauty beyond mere words.
 
David's twin brother, Jonathan Charles Tay was not to be outdone in his five songs.
 
The final song Des Baches Wiegenlied (The Brook’s Lullaby), gentle but an immovable force, rang like a requiem with ever-steady chords from pianist Albert Lin, who as a collaborator was a tower of strength throughout.
 
Do the dancers - good as they were - add anything more to Schubert's wonderful music? 

Last and least, some of the songs were choreographed, with dancers Kenneth Tan and Koustav Basu Mallick playing the miller and the brook respectively. In this case, the dancing – however artistic - was a needless distraction and more became less. Schubert’s song settings provide endless stimulus on their own and will succeed without extraneous help.    
 
Albert Lin (2nd from left) was the perfect collaborator in the 20 songs sung. All the singers take a final bow.



How sweet it is..

Did anyone catch on to my title? I have "how sweet it is to be loved by you" stuck in my head. Not a bad way to start Friday! I'm changing it to "how sweet it is to be at home" for the purpose of todays post. 


I am SO happy to be home for the holidays!! 

My favorite thing about coming home is being able to wake up to my Basset hounds, coffee already brewed, and being able to sit and watch Good Morning America with NOTHING to do!! I actually do have plans today but as far as the morning time goes I am free to relax. 

Last night my mom made a pot of homemade chili, cheese toast with avocado and wine. Can we say welcome home?! It was absolutely perfect. 



While I love coming home to relax, I also like being able to do fun "stuff." I have a few exciting happenings over break that include, a trip to Richmond, a family Christmas party, Winter Wonderland trip with my mom and sister, outdoor ice skating, Monday night bingo at the bar, and some New Years festivities!! Oh and Christmas of course! 

First up on the list is the trip to Richmond. I'm leaving this afternoon with my all time best friend Ashley to head to the river city and meet up with some college friends. We have a limo rented out to drive us around a Tacky Light Christmas Tour. I'm so excited for the festivities! Here are some lights from past years..



Happy Friday friends!


Giveaway Winner

And the winner of this fabulous Clotfelter necklace is... 


Pamela at Pamela's Place
Congratulation! Please email me your mailing information(:



New trailer for The Great Gatsby: What's behind the collar?



When the original trailer for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' came out in May, I respectfully nitpicked its depiction of 1920s Times Square. That same article applies to the new trailer

Read it here: Times Squared: Lovingly nitpicking 'The Great Gatsby' trailer

The Arrow collar sign makes a more prominent appearance here. The original 'Arrow Man' appeared in its most successful advertisements, a dapper model of a gentleman sporting Arrow's signature detachable shirt collar.

The secret behind the ads, created by legendary ad man J.C. Leyendecker, was that the most popular Arrow Collar Man -- model Charles Beach -- was Leyendecker's long-time lover and companion. The pair had lavish parties from their home in New Rochelle during the 1920s, parties which I imagine might have looked a bit like the ones in Luhrmann's film. (Well, I can imagine they looked that way, that is.)

Below: Beach in a 'satisfactory' detachable collar






Picture courtesy Today's Inspirations

1st Grade Fun

Hello friends! Today marks the start of Christmas break!! (at 2pm anyway..) It has been a very fun but busy December in 1st grade! We had an entire week devoted to Gingerbread stories, a week for the Grinch, reindeer research, and Christmas Around the World. Lots of fun activities but of course it requires non stop action to plan. I was able to slow down long enough to snap a few pictures to document our holiday cheer! 






As fun as it has all been I am one happy girl that today marks the start of Christmas break!! I have lots I want to do that includes: sleeping, doing nothing, relaxing, eating, sleeping. That pretty much sums it up(: yay for the holidays! 



A VIRTUOSO'S ENCOUNTER: EAST MEETS WEST / Ding Yi Music Company / Review

 
 
 
A VIRTUOSO’S ENCOUNTER: EAST MEETS WEST
Ding Yi Music Company with I-Sis Trio
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tuesday (18 December 2012)
 
This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 December 2012 with the title "Bold explorations".
 
There are several qualities that unite the Ding Yi Music Company with its senior counterpart the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, one of which is its zeal to collaborate with musicians from different cultures. The I-Sis Trio, comprising harpist Katryna Tan, violinist Cindy Yan and cellist Natasha Liu, was its latest guest in a 90-minute long exploration of widely disparate musical idioms.
 
Each soloist performed separately with the ensemble of Chinese instruments, conducted by Quek Ling Kiong, beginning with Tan’s own Water Dance which juxtaposed dissonances with lyricism. Although inspired by the popular Chinese tune Flowing Water, Tan’s score also paid heed to the rugged landscapes and rocky outcrops through which streams flowed, which accounted for its seemingly uncompromising modernism.
 
 
Yan and Liu’s individual solos were more conventional, the former in the familiar Fishing Boats at Dusk with its slow-fast rhapsodic schema, and the latter in Liu Zhuang’s Romanza based on a Xinjiang folksong, a Central Asian-flavoured elegy that could have come from the pen of a Russian composer. Close your eyes, and the ensemble’s plucked pipas and ruans sounded like balalaikas.
 
The trio then performed Reminisce by young Singaporean composer and arranger Phang Kok Jun, also a zhonghu player of Ding Yi. This is one of those unremittingly lush pieces the melody of which lingers on long after the work has ended.
 
 
All three were joined by the sheng and percussion for Jia Da Qun’s The Prospect of Coloured Desert, an atonal work even thornier than Water Dance. The sonorities of this instrumental combination were however most interesting, the gentle throbbing marimba and harp sharply contrasted with more penetrating tones from the sheng and bowed strings.  
 
By now, the audience had its fill of contemporary music, and the mood lightened considerably for Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel and Lecuona’s Malaguena, Latino standards of the I-Sis repertoire. The supporting orchestrations by Lu Heng and Wynne Fung respectively were subtle, the presence of the Chinese instruments coming to bear strongly only during their climaxes.
 
There was a bizarre-sounding Variations on Jingle Bells in a gamut of rhythmic styles, including a waltz, swing, rock and roll, which called for the obligatory audience clap-along. This left an odd taste in the mouth, like cheese-coated durian pastries. All was forgiven when Piazzolla’s vibrant Libertango was offered as an encore, which worked like a charm and sent everyone home with a kick in the step.
 
 


CD Reviews (The Straits Times, December 2012)

 

CHOPIN Piano Concertos
ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN & CLAUDIO ARRAU
Fabula Classica 2211 / ****1/2  
 
The piano concertos of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) have always been popular and recordings have never been in short supply. The usual criticism that Chopin was no orchestrator may be true, but these works were meant to highlight the piano and not the orchestra. Despite the many modern recordings that exist, these historical recordings deserve to be heard because they come from great Chopinists of the last century.
 
The Chopin playing of Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982), a fellow Pole himself, was characterised by largesse and generosity of spirit. His 1953 recording of the First Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Alfred Wallenstein captures his big sound and an overall sweep that is a reflection of his personality, extroverted, a little brash, but hard to dislike.
 
The Chilean Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) was taught by a pupil of Franz Liszt, which underlines his technical prowess in the Second Piano Concerto, partnered by the New York Philharmonic and Fritz Busch. This mono recording of a 1950 live concert crackles with verve and spirit, infusing the work with fluid lyricism and rhythmic vitality. The audience responds accordingly by applauding even before the last chord. Arrau also plays in the bonus track, the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 (without the preceding Andante Spianato) from 1947. This life-affirming confirms that we can enjoy the best of both worlds, that is having the choice of both modern and historical performances today.
 
 
 
 
GUITAR 101
Decca  4783655 (5CDs) / ****
 
The 101 series co-presented by Universal Music and CD-Rama delivers popular classics by the shovel – 101 tracks on six CDs for just $19, or just under 19 cents per track. This works out to be cheaper than a digital download from the Internet, which is the ostensible aim of this range. Guitar 101 is one of the better sets, because there is a logical sense of programming and the quality of the artists. The first two discs are devoted to Spanish and Latin American music, and all the usual suspects are here. Francisco Tarrega’s tremolo study Memories of the Alhambra and Romanza (whose composer remains unknown) are understandably the first two tracks.
 
Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez from Pepe Romero and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields is heard in its entirety on Disc 3, together with the neoclassical Concierto Para un Gentilhombre and the obscure but enjoyable Concierto para una Fiesta. Disc 4 is devoted to other popular concertos by Vivaldi, Giuliani, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Villa-Lobos with Eduardo Fernandez and the English Chamber Orchestra. The lute music of J.S.Bach fills Disc 5 entirely, also from the excellent Fernandez. The final disc is all about transcriptions; the four members of Los Romeros play selections from Bizet’s Carmen and Falla’s Three Cornered Hat. Violin music in guitar guise completes the picture: Paganini’s Caprice No.24 from Nicola Hall and Bach’s Chaconne from Fernandez sound just as virtuosic in this form. There are no accompanying notes but for once, this compilation does not disappoint.


The deadly history of Doyers Street: new on AOL Video

As part of their 'What Remains' series, the AOL On video channel is focusing its attention on Doyers Street in Chinatown, and I make a guest appearance here talking about this mysterious street and its gangster past.  This is a brief but very dramatic history of the street known one hundred years ago as 'the Bloody Angle'. You may remember that we discussed this very notorious curve in our podcast on Chinatown about a year ago.

It's a pretty dark history, and given recent violent events in the news, you can watch this later if you're not in the mood. (There's some simulated gunplay and morbid graphics.) But there are reenactments by actors in costumes and lots of cool old photographs. I narrate some of this piece and make a brief appearance.

As an aside, it would be interesting if one day we could do some kind of video companion similar to this for the podcast. Thanks to AOL Video for inviting me to participate.



Eleven breathtaking views of the New York Herald Building, one of midtown Manhattan's earliest tourist attractions


Click into the images within this post for a more closeup view!

When the extravagant James Gordon Bennett Jr. decided to move the offices of the New York Herald from grimy, old Park Row to the frenzy of uptown Manhattan, he wanted something spectacular and eye-catching.  As we mentioned in our newest podcast on the history of Herald Square, Bennett went the opposite direction of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who remained on on Park Row and put his publication in the tallest building in the world (the New York World tower, completed in 1890).

Bennett's New York Herald Building, completed in 1894, sat at 35th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, on the north side of the square his building would soon give its name. He wanted the structure to align with the theaters and hotels of the area; as designed by Stanford White, the New York Herald Building doesn't tower over the neighborhood.

He wanted the newspaper to be essential to the rhythm and energy of this bustling intersection. It does so with its mysterious and fanciful ornamentation, its spooky owls, its ornate clock tower and its mechanical bell-ringers.

Below: the New York Herald Building, at 35th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, a frilly Italian-style structure at the nexus of a growing New York in the 1890s. [LOC]


But the building became a component of the square with its open windows displaying the printing presses inside. Visitors would stand gawking as the presses furiously went about print the late-day editions. In the era before radio and television, the results of sporting events would be displayed on a billboard or "Play-o-Graph" that would attract thousands. It would be here that thousands of New Yorkers would gather to get the results of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Giants -- occurring just uptown at the Polo Grounds!

The New York Herald Building became one of midtown Manhattan's first big draws for regular New Yorkers and visitors to gather, get news, set their watches, dazzle at modern technology and ogle at the curious mix of high and low culture that sped through here. One decade later, Times Square would bring the same kind of excitement to another Broadway intersection.

Here are some additional views of the Herald Building, many romantic, most unbelievable, especially if you consider what sits there today:

Thousands of men gather to watch the results of the 1911 World Series -- between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics -- displayed on a "Play-o-Graph" at Herald Building. Sports results were telegraphed from inside the building, and a mini baseball diamond was regularly updated, mirroring the real time action. [LOC]


Spectators watch the Herald presses in action. {LOC}

From the Appleton publication The New Metropolis, 1899 (courtesy CUNY)


The square in front of the Herald Building would also be used for immediate announcement, often taken right from the telegraph. These men are reading a military recruitment advertisement. [LOC]


A closeup of the ornate clock, with the goddess Minerva, its two bell ringers Scruff and Guff, and the series of owls perched at various spots around the building. From March 1921 (Courtesy NYPL)

A painting by Herman Hyneman from 1899, depicting a Herald newsie and a customer in the snow. [NYPL]


Also from The New Metropolis, an owl's-eye view of Herald Square, from 1899.  The caption: "This is a vibrant reproduction of a color print by Canadian-born artist Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) who once worked at the New York Herald. The Broadway Tabernacle Church, the 6th Avenue elevated train, the Herald Building and several theatres, including Koster and Bial's, are depicted. The streets are teaming with cable cars, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians." Courtesy CUNY


And finally, an overhead view of the entire square. This is an image that was cleaned up and published by the great photo blog Shorpy. Click into the picture to see a rather magnificent view of the surroundings. Trust me, you may waste five minutes just looking at this one....