Luckily, I�d worn my pearls

For an ass accustomed to the broken folding chairs and an eye trained for the brackish dust boxes of downtown theater, the opulence of my surroundings was a little overwhelming. Everywhere, well-heeled young spectators sunk into luxurious brocade sofas. High picture windows boasted pale, flounced draperies, and the deep red walls were lined with tastefully arranged lithographs illuminated by the golden flecks cast by antique lamps. In the corner, a baby grand gleamed expectantly, and I had been served wine, free of charge.

Free alcohol. Comfortable seating. A three-story brownstone full of friendly, earnest people who seem to genuinely like each other. Where the hell was I?

It was another night at the singular Greene Street Salon, undoubtedly the classiest night I’ve had anywhere for seven dollars.

Christopher Bruckman, a co-founder and classical pianist, told me the idea for the salon was inspired by a trip to the Louvre, where he saw a painting of Chopin’s famous salon in Paris. “Chopin and Liszt were playing a duet on the piano, and over to one side Delacroix is painting, and on the other side George Sand is writing away, and then a dancer is striking a pose – I sort of wanted something like that,” he said. After graduating from the Mannes College of Music, an Upper West Side conservatory affiliated with the New School with a decidedly academic approach to musicianship, Bruckman wanted a performance outlet, and an excuse to get a bunch of people together.

Roland Satterwhite and Mike Arauz were doing much the same thing, albeit in a more rock and roll kind of way. They hosted salons in their apartment in Washington Heights with performance line-ups of rock musicians and performance artists, with a decided focus on partying. The three met up, Chris Bruckman’s mom had just moved into a big loft on Greene Street, the timing was opportune and the mood was right. New York’s only classical music/acoustic rock/improv performance night was born.

The mood of last Thursday evening had a definite hint of the nineteenth century about it, despite the proliferation of singer/songwriter types of varying levels of interest and a drama school-esque scene study from Betrayal by Harold Pinter. There was a definite Chopin flavor, although I was reminded of nothing so much as Anthony Blanche and his band of Oxonian aesthetes in Brideshead Revisited, except these guys were not so caustic or catty, or, well, gay. A comedic spoken word piece performed to crashing piano music by a guy who introduced himself as having studied at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (that should give you some idea) and a modern music composition played thrillingly by the composer himself, a bespectacled Columbia grad student lent a modern touch to the proceedings.

There was a sense of absolute rectitude to the evening – everyone looked like they were supposed to. The acoustic guitar guys were slim and intense, the classical musicians foppish and anachronistic. The girl in the Betrayal scene wore the traditional clinging black ensemble of the “serious” actress; the funny guy looked funny. We had stumbled into a world I had vaguely known existed somewhere in the impenetrable facades of the cultured brownstone world of Native New York – a place where people interconnected by a web of prep schools and conservatories have Sunday brunches of bagels and lox in their luxurious but lived-in houses and are all operating with a working knowledge of Scarlatti, Schumann, and Italian cinema. The Annie Hall world where people wait on line to see The Sorrow and the Pity.

I was awed, and seriously pissed that my parents had let me grow up in Nebraska with people who had never seen a cello and thought Monet was a brand of costume jewelry.

And let’s not forget the counter tenor! I saved the best for last! When Chris Bruckman, introduced Jeffrey Mandelbaum, a Mannes classmate and counter tenor, my companion (our illustrious editor) whispered to me: “Isn’t that a guy who sings like a chick?” Yes. But what a chick! A chick with a soaring, golden voice of remarkable purity gliding through the melancholy art songs of Henry Purcell and the ornate glissandi of Bach. When I casually mentioned to my father, a dilettantish classical music aficionado that I had heard a counter tenor sing the other night he responded, “Are you fucking kidding me? There’s like five of them in the whole world?” Perhaps. And this one was wearing a crushed velvet frock coat and a tumbling mane of wild red curls that would have turned Byron green with envy. Where does one find a frock coat nowadays? Surely in a secret, hidden place where precious few are granted entrée. A place known as . . . Diagon Alley.

By the time Chris Bruckman finished off the evening with a beautiful Chopin mazurka and a waltz, I, flushed and tipsy from the free wine, was comfortably ensconced in a vaguely Viennese fantasy of meeting some kind of emperor, my flounced satin skirts skimming the marble floor gracefully, while I dreamed of my consumptive genius lover scribbling note after note by candlelight in his unheated attic room.

For those of us constantly looking for something new, something out of the box, how strange to find it by simply appreciating the virtuosity and craft of the past. You can bet I’m going back to the Greene Street Salon, and next time, I’m wearing a dress.

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