Running through the pouring rain in three-inch high heels and a cocktail dress was never my ideal picture of heading to Carnegie Hall for the first time. I entered the main hall to pick up my tickets, only to be told the theatre is around the other side of the block. Finally, I was inside, ticket in hand and dripping wet, ready for a spectacular performance.
Having once played the piano myself and having sung in various choirs throughout half of my life, I was very excited to see Isabel Bayrakdarian and Serouj Kradjian perform on that stormy night.
I have heard so much about Carnegie Hall before this night and I expected nothing but grandeur and beauty. The escalators took me a little by surprise in such a fancy building, but it added the convenience for women to not have to walk down four flights of stairs to the concert hall.
Walking across the plush carpeting into the theatre, I was surprised to see the scenery quite barren. The hardwood floors everywhere with simple stadium seating were not what I pictured for a classical concert such as this. Although not elaborate, this room brought a sense of beauty in a way of a clean, polished setting for a musical concert; perhaps it is done on purpose so the audience can fully concentrate on the performers and truly listen to the music flowing throughout the hall.
The open ceilings and enormous amount of space in this particular theater proved to be perfect while allowing the acoustics of the performance to be perfectly audible.
The rows quickly filled up, and I could feel myself becoming anxious to hear the mix of lyrics over piano.
There was one thing about the audience that was quite displeasing to me that I noticed right away. As I was dressed in appropriate attire for the occasion (I made sure to Google the dress code for Carnegie Hall in advance), I was disappointed to see so many patrons in the audience very underdressed. I only spotted a few older gentlemen in suits and their wives in dresses; well over half of the audience was in casual clothing. I was even more shocked to see one particular man in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap! Although I am of the late 20th century generation, I still truly believe in dressing appropriately for the theatre and other occasions; something that New Yorkers in the 21st century seem to overlook nowadays.
As I peered onto the stage, I saw the most lovely, perfectly polished black grand piano. The piano and the accompanying bench were the only items on the empty, shining hardwood-floored stage. Before long, a beautiful woman donning a floor length sparking gown seemed to float along the stage to the center, a man dressed in a suit following behind her to sit at the piano.
Without any introduction, the music began. Bayrakdarian’s strong soprano voice quickly filled the entire theatre without the help of any microphone or amplifying device. Since I was previously knowledgeable of Bayrakdarian’s Armenian descent, I had the expectation of her to sing in a language other than English. To my surprise, her concert comprised of singing in a total of six different languages: Italian, French, English, Armenian, Greek and Spanish. Although I am not fluent in all of those languages, it was easy to follow along with the booklet that was handed out before the concert which had each song’s lyrics in its native language, as well as the English translation.
I give an extreme amount of credit to Bayrakdarian as she did not plunder on any word in any song of any language. Although I’m sure she practices for hours a day, the difficulty level of remembering each note, each pitch, each word of each language could be nothing less than an extremely hard feat.
The booklet was very helpful in the way it explains each time period and classification of the songs. Bayrakdarian sang songs from the 1600’s all the way up to the 1900’s, including folk music and classical tunes. Her music choice was a perfect fit for her voice; the tone of her voice truly captured the essence of every note within each song.
It was easy to notice the range of Bayrakdarian’s voice; she was able to hit both high- and low-pitched notes, which gave her performance a great depth and really showcased her natural talent and ability. At times, especially during the peaceful yet emotionally-filled love songs, I felt myself holding back tears as her resounding voice filled my ears and filled my heart with passion and my arms with goose bumps.
The show was separated into sections, each section concentrating on music of the same language. The performers would take a break off-stage after about every three or four numbers, depending on the length. It wasn’t until after intermission that Bayrakdarian addressed the crowd. To everyone’s surprise, she revealed that the pianist is her husband, and that they had met while both working in the music business. That little side note made the concert a bit more intimate and personal, as if they were both sharing their passions together and with the audience.
In between songs, Bayrakdarian would take a minute or two to explain the next song and its significance. Most of the songs dealt with love, either falling in or out of it, or even with being alone in love. Some songs consisted of traditional lullabies in different languages; while others were so abstract it made me wonder what was going through that composer’s mind while writing the lyrics.
There is one memorable song, called I Cannot Dance (Text: Anonymous), in which Bayrakdarian performed in a way in which she did not just sing, but her motions and emotions were heightened, so much as to give a small acting performance along with the music. The lyrics explain that she cannot dance because she will make noise and “My mother-in-law will come and grumble.” This line, along with Bayrakdarian’s movements created a small roar of laughter throughout the theatre, which gave a much-needed light spot in what otherwise, would have been a very serious concert.
It was obvious to see how much the audience appreciated and enjoyed Bayrakdarian’s and Kradjian’s efforts at the end of each song, as applause roared through the theatre for an extended period of time. However, I could tell a few patrons were contemplating whether or not to give a standing ovation at the end. It was a difficult decision on the timing, as the performers came back on stage for three encore performances. Although only about half stood up for the duo, the praise was well-deserved as the performance was flawless. In the end, this concert was really worth running through Manhattan in the rain in high-heels and a cocktail dress, which I am not able to say for too many other events.