A Thousand Years, A Couple of Blocks

New York City can’t boast 1,000 years of history, but it’s not hard to find ancient music within its walls. Yesterday I caught the Ivory Consort‘s CD Release concert at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, where this beatific-looking dude keeps watch outside.

Outside St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery

The present building dates from the late 18th century, but Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam, was buried in 1678 on the site, under the earlier chapel. I don’t know what he would have thought of the music being played upstairs. The Ivory Consort presented a program of Arabic, Christian, and Jewish music from what is now Spain and southern France in the 12th century and thereabouts. What the Dutch colonists were listening to in the 17th century, I have no idea (if anyone knows, please enlighten).

Ivory Consort

One of the cool things about the Ivory Consort is that, unlike some early music groups, the members have colorful personalities. You might think of them the way we used to think of our favorite rock bands. Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Who – these weren’t just groups, they were made up of distinct personalities who were, as individuals, almost as important to our enjoyment of the band as the overall sound. Singer-viellist Margo Grib manges to slither while standing in one spot – she’s like an operatic, grown-up Shakira (but with a much lovelier voice). Group director Jay Elfenbein is the avuncular, slightly goofball spokesman, a low-key Peter Schickele. Oud player Haig Manoukian is the star soloist; Percussionist-vocalist Rex Benincasa howls in Arabic like a musical Allen Ginsburg; Daphna Mor swings her red tresses while sexily blowing through a variety of tubes with holes in them; Dennis Cinelli is the “quiet” one, calmly playing the saz, gittern, and mandora while observing the others’ antics with a glint in his eye.

Walking home, I snapped this picture down 11st St. from the front of Webster Hall, the historic nightclub that’s soon to be given official Landmark status by the city. I thought this was a nice shot, with the 19th century architectural detail, the 21st century bands on the marquee, and the spire of Grace Church in the background. Grace Church was designed by James Renwick, Jr., who was later responsible for St. Patrick’s Cathedral uptown, and the Smithsonian Institution castle in Washington DC.

Webster Hall and 11th St.

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