Accordionists are rare birds these days. Like supermarkets, landlines and cash, they speak to me of a disappearing time. I first fell in love with its elegiac sound at the age of two, when my parents hired a dark and handsome accordionist to perform outdoors at a garden party. I was never sure if it was him or his miniature piano-like instrument I was crushing on, but watching him turn squeezed air into music was mesmerizing. Walking across Central Park on a moody November day, I found this contemplative performer perched near the angel fountain at Bethesda Terrace. His eyes were closed and he was lost in a contagious reverie. Soon, I’d caught it too.
You'd have to be very jaded or a retail atheist not to get excited by the visual artistry in New York City's holiday windows. Each year Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue create bedazzling sidewalk displays that in my mind outperform the towering spectacle of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Bergdorf's theatrical stage sets—perhaps due to the architectural scale of the actual window frames and the bottomless talent of visual director David Hoey—are usually my favorite. This year's BG masterpiece windows (slideshow here) are no exception. Fanciful, elaborate and technically superb, they celebrate the city's great cultural institutions like The New York Philharmonic, above.
In the window, a cascade of neon instruments light up in sequence and crescendo visually to full blast. Prismatic perspective shows how symphonic music pours out, around, and over you. A flamboyant and flame-haired conductor ignites the scene with back turned and arms raised. My secret fantasy is that as she conducts, she shatters something—not the window—but the notorious gendered glass ceiling of most of the world's great symphony orchestras.
What's that sound you hear? It's a #metoo army of stiletto heels grinding glass shards into grains of sand. Applause, please.
If we could order music like steak, I'd say "make mine underdone please." I love Beyoncé as much as the next person, but in this era of hit song science I feel like some top ten music feels like it rolled right off a conveyor belt. Lately, I've been listening to two really fresh female musician-composers whose work feels personal and immediate to me.
The first, Amy Lynne Johnson, told me she recorded her digital piano album, "Piano Poetry: Peace To You" from a midnight inspiration. These dreamlike, flowing compositions came to her during sleep like a message to deliver. Despite her lack of formal training, she decided to put them right out there and recorded what she heard in a studio with a friend. Listening to her I feel like I'm in a downtown loft with that effortlessly talented friend who just sat down and started improvising the coolest, chill New Agey stuff ever. I guarantee her selection of unique piano poems will help keep your anxiety clouds at bay.
I'm also newly addicted to the utterly enchanting Swedish-Icelandic artist Hannah Mia. I first heard her sultry voice and album, "Out of Water (feat. The Northern Taylor Squad)," while driving in a van around Iceland's volcanic landscape. Her album is totally homegrown and, in addition to her original compositions, showcases the moody wind and strings talent of European musical conservatory students who pitched in to help her. Her new single, "In This Together," is a grand call to stand up to bigotry. When I listen to "The White Beast," I get shivers. I'm certain she's singing about a mythical version of a water-spiriting Nix (see post Sept. 8, 2016). Her voice is full of yearning and sadness and immediacy. You'll feel like you're in the front row of the coolest late-night jazz club ever.