This was her very first visit to the “Big Apple” and, needless to say, she was completely enthralled!
The exuberant enthusiasm she expressed upon her return home reminded me of my early experiences with “the city” and more specifically, one very unique and memorable day and night in November 1965.
Around Halloween of that year I received an exciting (and most unexpected) invitation from Maestro Leonard Bernstein. Much to my surprise, he requested that I adjust my schedule in a way that would allow for us to spend some time together in New York on the afternoon of November 9, 1965. Although we had never met previously, he had apparently become aware of my existence and was interested both in meeting me and hearing me play Hindemith’s “Der Schwanendreher”.
Obviously, his request became my command and I quickly made the necessary plans. Fortunately, my schedule was fairly calm at that time, due to my recent arrival at Indiana University as a freshman and the commencement of my studies there. My excellent pianist and girlfriend at the time was a stunning redhead by the name of Carol Colburn. (Currently, she is perhaps best known for her philanthropic efforts as one of the world’s most active Patrons of the Arts). As luck would have it, convincing her to accompany me on this journey proved to be a rather effortless task.
So on the morning of Tuesday, November 9, 1965, Carol and I flew to New York. Our flight was relatively straight forward (no pun intended) and we arrived at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall with time to spare. Upon our arrival we were led into the hall and given the opportunity to warm-up. Shortly there after… the Maestro arrived. His extremely friendly and supportive demeanor put us at ease immediately. We chatted casually for a few minutes followed by an ascent to the stage and a performance of almost the entire “Der Schwanendreher”.
The playing was followed by an enthusiastic discussion led by Bernstein. He appeared to be very pleased with our performance… going as far as stating that “our performance had been the finest he had ever heard of that work.” He concluded our meeting by saying that he would very much look forward to our working together at some point and that he would continue to look for the appropriate opportunity.
At the conclusion of our inspirational afternoon with Leonard Bernstein, Carol and I left Lincoln Center and boarded the subway enroute to our hotel. At approximately 5:15pm we exited the subway and began the climb upwards to street level. Once reaching the sidewalk it did not take us long to realize something wasn’t quite right.
No…not right at all. Normally as the sun sets in New York the city lights up like a Christmas tree…no matter what time of year it is. This particular evening one was hard-pressed to spot even a single light!!!
Both Carol and I looked at each other with amazingly puzzled expressions. Talk about surreal! Well, surrealism quickly turned to reality as the “Great Blackout of 1965” forced the Big Apple to literally run out of juice!! Affecting parts of Canada and much of the Northeastern United States over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles were left without electricity for roughly 13 hours. If I remember correctly, somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000 people were left stranded on the NY subway system. Carol and I were two of the lucky ones having exited our subway car about 2-4 minutes prior to everything going black.
Television stations and most FM radio stations were forced off the air and even taxi service shut down as gas pumps became inoperable due to the power outage. Interestingly, only five reports of looting were made in New York City after the 1965 blackout. It was said to be the lowest amount of crime on any night in the city’s history since records were first kept.
Anyway…Carol and I finally found our way back to the hotel, thanks in part to the relatively bright moonlight. However, once we did return to the hotel, climbing numerous stairs in total darkness, not to mention trying to re-pack our suitcases with the help of an occasional flicker from an all to short match..or two…or three, etc proved to be quite the challenge.
Additionally I had previously arranged for the two of us to spend part of that evening with Mr. and Mrs. Galamian at their residence. Anxious to keep our appointment we once again hiked up the many sets of stairs to the Galamian apartment, heavily armed with matchbooks we had scrounged from wherever possible. I must say, ultimately, we had an absolutely delightful visit with the Galamians in their candlelit abode.
Upon leaving the Galamians we made the decision to “get out of Dodge” as quickly as possible. At the time, no one had any idea of how long the outage would last and the airports were quickly closing. We did learn that Newark Airport was apparently operating although at a reduced level. So we began the task of securing transportation from downtown Manhattan to the Newark Airport.
It’s at times like these you really learn to appreciate some of the benefits of traveling with a companion of sound financial means. Since it immediately became clear that hiring a taxi that night was a definite impossibility, Carol suggested we walk to the front of the famed Plaza Hotel where one could typically find a reasonable supply of limousines for hire at a moment’s notice. Although the inventory was greatly reduced this particular evening and the rates were criminally inflated we were able to eventually negotiate a ride out to Newark.
By the time we reached the Newark terminal it was close to 11pm and we were far from being the only ones with this brilliant escape plan. When we finally did reach the “Traveler’s Assistance” counter we basically asked for two seats on ANY flight heading to the Midwest. After a great deal of perseverance and creativity we ultimately found ourselves booked on a flight to Milwaukee scheduled to leave at about 7am. With any luck this would get us to Wisconsin in time to catch an afternoon flight to Indianapolis.
So… we settled into a long sleepless night in the Newark Airport reviewing the events of our even longer memorable day. In the end… although the Milwaukee flight was seriously delayed, we did make it in time to catch the flight to Indy… which got me to my 4pm IU Orchestra dress rehearsal by 4:30pm and to my 8pm performance on-time!! What a historic couple of days!