“We’re looking for the event in the crypt,” I announced. “Where is the crypt?”
Four alarmed eyeballs stared back at me.
It was the second day of autumn and I was in a centuries-old New York City cemetery. One of the two maintenance men that I questioned gaped at my friend and me—like we had suddenly materialized amid the tombstones.
My friend Neil and I were in Sugar Hill, in upper Manhattan. A bastion of the Harlem renaissance, it contains charming buildings, old churches, and sprawling cemeteries housing such figures as Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Ellison, and John Jacob Astor IV. Despite the historical capital, these cemeteries are hardly tourist attractions, and our casual crypt search was clearly weird. After I explained we were looking for a classical concert—not an occult vampire society—they simply shrugged.
Neil and I backtracked and found our destination: the cloister garden of the Church of the Intercession. Of course, it was marked with a large sign. We were there to see cellist Matt Haimovitz perform the program of his latest album of old and new music, Overtures to Bach. The venue felt especially appropriate for Haimovitz, who is perhaps as known for performing in alternative spaces like coffee shops and night clubs as he is for his decades-deep investigation into Bach’s cello suites.
Inside the cloisters, the pre-concert reception invited us to take a look around. The surrounding hallways were topped with narrow-pointed arches in the Gothic Revival style. Wrought iron gates, some colonized by vines, barred openings to the tranquil garden. Small stone monsters perched above some openings outside. The mood grew cozier, and more macabre, at sunset. While admiring how the arches meet elegantly at corners, Neil stopped just short of disturbing a dangling spider web. “There are bungee-jumping spiders,” he said, shielding his wine.
I should add that tingeing everything was my terror of the supernatural. I fear ghosts and avoid cemeteries—I certainly don’t frequent crypts. Excellent, I could imagine my editor thinking, probably while petting a white cat. I have the perfect assignment.
Yet the mood seems a central draw to the Crypt Sessions concert series, organized by Unison Media. The semi-underground crypt chapel we waited to enter hosted several classical concerts in its first season. Adding to the allure was Haimovitz’s interesting program. After studying Bach’s cello suites for years—which included two strikingly different recordings—he commissioned six composers to each write an overture to a suite. They pay homage to Bach, but assert new perspectives, contemporary textures and influences, from Caribbean salsa to Serbian funereal chants to ancient Hawaiian rhythms and jazz. …