Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Brianne Lugo

When Brianne Lugo tells me to meet her at the Hungarian pastry shop on Amsterdam Avenue, I wonder what the name of the place is. It turns out the name of this Hungarian pastry shop is, well, The Hungarian Pastry Shop. Very easy to find and SEO-friendly, as the kids might say.

Brianne--or Bri, as I know her--is a full-time freelance violist originally from the New York area. Though by now she’s played viola for most of her life, she originally wanted to be a marine biologist but decided to study viola in college instead. After getting her MFA in Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music, she lived and worked in the Chicago area before moving back to New York in 2016. She is currently a member of the Southwest Florida Symphony in Fort Myers, Florida, but she has also played viola on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, at Carnegie Hall, with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and for Kid Victory, a new musical written by John Kander.

The day I arrive to meet Bri at The Hungarian Pastry Shop is rather gray but not totally frigid, a welcome respite from the torture this winter has thus far unleashed upon us. Mere blocks from Columbia, the place almost carries with it the romanticism of Beats past. Its interior is dotted with late-teen/early-20-somethings hunched over Baudelaire and Montaigne, with thick, white mugs of coffee and scratched silver spoons within grasp. It feels like a relic of 60 years ago, with lights so dark and warm they feel like they’ve always been that way. Above curving glass cases bearing myriad pastries at the entrance are graying poster menus. Bri arrives and knows exactly what she wants: baklava.

The slice arrives tall and layered on a thick, white plate. We dive into it with forks and knives while discussing the freelance hustle and her violist life. She jokes she initially picked up the viola over two decades ago because the violin was too small and the cello was too big. Bri stretches her chin upward to show me her neck callus, sometimes called a viola hickey or “fiddler’s neck,” which she gets from the placement of the chinrest on the instrument. Decimating our baklava and coffee, we head back out into the cloudy day.

Across the street is The Peace Fountain on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Assembled from several different representations of good and evil, it’s quite an experience to look at, crab claws, giraffe necks, and all. We chuckle to ourselves at the raucous collection of visuals, which also include angel wings and Satan’s decapitated head. Just, you know, some fun art to look at. Casual.

We walk over to the Cathedral, in awe of its sculptured exterior, and wander inside. But it’s a Sunday, and we’re not allowed to jaunt further than the security guard (no matter how much Bri makes him laugh, which is a lot). It’s beautiful just the same.

Learn more about Brianne on her website.

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