Guests Gather for ‘Aesthetics and Letters’ Benefit at the Guggenheim Museum

While some performers gave fans a taste of what it was like to witness how the Oscars were going on, others honored a very different kind of film: film by geniuses.

Earlier in the evening, the Guggenheim Museum’s annual spring benefit feted their 40th anniversary with an evening of party, art and music. In keeping with the event’s charitable cause, “Aesthetics and Letters,” the marquee act was none other than 19-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde.

Following a performance by French singer-songwriter Julian Casablancas, Lorde walked on stage to the sounds of “Turn Down For What” and the audience was immediately, of course, singing along. Though she was, undeniably, nominated for a Grammy in 2018 in the “Song of the Year” category, Lorde didn’t acknowledge her representation in American music history: “How about this? Grammy for Song of the Year?” she commented upon receiving her award. “Thanks to everyone who wrote me a song and a script.”

During her 30-minute set, Lorde revisited many of her tracks, first introducing her breakout hit “Royals,” an anthem that she said was particularly relevant for a night of celebrating the work of artists committed to “so many other things,” like open spaces, water, weather, noise and sea.

“It’s hard to believe that it was written when I was 12,” Lorde explained about “Royals,” receiving loud applause from the audience. “I don’t believe in superstardom any more, I mean, that’s something I said when I was older. Not every song has to be about chasing the trolley.”

But the musician was fully focused on matters of the heart, not of the industry. While several of her tracks, like “Team” and “Strangers,” dealt with fandom, Lorde briefly devoted some of her time to touching on her process of writing songs, focusing on the importance of “listening.”

“When you think about the most important part of a song, think about your mind,” she advised. “The synapses are firing, they’re all making some sort of noise. And you know what happens to songs that go wrong? They cut.”

Those who gathered at the Bluma Appel Institute for Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum weren’t just mere listeners; they had been invited to witness an evening of performance, drawing their own personal chords, building their own connections.

A Museum once dedicated to the art of letters gathered together some of the world’s most important stars: Norman Mailer, Bernadette Peters, Barbara Walters, Anjelica Huston, John Boehner, Gabriel Byrne, Holly Hunter, Pamela Adlon, Cherry Jones, Richard Herring, Nick Offerman, Peter Sarsgaard, Rachel Brosnahan, Cheryl Hines, Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, and many more.

Also attending were some of the biggest names in today’s arts scene: musicians Gary Clark Jr. and Walter Murch, actor Jeffrey Wright, curator Lawrence Weschler, and the legend Carlos Saura.

The night’s best part was undoubtedly the trio of musical performances, which were led by Casablancas, Browne and Lorde herself. Not only did the artists fuse the cutting edge of today’s music with the legacy of film, but they connected their dynamic performances to the stories and meanings of the past – providing a new, exhilarating take on old songs for today’s audience.

Marc Senter is News Editor of The Musical Theatre Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @mtcuser.

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