'Tis the Season

Special Holiday Feature
With so much to celebrate this holiday season, we looked to some luminaries performing around the city and asked them what makes New York the best city in the world to spend the holidays.

The lights of New York shine a little brighter in December, when the city puts on its holiday finest. With so much to celebrate, we looked to some luminaries performing around the city and asked them what makes New York the best city in the world to spend the holidays.

WHO: Renée Fleming
WHAT: A new holiday album, Christmas in New York, plus performances of The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera
WHERE: Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center
WHEN: Dec. 31

Renée Fleming (©Timothy White/Decca)

“There’s something about the holiday lights. No matter how stressed out I am, or exhausted, I find it very helpful to think about how beautiful the city is,” says soprano Renée Fleming. “There's a different feeling in the city—people are more bright.”

Fleming, who kicked off the year in New York singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, returns this season with a new album and a run in The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera that opens with a New Year’s Eve gala. “It’s really fun actually, it’s a big party,” says Fleming, who has attended the event in the past even when she wasn’t performing. “I love an excuse to put on a gown.”

Back in the city for the performance, she plans to soak up as much culture as possible (this year, Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, F. Murray Abraham and Megan Mullally, tops her must-see list), while taking in the store window decorations along Fifth Avenue and reflecting on the past year. “For me, the holidays mean taking a deep breath and thinking of another year gone by. I think it's a wonderful opportunity to do that.”

WHO: Steve Tyrell
WHAT: 10th annual residency at The Carlyle Hotel
WHERE: Café Carlyle
WHEN: Thru Dec. 31

Steve Tyrell (©Tom Estey Publicity & Promotion, ©iStock)

“New York during the holidays is the most magical place you could think of,” says singer Steve Tyrell. Tyrell himself has become something of a holiday institution in the city—for the past 10 years he has held a residency at The Carlyle hotel, spanning the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s become a tradition for many New Yorkers: One year, former President Bill Clinton attended, tearing up when Tyrell sang a song from daughter Chelsea’s wedding.

“I have a unique job at The Carlyle: To go through three seasons in one six-week run,” says Tyrell, who begins his run with one set and gradually adds in Christmas classics before finishing out the year with songs like “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” For this year’s set list, Tyrell turns his attention to the composers of Midtown’s iconic Brill Building in the 1960s, a generation that included such luminaries as Carole King and Neil Sedaka. The songs also appear on his new album, Groovy Kind of Love, out Dec. 9.

When not onstage at The Carlyle, Tyrell finds time to soak up the festive energy of the city with his family—his three grown children live in New York—being sure to spend time at the Friar’s Club, catch a Giants game or two, and celebrate Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes at famed Italian restaurant Rao’s.

WHO: Itzhak Perlman
WHAT: Perlman’s first solo New York recital in seven years
WHERE: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
WHEN: Dec. 3

Itzhak Perlman (©Akira Kinoshita)

It’s been seven years since virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman has given a solo recital in New York. Now he’s back at Avery Fisher Hall, performing on Dec. 3 with what he calls a “mixed bag” of selections by Schumann, Beethoven and Ravel, accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva.

“When I usually make a program, I make a program that I personally would like to hear myself, if I were to go to a recital,” says Perlman of his plan for the evening. It’s a sweet return to one of the world’s most famous venues for the musician. “There are certain reverbs that you get,” says Perlman of the experience of playing on that famous stage. “I would term that hall brilliant, as far as acoustics are concerned.”

In the city during the holiday season, Perlman celebrates by going to synagogue and making plenty of time for his family—while trying to avoid eating too much and navigate the chaos of the city. Perlman also makes time for the students of his Perlman Music Program, which offers mentoring for talented young string players. He also holds the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Chair at The Juilliard School here in NYC.

“If you teach others, you teach yourself. So I’m being actually a little selfish here, because I find that it really is helpful for me, my playing and so on, if I do a lot of teaching,” says Perlman. “I also talk to my students and I always encourage them. I say to them, ‘Never miss an opportunity to teach.’”

WHO: Kevin Nealon
WHAT: Stand-up comedy
WHERE: Carolines on Broadway
WHEN: Dec. 11–13

Kevin Nealon (©Dana Patrick, ©Donald Bowers)

For years, comedian Kevin Nealon called New York City home as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. This month, he’s back in town to perform at Carolines on Broadway and make appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Howard Stern Show

“I’ll tell you the things I don’t miss: I don't miss the slushy snow in the winter. I don’t miss trying to get a cab on a rainy night … I think that’s about all I don’t miss,” the Los Angeles transplant says with a laugh. “But I do miss the good restaurants, the good food, the bagels, the pizza. I miss the no B.S. in the people—they cut right to the chase. I like the excitement people have to live in New York. When you see them out on the street, they’re jazzed to be out and they’re going somewhere.”

For his new tour, Nealon, who currently stars in an AOL Web series and is writing a TV pilot with his writing-partner wife, combines observations from everyday life with a sense of the absurd. And while life is good in California, he’s happy to come back—especially at this time of year.


“I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than New York City during the holidays,” Nealon says, recalling memories of Radio City Music Hall, ice- skating under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the smell of roasting chestnuts. And though he’s disappointed he’ll miss Billy Joel’s Dec. 18 performance at Madison Square Garden by just a few days (“I know he feels the same way about me, too,” Nealon jokes), he can still walk around under the holiday lights and share meals with friends. “There’s something embedded in the city: and I don’t know how you could recreate that somewhere else.” 

WHO: Sterling Hyltin
WHAT: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
WHERE: David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
WHEN: Thru Jan. 3

Sterling Hyltin (©Paul Kolnik)

No matter how many times audiences see it, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker still fills them with wonder. The classic returns this year to Lincoln Center, with New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin reprising her role as the Sugarplum Fairy.

The company seems to love the tradition as well:  For the dancers, fueled by the holiday sweets they bring each other—bubble cake is Hyltin’s specialty—The Nutcracker is a chance to relax a little despite the busy performance schedule and a sure sign that the holidays are here. “It’s similar to when you smell pumpkin spice: It reminds you of the holidays, and it reminds you of family,” says Hyltin, who first experienced The Nutcracker as a dancer with New York City Ballet 12 years ago. And even after more than a decade with the ballet, she still finds enchantment in the show.

“I think even if you’ve seen it every year, you still wonder how some things happen the way they happen,” Hyltin says, revealing just one secret: The snow that falls in the show is recycled throughout the run, picking up detritus like lost earrings along the way. But it’s the magic of the sets that keep delighting every year. “When I’m dancing in the show, I always step over to the wing to watch the tree grow, always.” Hyltin also has a tradition of her own: a trip to the Big Apple Circus.

It’s December in the Big Apple: How will you celebrate?