The ex-Beatle, embroiled in a bitter divorce battle in Britain with his second wife, Heather Mills, was greeted with cheers Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall, where his new work, the classical piece "Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart)" had its U.S. premiere.
The cheering started as soon as McCartney, dressed in a dark business suit and crisp, white shirt, stepped to his first-tier seat. The normally staid concert hall was rocked by the stadium-like chants of "Pa-a-ul, Pa-a-ul." Some fans waved white sheets bearing the messages: "We love you, Paul" and "Paul, you hold our hearts."
The singer acknowledged the accolades at regular intervals, waving to fans and bowing, sometimes Oriental–style with palms together in front of his face, and sometimes swami-style, with one hand undulating toward the floor below.
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The Carnegie Hall program followed the same one for the world premiere Nov. 3 at London's Royal Albert Hall. The first half featured a series of McCartney songs, reworked in classical style and performed with a quintet. The second half was "Ecce Cor Meum," performed by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Concert Chorale of New York and the American Boy Choir. It was streamed live on NPR.
Surrounded by his guests, who included such celebrities as actor Alec Baldwin and musician Elvis Costello, McCartney nodded and clapped throughout.
At the conclusion, the rock legend joined the performers onstage, thanking the audience and the performers, whom he mentioned by name. He received so many bouquets that he joked that he felt "like a florist." The program ended when white paper hearts cascaded, New Year's Eve-style, from the ceiling, catching in concertgoers' hair and drifting like snow on the red velvet chairs and balconies.
Earlier in the week, scores of New Yorkers slept outdoors in the rain in Time Square for a chance to have McCartney sign their CDs and DVDs at a popular store.
The CD release and premieres have drawn attention away from the bitter divorce unfolding in London between Mills and McCartney, who have one daughter, Beatrice, 3. The 64-year-old McCartney also has three daughters and a son, all grown, from his first marriage to Linda Eastman, who died of breast cancer in 1998.
Sealed divorce documents leaked to the press have included accusations of substance abuse and wife beating against McCartney. The documents claim the violence extended also to McCartney's first wife, Linda, to whom "Ecce Cor Meum" is dedicated.
By MARY JAYNE McKAY