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Monday, March 19, 2018

Selling the Schelling

From the Musical Vault: The Albany Symphony has a new recording out of music by Michael Daugherty, with whom the ensemble has long been associated (here’s a review of a performance of one of his more unusual works), and, while preparing a review of the new CD, I ran across this review of a 1998 concert featuring an obscure work by a (now) obscure composer: Ernest Schelling. Few recordings of his works are out there; most significant is the disc mentioned below.


BOTH ERNEST SCHELLING AND GUSTAV MAHLER were composer-conductors, but the New Jersey-born Schelling, 16 years Mahler’s junior, made his name initially as a piano virtuoso. Despite many concert appearances, two years as conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, fifteen years of teaching and a number of published compositions, Schelling is as unknown as Mahler is revered.

Ernest Schelling
Pianist Mary Louise Boehm is on an Albany Records CD with an hour’s worth of his solo works, so it appropriately was she who appeared with the Albany Symphony last Friday as part of Schelling’s bombastic, episodic and sometimes downright goofy 1915-vintage “Impressions from an Artist’s Life,” subtitled (for all such works must be subtitled) “Symphonic Variations for Orchestra with Obbligato Piano.”

We’re not talking one of your flashy show-off works. This isn’t Rachmaninoff, although there’s a feel of that composer’s style in the introduction, which showcases the soloist. I suspect Schelling wrote it this way to satisfy those expecting to see his virtuoso side. Intro out of the way, the work settles into a pleasing theme and 18 variations, each section paying tribute to a friend or concept. So we veer from a lighthearted nod to Fritz Kreisler, as piano and violas play a variation reminiscent of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 1, to a huge warlike segment with tattoos of trumpets and drums (this was the time of the Great War) that slams into the Dies irae, the familiar “day of wrath” melody from the Roman Missal.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Portion Out of Control

From the Food Vault: Ten years ago, I wrote about this strip-mall restaurant, which endured for several years before giving way to the Mexican eatery that now occupies its space.


AS THE NAME SUGGESTS, it began as a takeout business. This was five years ago, when chef-owner Gerry Cunsolo decided to offer customers the opportunity to enjoy at their own homes the cooking he grew up with at his home. But people do like to dine out, so about a year ago he took advantage of a newly-empty next-door space to expand and offer table service.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The result is a comfortable hybrid, with anything from pizzas to full dinners crossing the take-out counter, which is what you’ll see upon entering, to a more relaxed dining room where you’ll enjoy the same meals but with a styrofoam delay.

And that’s because the portions are so gravity-defying large that you’ll still leave laden with take-out containers.

Carmen Plaza sits on a stretch of Route 146 between Guilderland and Schenectady, home to the usual strip-mall array, and it’s obviously a work in progress, with several vacant spots awaiting tenantry. The huddle of cars in front of Chef’s Take Out when we visited made it easy enough to find, although the huge signs promising pasta and pizza also helped.

We were put through an interesting phenomenon I’m sure you’ve noticed often. Despite the several empty tables in the dining room’s center, any one of which comfortably would have seated our threesome, we had to wait until a booth was cleaned and re-set. Booths run along two of the room’s walls, and that’s where most of the diners were seated (the exception was a six-top at the back of the room).

Monday, March 12, 2018

Élégance baroque

OUR EARS HAVE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO a range of rhythm and harmony that probably would baffle or even antagonize someone living a couple of centuries ago. By the same token, the music that pleased that long-ago listener isn’t going to grab us with the intensity it had at its birth. Not only are we pummeled with plangent sounds but we’ve also been background-musicked to a point where it’s easy for most tunes to seem to disappear.

Can you send yourself, as a listener, back to an earlier time? This could mean, if your destination is the 18th century, eliminating things like automobiles and the landscape that goes with them. Which also means that the notion of time itself is different. Travel takes days, not hours. Communication is conducted in person or by slow correspondence. Life is hometown-centered.  Life is slower. Listening is different.

With a casual auditing, the music of Antoine and Jean-Baptiste Forqueray can slip into the background. There’s a sameness to the pieces, especially when taken over the course of a new four-CD set of their complete works. Listening with 18th-century ears, however, reveals the richness of the pieces, which turn out to be complex and varied. And, according to the composers’ contemporaries, difficult to play.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Fantastic Voyage

DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS of my elementary-school science teachers, the world of biology only really opened up for me as I thrilled to the exploits of Arthur Kennedy, Raquel Welch, and Donald Pleasance as they were shrunk to microbe size and sent into the bloodstream of a wounded scientist to effect a cure. Nothing brought home the battles fought by our bodies’ antibodies as did the skirmishes in the movie “Fantastic Voyage” – nothing, that is, until the book The Hidden Half of Nature put it into a compelling story that moves between the biosphere without and the microbiota within.

Authors David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé have written a book that also sends you on a thrilling trip through the bloodstream – alongside voyages through the digestive tract (where the colon is the underslung hero), and the soil, and the earthworm .. and through a succession of laboratories as researchers through the centuries uncover the intricacies of growth and disease. In their way, these travels are even more fantastic than anything that movie could imagine – and they’re a tough reminder that, as a culture, we’re ignoring the lessons they teach at our peril.

Although we begin by looking at the garden that Biklé cultivates at their new Seattle home, we’re soon drawn into an examination of the exhausted soil below, soil that came to life as the couple began feeding it organic matter: wood chips, coffee grounds, a substance called “zoo doo” made available by the city’s Woodland Park Zoo. It’s all in service of the microbes.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Beauties of the German Language

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain’s diaries finally have been published in their entirety, and they’re a joy. (At least until you get halfway through the third and final volume, where you’ll bog down in an appendix in which Twain details the perfidy of a pair of employees.) Here’s a delightfully politically incorrect excerpt. The story has been told by many, but rarely so well.


Mark Twain
February 3, Vienna. (1898) Lectured for the benefit of a charity last night, in the Bösendorfersaal. Just as I was going on the platform a messenger delivered to me an envelope with my name on it, and this written under it: “Please read one of these tonight.” Enclosed were a couple of newspaper clippings—two versions of an anecdote, one German, the other English. I was minded to try the German one on those people, just to see what would happen, but my courage weakened when I noticed the formidable look of the closing word, and I gave it up. A pity, too, for it ought to read well on the platform, and get an encore. That or a brickbat, there is never any telling what a new audience will do; their tastes are capricious. The point of this anecdote is a justifiable gibe at the German long word, and is not as much of an exaggeration as one might think. The German long word is not a legitimate construction, but an ignoble artificiality, a sham. It has no recognition by the dictionary, and is not found there. It is made by jumbling a lot of words into one, in a quite unnecessary way, it is a lazy device of the vulgar and a crime against the language. Nothing can be gained, no valuable amount of space saved, by jumbling the following words together on a visiting card: “Mrs. Smith, widow of the late Commander-in-Chief of the Police Department,” yet a German widow can persuade herself to do it, without much trouble:

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Online Forms Here

WELCOME TO INTERNET ACCESS SECURITY CLEARANCE (IASC). In accordance with the Federal Anti-Terrorism Online Resources and Protection Act of 2011 (U.S.C. Title 50, Chapter 44), we are required by law to collect certain information from citizens who would seek to use the internet. Your participation in this survey is entirely voluntary. Failure to provide reasonable answers will result in a denial of internet access.

1. Will your proposed session
     be for personal or business use?

A. Personal
B. Business           


Thank you.

2.  Have you ever been convicted of a
     felony offense?

A. Yes
B. No

Monday, February 26, 2018

Toast of Troy

From the Food Vault Dept.: A piece I wrote just last summer, celebrating a trendy place in trendy Troy, NY, yet it’s a place with none of the haughtiness you might expect. Especially if you’ve spent time in Brooklyn.


DON’T LET THE NAME OF THE PLACE FOOL YOU: it’s a Troy homage. “Most people don’t know that the name comes from the longest-running business in this building,” says Felicity Jones. “Superior Merchandise was a novelty toy shop in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.”

Felicity Jones, Mike Romig, and
Matthew Loiacono.
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
It’s a storefront at 147 4th Street in Troy, and Jones co-owns building and business with Mike Romig. “We found an ad for the old Superior Merchandise in a Troy Record,” he adds. “The place was selling mood rings and mood earrings and mood necklaces.”

“And they had things like whoopee cushions,” Jones throws in. She was a freelance graphic designer before tackling this retail project four years ago, and brings her design sense to the clean, colorful look of the place, where handsome, hand-picked items await your scrutiny.

Jones describes them as “everyday objects that are useful, beautiful, and super-well designed. To make your everyday experiences more special. We have scissors, toothbrushes, pens – simple objects you use all the time, but you won’t find in the regular stores. Ninety percent of the things are from individual artists and makers that I personally want to support.”