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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All in the Mind

Across the Boards Dept.: Amidst the summerlong festival of music, Bard College also throws in a worthy theaterical production or two. Here’s my review of a significant one from last year.

                                                                                           

WERE YOU TO LAUGH hard enough at this production to be-merde yourself, it would only be in keeping with the spirit of the play. Molière’s “Imaginary Invalid,” the valetudinarian Argan (Ethan Phillips), leads us at the top of the show through a monologue in which he details no end of scatological disorder, punctuating the diatribe with a long, silent, lovingly rendered fart.

Peter Dinklage and Ethan Phillips
Photo by Cory Weaver
The temptation to overdo it must have been considerable, but Phillips and director Erica Schmidt found the right confluence of character and delivery to allow the laughs to emerge from the heart of the show. Molière gives plenty of room for stylization and stage business, and the ensemble that tore into this piece must have used up most of that space.

This marked the return of Schmidt and her actor-spouse Peter Dinklage to the Bard stage since their 2008 “Uncle Vanya.” Dinklage’s PR stock since has soared with “Game of Thrones,” but he was every bit the ensemble player in this rollicking farce.

And the ensemble was made up entirely of men, as we learned during the sung prologue that brought out the nine cast members in period undergarments, soon to sport costume designer Andrea Lauer’s true-to-the-spirit suits and gowns. Beyond Commedia dell’arte tradition itself, there was little in the way of camp to this production. In a very short time you forgot that lovesick Angélique was being played by a man, because Preston Sadleir informed the character with a core of truth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Daly Theatre

Guest Blogger Dept.: Augustin Daly was a theatrical producer in the late 19th century, working in New York and London, known for his melodramatic adaptations of popular works and for his (usually trimmed) productions of Shakespeare’s plays. The success of his “Taming of the Shrew” was celebrated, after its one hundredth performance on 13 April, 1887, with a dinner party. Held on the stage, it featuring the show’s stars, John Drew and Ada Rehan, and including such luminaries as Rose Eytinge, Horace Porter, Elihu Vedder, May Irwin, Otis Skinner, and General Sherman, who, as toastmaster, introduced fellow-guest Mark Twain. Twain gave the following speech.

                                                                               

I AM GLAD TO BE HERE. This is the hardest theatre in New York to get into, even at the front door. I never got in without hard work. I am glad we have got so far in at last.

Mark Twain
Two or three years ago I had an appointment to meet Mr. Daly on the stage of this theatre at eight o’clock in the evening. Well, I got on a train at Hartford to come to New York and keep the appointment. All I had to do was to come to the back door of the theatre on Sixth Avenue. I did not believe that; I did not believe it could be on Sixth Avenue, but that is what Daly’s note said—come to that door, walk right in, and keep the appointment. It looked very easy. It looked easy enough, but I had not much confidence in the Sixth Avenue door.

Well, I was kind of bored on the train, and I bought some newspapers—New Haven newspapers—and there was not much news in them, so I read the advertisements. There was one advertisement of a bench-show. I had heard of bench-shows, and I often wondered what there was about them to interest people. I had seen bench-shows—lectured to bench-shows, in fact—but I didn’t want to advertise them or to brag about them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dose of Oates

I’m Telling You Dept.: Let’s wander back 23 years for a visit to Union College and a talk by Joyce Carol Oates, and an opportunity for Dr. Helen Caldicott to piss off the kind of folks who deserve to be pissed off daily.

                                                                                   

SCIENCE, WHICH BEGAT the annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research four years ago, has been moving aside during recent sessions to accommodate the humanities. And the talk by Joyce Carol Oates that concluded this year’s conference at Union College deftly and charmingly punted one area of science out of the picture when she confessed that she recently got rid of her word processor “because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life staring at this little screen.”

Joyce Carol Oates
Photo by Marion Ettlinger
I don’t think Science – or any of the scientifically minded who helped fill the Memorial Chapel – was offended.

Oates, prize-winning author of over 30 volumes that comprise novels, short stories, essays and criticism, examined aspects of writing and the writer’s experience, reading excerpts from an essay that she punctuated with wise and amusing commentary.

Although she alluded to the boring nature of essays as if to explain a need to depart from her own, it was an artless performance that presented one of our most dangerously insightful literary talents in a vulnerable light.

Research was the focus of the conference, and research showed in Oates’s material. Not in any unpleasantly dusty sense, but rather in an artistic style that emphasized the need to enhance the recorded findings of others with interpretations and amplifications of our own.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Return to Kovacsland

From the Tube Dept.: Ernie Kovacs essentially invented television comedy through his creative use of a medium still in its rudimentary technical stages. But, like Buster Keaton with silent movies and Stan Laurel with talkies, he figured out how to push the limits. Here’s my review of a couple of worthy Kovacs items.

                                                                                              

THE SIX-DVD SET that Shout! Factory released last year was as wonderful a bounty of Ernie Kovacs material as you could desire, righting the wrong inflicted by an earlier collection that chopped his shows to smithereens.

Ernie Kovacs
Drawing by Drew Friedman
This new collection, which is half the size, is very much a supplement, concentrating its contents on the morning show Kovacs hosted through most of 1956. Eight episodes were part of volume one; here are eight more technically crude monochrome programs minus most of their musical guests (to avoid paying licensing fees), most of them culminating in a sketch too labored to seem as funny today as it might have come across back then. It doesn’t matter. Every show has elements that transcend the limitations of time and technology, showcasing the nonstop inventiveness of TV’s first great comedy talent.

Kovacs was a one-off, an original, whose innovations during television’s crude adolescence (he worked from 1951-1962) showed promise that took years for the medium to fulfill. He blasted the small screen with surreal gags, blackout sketches, musical essays and an amazing ability to ad lib.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Turkish Delight

One Man’s Meat Dept.: My review of a recently opened Turkish restaurant in a former Friendly’s in a Saratoga Springs strip mall. Improbable but delicious.

                                                                                       

THERE’S CONSTRUCTION IN THE PARKING LOT. The restaurant has yet to get its liquor license. Service is provided by a mix of articulate pros and wide-eyed youngsters. And it all comes together in a repurposed Friendly’s, nicely redecorated on the inside but still giving off that corporate eatery vibe.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But chef-owner Rauf Ziya is unperterbably enthusiastic about his new restaurant – open just over three months – in Saratoga’s Congress Plaza. It’s the city’s first Turkish restaurant, but it’s something like the 15th restaurant that Ziya has opened in 30 years, beginning with what he believes was the first Turkish restaurant in the United States, which he opened in Brooklyn way back then.

He has a nephew who runs a pizzeria in the area; when Ziya visited, he fell in love with the area. As to putting together the offerings, “I looked at the menus of my other restaurants and tried to choose the items that I think work best,” he says, “and that the customers seem to enjoy the most.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Daft Complicity

On the Boards Dept.: My review of the frolicsome production at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass., that runs through Nov. 10. I took an inspiration from Nabokov’s “The Vane Sisters” in writing it, recognizing that, where Nabokov offered the ultimate, mine could be penultimate at best.

                                                                                 

SO MAYBE THE GUY isn’t who we – ah! I see. I should have guessed it. And that’s because she was wishing all along that he’d – wait. Maybe not. Because now she’s – shit. Didn’t see that coming.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder & Jason Asprey.
Photo by Enrico Spada
There’s good reason that director Stephen Rothman is offering a free dinner to anyone who, without prior knowledge of this piece, can successfully declare at intermission how Act Two is going to end: There’s no way in hell to guess it.

Yet clues are staring at you as obviously as words on this page.

Dorping Mill is close enough to London to allow a commute, but the cottage in which “Accomplice” unfolds has no near neighbors. No one to help. No one to hear you. This is where Derek and Janet have conveniently rusticated themselves, although Derek’s business partner, John, and his (possibly) round-heeled wife, Melinda, are expected momentarily.

There’s just enough time to attempt a murder. After all, Janet will inherit the business from Derek. Ditto Melinda from John. But who wants whom out of the way? And why?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Tuneful Tour of the 20th Century

Once upon the Web Dept.: Classical music, that poor bastard, supports little in the way of serious journalism. For a brief while, a decade ago, I was paid fairly nicely to write for the short-lived web-based magazine andante.com. Here’s another of my vintage reviews.

                                                                                          

WRITTEN FOR DAWN UPSHAW, Kaija Saariaho’s Château de l’âme has the Upshavian stamp all over it thanks to the soprano’s recent recording. For its Boston Symphony premiere two years ago, soprano Valdine Anderson took the solo, and reprised her performance at Tanglewood as Robert Spano conducted a 20th-century-spanning program. How does Anderson compare? She does what’s absolutely necessary: she makes the piece her own.

Kaija Saariaho
Which isn’t easy when you’re going up against Upshaw, whose mannerisms are well suited to a work like this. If Anderson was more reserved with portamento, her clear, well-focused voice carried its own brand of emotional intensity.

It’s not just the voice that counts: it’s voice-with-orchestra and voice-with-chorus, the latter an ensemble of eight women drawn from the Tanglewood Music Center. Singing (or chanting or speaking) softly, and therefore lightly miked, they reinforced the images of womanhood evoked by the songs.

Although the texts are drawn from ancient Hindu and Egyptian sources, the themes are timeless: woman as lover, as mother, as child of the earth, a more complete portrait than women tend to get in love song cycles. Saariaho’s musical language is lean and mysterious, often discordant, but ultimately summoning a hauntingly beautiful overall effect.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fate

Guest Blogger Dept.: Another visit to the whimsical world of Saki, the Farsi name of the great Scottish-born writer H. H. Munro.

                                                                               

REX DILLOT WAS NEARLY TWENTY-FOUR, almost good-looking and quite penniless.  His mother was supposed to make him some sort of an allowance out of what her creditors allowed her, and Rex occasionally strayed into the ranks of those who earn fitful salaries as secretaries or companions to people who are unable to cope unaided with their correspondence or their leisure.  For a few months he had been assistant editor and business manager of a paper devoted to fancy mice, but the devotion had been all on one side, and the paper disappeared with a certain abruptness from club reading-rooms and other haunts where it had made a gratuitous appearance.  Still, Rex lived with some air of comfort and well-being, as one can live if one is born with a genius for that sort of thing, and a kindly Providence usually arranged that his week-end invitations coincided with the dates on which his one white dinner-waistcoat was in a laundry-returned condition of dazzling cleanness.  He played most games badly, and was shrewd enough to recognise the fact, but he had developed a marvellously accurate judgement in estimating the play and chances of other people, whether in a golf match, billiard handicap, or croquet tournament.  By dint of parading his opinion of such and such a player’s superiority with a sufficient degree of youthful assertiveness he usually succeeded in provoking a wager at liberal odds, and he looked to his week-end winnings to carry him through the financial embarrassments of his mid-week existence.  The trouble was, as he confided to Clovis Sangrail, that he never had enough available or even prospective cash at his command to enable him to fix the wager at a figure really worth winning.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Loud & Leon

Strange Stagefellows Dept.: Sometimes you’d like to be a fly on the wall of a booking agent’s office during the “aha!” moments. But the juxtaposition of Loudon Wainwright and Leon Redbone proved to be as endearing in concert as it seemed far-fetched on paper. They performed on the same bill in Albany six years ago. Here’s my report:

                                                                                   

TWO WILDLY DIFFERENT, cult-beloved singers played the Egg last Saturday, both easily veering from poignant to hilarious in their songs and patter. But where Leon Redbone’s repertory centers around venerable vaudeville and minstrel songs, Loudon Wainwright draws from a considerable catalogue of original material.

Leon Redbone
Stage settings emphasized the contrast. Redbone, sporting his traditional sunglasses, stick and hat, sat with his guitar upstage center, flanked by mute-laden cornetist Scott Black and pianist Paul Azaro, both barely discernible in dim blue light. All that was missing was a smoky haze.

Wainwright played much further downstage, a presence that invited a more vigorous volley of audience comments – and led, surprisingly, to more requests fulfilled than in any earlier performance I’ve seen.

The fans who filled the small Swyer Theater knew their artists and repertory, and six songs into Redbone’s set, a request for “At the Chocolate Bon Bon Ball” instantly provoked the singer into his most garrulous moment, praising the work of bandoneón virtuoso Alfredo Pedernera, who was featured on Redbone’s recording of the song. “I don’t know where he is now,” Leon muttered, strumming the opening of the chords of the song, then stopping to note, “This is where he’d come in. It just doesn’t sound right without him.” And then going on to the next number.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Working in Coffeehouses, Part Daddy

DURING THE MAGICALLY CALM MINUTES between nine and ten in the morning, downtown Lenox, Massachusetts, sparkles in autumn sunlight, its New England-white buildings looking so appropriately placed that it takes some moments for me to realize that this is the picture compelled into our subconscious by the ubiquitous work of historic neighbor Norman Rockwell. What’s missing is the bumpkin perfection of the people he portrayed, but they’re crowded into Haven Bakery and Café, over on Franklin.

This I discover – this I should have known – after finding a parking spot directly across from the establishment, a parallel-park place into which I effortlessly placed myself despite the selfconsciousness-inflicting stare of a fellow on a park bench beside my spot. I reviewed the place favorably after a lunch visit many months ago, but this morning I’m in no mood for its goofy order-at-the-counter, find-yerself-a-seat protocol, especially given the glacial pace of prep that I’m seeing (and the complaint of my counter-neighbor, whose coffee has yet to arrive).

Lenox Coffee, located a parking-lot away from Main Street, has but a handful of customers, clustered at the tables in the rear, none of whom sports an electronic device. More specifically, they’re each scaling a Sunday Times. I delay producing my computer as long as possible, which isn’t very long.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

Anatolia, I Told Ya

Culinary Tomb Dept.: Some of the shorter-lived restaurant ventures enjoyed merciful closures. Here’s one I regretted seeing go under, so let’s revisit what I had to say about it seven years ago.

                                                                                        

SEVERAL LEVELS REVEALED THEMSELVES during the course of a visit to Anatolia. First, and simplest, is that of a pizza joint. Pies emerged from the oven, flew into boxes, headed out the door. Then there’s the family-dining eatery. People were schlepping their kids in and out. Pasta and wings were served, sodas chugged. As befits the building’s legacy as the onetime Colonial Restaurant.

We were there because of rumors of Mediterranean fare, rumors well confirmed when my urfa kabob arrived. It’s a skewered sliver of lamb and beef, ground and seasoned and grilled ($10). It’s served on a plate dressed with tasty rice pilaf, alongside another, yellowish pilaf with a contrasting flavor – more nutty – that turned out to be bulghur.

Alongside was a puffy loaf of lavash bread, with a garlic-yogurt dipping sauce. If this sounds like Ali Baba, the wonderful Mediterranean restaurant on Troy’s 15th Street, it’s no coincidence. Anatolia owner Max Baikal worked in Albany alongside Ali Baba owner Huseyin Cakal a few years ago, and Cakal urged his friend to start his own place.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Seeing Red

What Are You Axing? Dept.: My review of last weeks’s horribly underattended recital by violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn and pianist Barbara Podgurski.

                                                                              
   

THOSE WHO EXPECTED to be awed by the legendary Red Violin learned an important lesson last week. Elizabeth Pitcairn, who owns and plays that particular Strad, gave a recital at SUNYA Performing Arts Center, under the aegis of Renaissance Musical Arts, proving (as if it needed more proving) that it’s the performer, not the fiddle, that makes the magic.

Elizabeth Pitcairn
Still, it’s a great marketing hook – or should be. Albany responded with its usual high-culture yawn as its already dangerously low brow crept even closer to its nose. Which was a shame, because some worthy magic was made.

The performers kicked off with one of Fritz Kreisler’s tuneful salon pieces, the Preludium and Allegro. It’s a perfect piece for the opening slot, its stately first section suggesting pomp and nobility before it sails into an increasingly fingerbusting set of variations. It also served to assure us that Pitcairn had the chops to take on the challenging works to follow. If it gave pianist Barbara Podgurski not much to do, as is typically the case with such showpieces, no matter: her moments were about to come.

Mozart’s Sonata No. 15 (or 32, or 40, depending on which crazy numbering system you favor) in B-flat, K. 454, has a more sweeping, symphonic feel than its brethren, and celebrates a partnership between the instrumentalists that grew throughout the preceding 14 (or 31, or 39).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Burden of Humor

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let’s see what the Sage of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken, had to say on the topic.

                                                                                 

WHAT IS THE ORIGIN of the prejudice against humor? Why is it so dangerous, if you would keep the public confidence, to make the public laugh? Is it because humor and sound sense are essentially antagonistic? Has humanity found by experience that the man who sees the fun of life is unfitted to deal sanely with its problems? I think not. No man had more of the comic spirit in him than William Shakespeare, and yet his serious reflections, by the sheer force of their sublime obviousness, have pushed their way into the race's arsenal of immortal platitudes.

H. L. Mencken
So, too, with Aesop, and with Balzac, and with Dickens, to come down the scale. All of these men were fundamentally humorists, and yet all of them achieved what the race has come to accept as a penetrating sagacity. Contrariwise, many a haloed pundit has had his occasional guffaw. Lincoln, had there been no Civil War, might have survived in history chiefly as the father of the American smutty story—the only original art-form that America has yet contributed to literature.

Huxley, had he not been the greatest intellectual duellist of his age, might have been its greatest satirist. Bismarck, pursuing the gruesome trade of politics, concealed the devastating wit of a Molière; his surviving epigrams are truly stupendous. And Beethoven, after soaring to the heights of tragedy in the first movement of the Fifth Symphony, turned to the sardonic bull-fiddling of the scherzo.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Orpheus of Troy

Well-Noted Dept.: What, you may ask, was a Capital Region cultural highlight five years ago around this time of year? I’m happy to share my impressions of an event I found noteworthy.

                                                                                             

TROY CHROMATIC CONCERTS kicked off its 112th concert-presenting season – its 90th in the Troy Music Hall – with as elegant and feisty an orchestra as they’re likely to present. And the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra repaid the favor by presenting a something-for-everyone program that teased and toyed with its superannuated audience before finishing with a socko soloist triumphing in a barnstorming piece of musical fluff.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet | Photo by Hilary Scott
Orpheus performs without a conductor; the musicians listen to one another, look at one another – the sense of communion is easy to see and especially easy to hear. So even a tried-and-true piece like Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 came to far more vivid life than might be expected. Every hairpin of crescendo and diminuendo added unexpected luster, and it’s only unexpected because the modern classical orchestra isn’t too often inclined to take even the easy risk of accentuating the dynamics.

The Haydn also fit a theme of the evening: Each of the four works was masquerading as something else. This work masquerades as a classical symphony even as it slyly breaks the rules. All of the expected elements are there, but, as was so characteristic of this composer, they don’t always play out as expected.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Family Benchemark

From the Vault Dept.: Like any freelancer, I’ve done more than my share of work to order. Writing for the short-lived Capital Region magazine in the late 1980s gave me a chance to flex some straightforward reporting wings, although it was always under the threat of some of the most insanely unpredictable editing I’ve ever endured. This was written for a cover story about fathers and sons – seven portraits of area legacies. I was asked for a much longer piece. Here’s what resulted. I’m happy to note, by the way, that Benchemark continues to thrive under the direction of the two Bobs, and Brian Kosineski also has joined the team.

                                                                               

BOB KOSINESKI – Bob K to his clients – wears a hundred-candlepower grin as he discusses his business “When I decided to buy Benchemark as a printing operation two years ago, I was faced with the problem of getting good people to help me.”

Photo by Mark McCarty
He sits at one of two large desks in the office of his Schenectady shop. At the other is a younger man with a grin so similar it might have been run off one of the Benchemark presses.

“He said he'd buy it only if I came to work for him,” the younger man says. This is Bob Jr., the boss’s son. “Or J. R., or just Junior,” he explains. “I graduated from Buffalo State with a degree in biochemistry. I’ve certainly put it to good use here.” He takes a beat, and gives a deadpan nod at his dad. “I mixed five pounds of inks once for a special color we needed.”

The combination of father and son in the front office has been financially salutary: their first year together brought in $1.2 million in sales and this year is expected to top $2 million.

“We’ve got two different styles,” Bob Sr. says. “My son has a dry sense of humor and his own way of handling customers. Everyone we deal with seems to like either him or myself. But the best part about it is that were both enjoying the job.”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Super-Size Brunch

From the Fridge Dept.: Sometimes hotel restaurants get the fine-dining thing right, but they need a regular clientele that supports it. Others have hit-and-miss success, constantly experimenting, usually settling for a fairly mainstream continental experience. The Albany Hilton used to have a fine-dining venue called Truffles (it’s now named Charter) that put on a very nice dinner. The brunch I sampled back in 1987, however, was a different story . . .

                                                                                      

THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE the year in which a plague of locusts (cicadas) descends. We had a foretaste of that last Sunday at the Hilton.

What proclaims itself the area’s most elegant brunch makes the proclamation with the best intentions. Truffles is an elegant-looking restaurant with a good reputation.

Photo: Shutterstock
But the elegant Sunday brunch is as mythical as a morning coat: we suspect they once existed, but you just can’t be sure. When I was a snooty waiter a decade and a half ago it happened much too often that I poured complimentary brunch champagne for endomorphs in yellow slacks.

As it was, Susan and I stood in line at Truffles behind a flock of porcine gents in polo shirts, each with one change-jingling hand in a pocket.

“It looks like a rough day at the brunch buffet,” Susan murmured as we were led past the banquet table. What must have started out as a stately row of gleaming chafing dishes was now a cockeyed, soiled mess. Two or three cooks in paper toques tried grimly to keep after the table, but there was no stopping the onslaught.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Enchanted Evening

From the Boards Dept.: I’m not much of a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan. I have trouble getting past the huge gobs of sentiment that tend to slather the stage. But I am in awe of the craftsmanship of their better shows, and, when the revival tour of “South Pacific” hit Proctors in Schenectady three years ago, I wrote about an excellent example of that.

                                                                      
        

Nine years after South Pacific’s Broadway debut came the movie, guaranteeing “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” would gain still more radio play—years and years of it, in fact, because in the 1950s, Broadway still fed the pop-song charts.

Matthew Saldivar and sailors.
Photo by Peter Coombs
Thus it was that these songs—not to mention “Bali Ha’i,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “This Nearly Was Mine” and “Younger Than Springtime”—were drummed into my young ears during my first decade of life, songs I never set out to learn but still, to a large extent, know by heart. Like so much to do with early childhood, they’re vaguely annoying.

That may explain why, until last week, I’ve had no exposure to the show from which they come. Director Bartlett Sher’s 2008 Broadway revival won so much acclaim—and seven Tony awards—that it quickly spawned a national tour. This is what landed at Proctors last week, and it was an impressively satisfying piece of work.

Drawing material from three of the short stories in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, it centers on two unlikely romances played against the backdrop of a Seabee-occupied Pacific island in World War II. Characterizations are drawn in quick, bold strokes; the array of memorable songs does the rest of the work.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jazz Capsule

From the Vault Dept.: Albany’s small but fanatical jazz scene has boasted a similarly small number of stars over the years, and five of the best-known were brought together for a 1987 concert (my review is below). Most of the performers are still working; Fats Jefferson died early in 1988; Nick Brignola in 2002. You can find Lee Shaw’s schedule here; here’s Skip Parsons and here you’ll find Doc Scanlon.

                                                                                         

YESTERDAY’S SALUTE to area jazz artists, an afternoon “Jazz Fest” at the Palace Theater in Albany, couldn’t have occured on a  more beautiful day. Which probably explains why the cavernous hall was so empty.

Lee Shaw and Nick Brignola in the 1990s
Photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk
But, for the hardy folk who sat throughout the four-hour affair, it was a display of a lot of talent and very little planning.

The Palace would be my last choice for a jazz concert. It’s too large, too impersonal; better to pack an audience in a small house and achieve the sense of unity the artists need. Pianist Lee Shaw, peering out over the throng, put in a futile request that we all sit together.

At the heart of the proceedings was a tribute to Fats Jefferson, the Albany-based entertainer almost as old as this century, still cooking like a house on fire. He’s what Bobby Short would term a “saloon pianist,” giving an Earl Hines-ish punchiness to the standards which he also sings in a voice that proves that style can be everything.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Pot of Gold? Pot of Coffee!

At least, it was a pot of coffee I'd just finished at Albany's Uncommon Grounds when I stepped into the post-storm parking lot and beheld this sight. (Cellphone composite.)

7 October 2013 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson

Monday, October 07, 2013

My Wife Is on an Diet

Guest Blogger: Eddie Cantor. And let's enjoy Mr. Cantor's explanation as to why he was caught committing a traffic infraction. Song (from 1929) by Charles Tobias and George J. Bennett.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Time, You Trickster

What was supposed to be a four-hour job yesterday blossomed into a seven-hour marathon, eating into the prep time for today, which began wickedly early and dumped me in the car for several hours with stops both in New York and New England, leading me to a place where I’m not sure if it’s still Sunday, although it seems as if the day has expanded to take over the hours surrendered yesterday to a job I won’t finish until I’m home late on (what’s theoretically, at least) Monday, unless that slops over into Tuesday.

Which is why I won’t be catching up with you, faithful reader, until tomorrow, at the earliest.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Friday, October 04, 2013

The Perlman Touch

From the Classical Archives Dept.: It’s always a good time to celebrate Itzhak Perlman, so let’s visit a concert he gave at Proctors in Schenectady back in 2004. Here’s my review:

                                                                                          

WHAT MY BE MOST AMAZING about Itzhak Perlman’s performance presence is that he’s able to convey to each member of the audience – if I may speak for the 2700-some who filled Proctor’s Theatre for a recital last week – a sense of living-room intimacy. His sound doesn’t come across as unusually big; it doesn’t seem overly intense. But it engages you in a conversation more compelling than what you’d get from any recording.

Itzhak Perlman and Rohad DeSilver
Photo by David Bazemore
The program was simple: sonatas by Bach, Beethoven and Poulenc, but drawn from a neglected edge of the repertory. The Bach sonata was not one of the more commonly performed solo works but the sixth for violin and continuo, a piece written and revised during the 1720s and existing in three forms. Its usual configuration is a five-movement work that includes a solo allegro for the keyboard.

Perlman and pianist Rohan DeSilva adopted a convincing middle ground between purist Baroque technique and a full-out Romantic approach. Perlman’s tone was lean but warm, true to the spirit of Bach but light on ornamentation. In the hands of an accomplished player like DeSilva, there’s no argument about the appropriateness of the piano to a work like this one. Rooted in the style of the trio sonata, it calls upon the pianist to do the work of two. 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

“Q.” A Psychic Pstory of the Psupernatural

Guest Blogger Dept.: Here’s a cheerful chapter from Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock. The Canadian writer and professor was one of Groucho Marx’s favorites; he also was known for insightful political theory, which this aphorism only barely reflects: ““The proper punishment for the Hohenzollerns, and the Hapsburgs, and the Mecklenburgs, and the Muckendorfs, and all such puppets and princelings, is that they should be made to work; and not made to work in the glittering and glorious sense, as generals and chiefs of staff, and legislators, and land-barons, but in the plain and humble part of labourers looking for a job.”

                                                                                                 

I CANNOT EXPECT that any of my readers will believe the story which I am about to narrate. Looking back upon it, I scarcely believe it myself. Yet my narrative is so extraordinary and throws such light upon the nature of our communications with beings of another world, that I feel I am not entitled to withhold it from the public.

Stephen Leacock
I had gone over to visit Annerly at his rooms. It was Saturday, October 31. I remember the date so precisely because it was my pay day, and I had received six sovereigns and ten shillings. I remembered the sum so exactly because I had put the money into my pocket, and I remember into which pocket I had put it because I had no money in any other pocket. My mind is perfectly clear on all these points.

Annerly and I sat smoking for some time.

Then quite suddenly—

“Do you believe in the supernatural?” he asked.

I started as if I had been struck.

At the moment when Annerly spoke of the supernatural I had been thinking of something entirely different. The fact that he should speak of it at the very instant when I was thinking of something else, struck me as at least a very singular coincidence.

For a moment I could only stare.

“What I mean is,” said Annerly, “do you believe in phantasms of the dead?”

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Capriccio Ensemble

Historical Performances Dept.: When I moved to Schenectady in 1980 to work for WMHT-FM, among my very first callers was violinist Natalie Kriegler, with news of an upcoming concert. She soon enough migrated to Manhattan, and founded the Capriccio Ensemble, which is still going strong. Here’s my review of a 1987 performance in her natal city.

                                                                                 

THE CAPRICCIO ENSEMBLE made its Schenectady debut yesterday afternoon at the Trinity United Methodist Church with a program intended for the group's regular playing area, greater Manhattan. With any luck, we should get their previews regularly.

Violinist Natalie Kriegler, a former Schenectady resident, founded the group three years ago for chamber music performance, and has been working the small clubs and private parties route in and out of the New York City area. With the ambition of moving into a more formal format, yesterday's concert featured three contrasting Baroque works, showing Kriegler as soloist and ensemble player.

Telemann's Quartet in D Major is taken from the #Parisian" Quartets of the early 18th century. The instrumentation added flutist Amy Kriegler (joining her sister in the group), cellist Page Smith Weaver and harpsichordist Jocelyn Stewart.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Love Him

Ray of Sunshine Dept.: What a fractious day! People around me in the coffee shop bitching about the government shutdown, pointing empty fingers in all directions ... let's find the love in our hearts. Here's a lyric of mine to help.

                                                                                  

Love him.
It’s easy, lady, love him.
Behave yourself and love him,
Ignore your foolish pride.

Just love him
Don’t let yourself complain
Of words he lets remain
Unsaid inside.

Love’s a way of speaking,
Spoken ev’rywhere.
How do I begin
Learning what’s within
And learning what to share?


If only
He’d make another call;
Tell me where to start
Looking for his heart,
Breaking through the wall!