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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

It’s the Berries

From the Fields Dept.: Six years ago, I wrote the following piece to celebrate this very time of year. I don’t know if the berry patches cited below will be offering their wares this year, but it’s worth a try.


WE CELEBRATED MAY with asparagus, a rewarding if altruistic passion. June lets us let ourselves go with that compact, unspeakably delicious indulgence, the strawberry. And it’s not even that indulgent. In its unsullied state, it’s low in calories and high in protein, potassium, fiber and vitamin C. And its sweetness comes naturally, provided you don’t dump refined sugar over the thing.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
And why should you? Because we’ve been supermarket-trained to accept the mealy, tasteless berries of mass production – semi-ripe berries that demand sweetening. Not so in June. According to a Cornell study published in 2000, New York ranked seventh in the country for strawberry cultivation, harvesting from about 1,600 acres to produce a crop valued at nearly $8.3 million.

Strawberry plants, which are a member of the rose family, are short-lived, good for about three years, and the constant replanting makes it a labor-intensive crop. It’s very dependant on weather conditions, and some of the growers I spoke with this week fared poorly enough to have nothing to offer.

The most popular plants grown in this area are hybrids, bred, not surprisingly, for berries that are plump and sweet. It takes about thirty days for the plants to go from flowers to ripened fruit, with a two- to three-week harvest period following.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Playing Shakespeare

Lily Whiteman recently made it to the top ten of the English Speaking Union's National Shakespeare Monologue competition. Here's her performance video, where she gives you ... but let's let her introduce it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gardening Notes

Guest Blogger Dept.: We turn again to Robert Benchley for sage advice, this time on how best to cultivate – or ignore – that patch of green efflorescing outside.


DURING THE PAST MONTH almost every paper, with the exception of the agricultural journals, has installed an agricultural department, containing short articles by Lord Northcliffe, or some one else in the office who had an unoccupied typewriter, telling the American citizen how to start and hold the interest of a small garden. The seed catalogue has become the catechism of the patriot, and, if you don't like to read the brusk, prosy directions on planting as given there, you may find the same thing done in verse in your favorite poetry magazine, or a special department in The Plumbing Age under the heading “The Plumber's Garden: How and When to Plant.”

Drawing by Gluyas Williams
But all of these editorial suggestions appear to be conducted by professionals for the benefit of the layman, which seems to me to be a rather one-sided way of going about the thing. Obviously the suggestions should come from a layman himself, in the nature of warnings to others.

I am qualified to put forth such an article because of two weeks’ service in my own back yard, doing my bit for Peter Henderson and planting all sorts of things in the ground without the slightest expectation of ever seeing anything of any of them again. If, by any chance, a sprout should show itself, unmistakably the result of one of my plantings, I would be willing to be quoted as saying that Nature is wonderful. In fact, I would take it as a personal favor, and would feel that anything that I might do in the future for Nature would be little enough in return for the special work she went to all the trouble of doing for me. But all of this is on condition that something of mine grows into manhood. Otherwise, Nature can go her way and I go mine, just as we have gone up till now.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Spring Harmony

Living Memory Dept.: Let’s memorialize an event that happened many years ago, yet which offers reassuring continuity. The River Valley Chorus is a distaff close-harmony singing ensemble that’s a chapter of Sweet Adelines, now international. The group’s website doesn’t reveal the ensemble’s age, but they’re still going strong – and the rehearsals to which you’re invited now take place at 7 PM Tuesdays at the Carman Fire Department, 2435 Hamburg Street,  Rotterdam, NY.


THERE IS A CLOSE-HARMONY STYLE so distinctively American that any cliché image of the turn of the century includes a barbershop quartet. Men, of course, with large mustaches, singing of the women idealized in the old Life magazine or, more rudely, on the Police Gazette.

The singing style may have started
with men, but women have long
since invaded the barbershop.
But women have proved the vocal equal of men in the close harmony field, and the national association of Sweet Adelines has promoted clubs just as enthusiastic as that men’s group, the one with all the initials.

The River Valley Chorus celebrated these traditions with a concert titled “A Touch of Memory” at the Egg Saturday evening, which, at its best, was a terrific show of showmanship. Or showwomanship.

For the opening, a Hollywood theme. Silver jumpsuits and sky-blue blouses, with even a few well-coordinated dance steps for something of a Busby Berkeley feel.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

In This Corner

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s review was a fortuitous discovery, especially as Susan and I had visited a place the day before where the grilled sandwich she was served must have been dipped in used motor oil before hitting the stove. I decided it wasn’t worth writing about. But this place is.


JOE PERNICIARO HAD A PIZZERIA going in Watervliet. He’d been in the business since he got out of high school, starting at Jimmy’s Pizzeria in Troy and working his way to manager of a place in Cohoes. But the Watervliet operation was his own, and he was pleased when Charles Morton came in one day and asked for a favor: Could Joe make a batch of sauce for a church function?

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Morton had founded Papa’s Corner Restaurant, on the other side of the Arsenal, in 1976, and still had a very successful business there. But he, too, had started with a pizzeria—in the very building where Joe was serving up pies. “Maybe some day you’ll buy me out,” he told Joe.

That day came two years ago. “He came in—we’d become friends by then—and said he was ready to retire. So my wife and I bought the place.” Morton is still around, “still able to give me advice,” says Joe. “He created everything you see here. I just try to do right by it all.”

Papa’s Corner is located toward the south end of the city, where Broadway crosses 13th Street. It has the feel of a neighborhood Italian restaurant that pulls you into the family as soon as you settle in for what’s going to be a reliably good meal. It’s the kind of place that causes me to complain, in anticipation, that I have nothing left to say about such joints, and which rewards me not only with a solid meal but also a story like Joe’s.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Summer Place

From the Vault Dept.: Summer in New York’s Capital Region means it’s time for an al fresco meal at Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia. I’ve written about the place a few times during my reviewing career, and have visited often. Too often, I fear, but the experience is irresistible. Here’s the first piece I wrote about the place, from 1987, when the column was new and we couldn't afford to pay for meals. The McDonald’s mentioned as being across the street long since went under.


“AS A FORMER LIFEGUARD at Collins Park,” said Drew, sighting down the barrel of his camera, ''I can tell you this was always a jumpin’ spot for young ladies out sunbathing.”

Springtime in Scotia is marked, as it has been during the lifetime of all baby-boomers, by the opening of Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In, just across the Western Gateway Bridge from Schenectady. This Metroland visit was announced, sure; but what difference does that make? Jumpin’ Jack’s is consistent – they serve a limited menu quickly and with a style all their own.

The architecture is an anachronism, but it has gone from being merely dated to acquiring that special dignity of the archetype: there’s not another drive-in with the same sense of the early ‘60s in the Capital Region. In California, where such items are treasured like the artifacts of an archeological dig, you probably could sell the place for a fortune.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Some Old New Music

Back in the Day Dept.: As summer hints at its arrival, the summer music festivals are gearing up. Many years ago, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual Saratoga Performing Arts Center residency included new works and a composer-in-residence. Although Yo Yo Ma will return to SPAC this summer, he’ll be playing music by Tchaikovsky. The only new work on the schedule is Tan Dun’s “Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women,” which conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin insisted on performing. But here’s an old piece of mine about how it used to be.


NEW MUSIC – THE STUFF THAT GETS LITTLE RADIO PLAY, sells few recordings and turns up only sparingly in the concert hall – once found a haven in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer season in Saratoga. It was a welcome break from all that Brahms and Tchaikovsky, but it wasn’t what the summer audience was happy to hear. Since the advent of conductor Charles Dutoit’s August residency, going on ten years, the programming has grown much safer, with the new-music responsibility (and it is a responsibility, a vital one) shunted over to the Chamber Music Festival, in which a mix of old and new has attracted enough of an audience to sell out concerts in the smaller Spa Little Theatre venue.
Richard Danielpour
Photo by Mike Minehan

This year’s Chamber Music Festival composer-in-residence is Richard Danielpour, whose music also was featured during the Philadelphia Orchestra’s opening performance two Wednesdays ago. Yo-Yo Ma was soloist in the composer’s Cello Concerto, which took up most of the first part of the program and proved that new music – and this is a particularly recent piece – needn’t be overly scary.

It helped, too, that Ma introduced the piece with some spoken comments, talking about his ten-year association with the composer (they met in Saratoga) and briefly describing the program of the work. “It’s about the life of a prophet,” he explained. “The bad news is, the prophet gets killed. But it’s in an okay way.” Too lighthearted a patter? I don’t think so: it certainly made the piece much more accessible.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Baltimore Consorting

From the Vault Dept.: Because they liked the program notes I’d been writing for other Dorian Recordings artists, the Baltimore Consort asked me to pen a feature about them that Early Music America Magazine wanted to run. This was in mid 1999. I researched the group and conducted interviews and wrote the piece you see below. When the magazine came out, I was shocked to see that the piece had been substantially rewritten without ever consulting me, which is fantastically unprofessional. It turns out that Mary Ann Ballard, a consort member and ostensible leader at the time, took exception to my portrayal of the group relaxing over beers and did the hatchet job on the piece. Here’s the original.


A MAN SITS ALONE in a hotel room in Troy, New York. Beside him is a digital audio tape deck and a stack of tapes. He is in the third day of listening, listening to each recorded segment of sessions held during the past few days. His job is to hone the result into an hour-long recording. He’s the take-picker, a newfangled word that has an old-fashioned sound about it, much as the Baltimore Consort brings a new sound to old music.

The Consort’s latest CD, “The Mad Buckgoat,” is a collection of Irish songs and dances, taped in a week’s time leading into last Memorial Day weekend at the historic, acoustically wonderful Troy Music Hall. Five of the six ensemble members have now left the city to enjoy what’s left of the holiday, but lutenist Ronn McFarlane remains behind to select the musical moments that will comprise the recording.

“I’m putting together the first edit, actually,” he says. “The choices I put together are copied onto recordable CDs so that everyone in the group can listen and give input. Then the second edit is usually the one that’s released.” The exception to this procedure is that soprano Custer LaRue will do some of the take-picking for the Gaelic songs she sings on this recording.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bistro! Bistro!

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s Metroland restaurant review takes us to that always-tricky type of location – the strip mall – for a very pleasant surprise.


LET’S START (as we wish we always could) with the chocolate mousse. It’s one of Garden Bistro 24?s homemade desserts, and as such deserves our suspicion. When it’s not homemade it deserves more suspicion, of course, but in that case it’s never worth ordering. Good chocolate mousse has a short life because it’s based on captured air, and not only deflates over time but also absorbs refrigerator aromas. It can be stiffened with gelatin, but then you’re turning it into pie filling. Ideally, it’s leavened with air whipped into heavy cream and in egg whites. The art, as with so many things, lies in stiffness and proportion. In this case, the blend was superb and the flavor was dramatic in its simplicity.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The nearly four-year-old restaurant lurks in a Central Avenue strip mall, a setup I’m liking more and more as parking is thus made simple. Inside, the lighting and room design work together to create a pleasing atmosphere, made the more inviting by a pleasant staff.

Chef-owner John Grizzaffi opened the place shortly after he graduated from the Culinary Institute downriver. Although a Dutchess County native who has put in time working in New York City, he was drawn to the area because his then-girlfriend (now wife) was attending the College of St. Rose and he liked the small-town feel of the city.

“People call it Smallbany,” he says. “I don’t see it that way at all.”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Come You, My Lord?

Lily Whiteman at the ESU's National Shakespeare
Monologue Competition at Lincoln Center
5 May 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Day in the Life

Prokofiev Dept.: Day 2, following up on yesterday’s post – this time, two all-day affairs at the Bard Summerscape festival (which, as I write this, is planning a Schubert-centric program in the coming weeks.)


DURING THE COURSE OF Sergei Eisenstein’s agitprop movie “Alexander Nevsky,” 13th-century Russian troops battle their German enemies in impressive scenes of carnage cut to a rousing Prokofiev score. It was disturbing to emerge from a showing of this movie two Saturdays ago to discover that the Russians had just invaded Georgia.

Twenty-eight years ago, when I selected and announced classical music at a local radio station, Russia ramped up its occupation of Afghanistan. The U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics; locally, calls and letters came to the radio station protesting the broadcast of music by Russian composers. Airing Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata to the Capital Region would have done – what? Encourage the Soviet army to push on into Pakistan? The stupidity never ends. The music transcends it.

After exploring a career in the United States, France and Germany, Sergei Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union in 1935. He slipped away in 1918 in the wake of the Revolution; he returned just in time to fall victim to Stalin’s new, oppressive policies towards artists.

Although composers like Strauss and Wagner have enjoyed a philosophical rejuvenation despite their Nazi party associations, Prokofiev never seems to have fully come out from behind the cloud of suspicion that he willfully altered his composing style to satisfy Soviet demands. Of course, Commies had a long run once they replaced Nazis as our enemies du jour.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Make Way for “Duckling”

Prokofiev Dept.: Here’s the first of two Prokofiev-centric pieces I wrote in review of concerts of his music. Harlow Robinson, who has written an excellent biography of the composer as well as a collection of his marvelous letters, attended both events – and, years earlier, was a guest on my WMHT radio show. My Prokofiev obsession goes back even farther.


ALTHOUGH IT WAS A SERIES of early works by Sergei Prokofiev comprising the program of Saturday night's concert at the Albany State University Performing Arts Center, a soft-spoken scholar nearly stole the show.

Sergei Prokofiev
Dr. Harlow Robinson just published his critically-acclaimed biography of the Russian composer, and this was one of two concerts scheduled in celebration of the event. 

Each selection was introduced by Robinson, often with an excerpt from his book, giving us a very well-rounded portrait of the composer as a brash young man.

Robinson acknowledged the fact that Prokofiev had a relatively skimpy output of songs while introducing two wonderful settings: first was a group of poems by his contemporary, Anna Akhmatova; second a version of the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling.”

Soprano Anne Turner and pianist William Jones collaborated in thoroughly enjoyable performances. The Akhmatova poems (read for us in the original Russian by Robinson, who is a professor of Slavic languages) are lean and musically very faithful to the texts. The “Ugly Duckling,” evidently near to the composer’s heart, demonstrated a charm similar to “Peter and the Wolf” in a voice more harmonically complicated. And the latter was enhanced by Turner’s carefully theatrical presentation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shifting Fashions

Guest Blogger Dept.: Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel The Magnificent Ambersons traced the post-bellum decline of a grand old Indiana family even as technology – in particular, the automobile – was changing the landscape and society. The book won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize and inspired three film versions, most notably the one by Orson Welles. Here, from the novel’s opening pages, is a look at the changing fashions of late-19th-century Indiana.


IN THAT TOWN, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet, and when there was a new purchase of sealskin, sick people were got to windows to see it go by. Trotters were out, in the winter afternoons, racing light sleighs on National Avenue and Tennessee Street; everybody recognized both the trotters and the drivers; and again knew them as well on summer evenings, when slim buggies whizzed by in renewals of the snow-time rivalry. For that matter, everybody knew everybody else's family horse-and-carriage, could identify such a silhouette half a mile down the street, and thereby was sure who was going to market, or to a reception, or coming home from office or store to noon dinner or evening supper.

During the earlier years of this period, elegance of personal appearance was believed to rest more upon the texture of garments than upon their shaping. A silk dress needed no remodelling when it was a year or so old; it remained distinguished by merely remaining silk. Old men and governors wore broadcloth; “full dress” was broadcloth with “doeskin” trousers; and there were seen men of all ages to whom a hat meant only that rigid, tall silk thing known to impudence as a “stove-pipe.” In town and country these men would wear no other hat, and, without self-consciousness, they went rowing in such hats.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Back-Room Bach

Matt Haimovitz Dept: We haven’t seen as much of the peripatetic cellist since he began teaching in Montreal a few years ago, but he’s still breaking boundaries, redefining the notion of classical-music performances. Here’s a piece I wrote in advance of his appearance at the similarly innovative Club Helsinki, before it moved from Great Barrington, Mass., to Hudson, NY.


The two major classical-music turn-offs of the present age seem to be the lack of relevance most of the music enjoys and the sterile environs in which it’s typically presented. Cellist Matt Haimovitz, a who won early acclaim as a prodigy, eases into his 30s with an antidote to both of those problems: Get it out of the stuffy concert hall and the music will speak for itself.

Matt Haimovitz | Photo by Harry DiOrio
This Wednesday (Aug. 21) he begins his latest Listening Room Tour at Great Barrington’s Club Helsinki (284 Main St.), where his 8:30 PM program features the first three (of six) suites for solo cello by Bach.

Quite a switch for an artist whose previous Berkshires gigs have been at Tanglewood.

Haimovitz studied with legendary cellist Leonard Rose, whom he replaced at short notice to play the Schubert String Quintet in C Major at Carnegie Hall (with no less a contingent than Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostropovich, Shlomo Mintz, and Pinchas Zukerman) – and this was when Haimovitz was 13! He has gone on to perform and record with the major orchestras for the major labels, but always with a sense of the grass-roots nature of musical communication tugging at him.

A champion of contemporary works, he has performed and recorded much of the 20th-century cello literature. But the Bach suites are a bulwark of the cello literature, and Haimowitz decided to champion not only the works themselves but also their accessibility by distributing his indie-label recording of them in unusual retail venues (the recording has been nominated for an Indie Award by the Association for Independent Music and won a Just Plain Folks Award for Best Classical Recording of 2001) and performing them in places where you’d otherwise expect to hear blues and folk and the like.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Journey into the Past

What’s Playing? Dept.: The world of American song opened for me when I was a teenager. I discovered the work of Cole Porter, and from there headed back in time to Moore’s Irish Melodies, this country’s best-selling songbook in the 18th century, on up through Stephen Foster, minstrelsy, light opera and the birth of Broadway and back to Porter and his confrères. I kind of missed what was on the radio at the time, but a concert like the one I reviewed below is meat and potatoes for me.


IN PREVIOUS CENTURIES, popular and classical music in America tried to ignore one another, but significant composers explored and encouraged an overlap. Such was the case with Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a piano virtuoso who thrived in the 19th century. His short solo work “The Banjo” remains about the only record of what that instrument sounded like in those days, even as it taxes the pianist with Lisztian fingerbusting challenges.

Lincoln Mayorga and Sheri Bauer-Mayorga
Pianist Lincoln Mayorga is another who straddles the classical and popular to a point that obscures any notion of boundary. He made “The Banjo” sound easier than it should, although the amount of travel his left hand achieved in no time at all was dizzying to witness.

He’s married to Sheri Bauer-Mayorga, a singer with a refreshing lack of pretense who places herself in the service of the material she sings. That she also created this wide-ranging program means that she knows what’s behind the words of those songs.

She started right off with a tribute to Lincoln in Irving Berlin’s early-in-his-career “I Love a Piano,” easily construed as applying to a different instrument, its playfulness reinforced by Sheri’s easygoing, self-confident manner. She won me with the way she treated a thrice-repeated “o,” shading the syllable’s meaning with each repetition without taking to the cornball extreme I’m too used to hearing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The (Old) New Gadgets of Porn

You Wrote What!? Dept.: Before you stake me to a Presidential bid, allow me to unlock my closet. The skeleton therein – well, I suppose it’s pretty tame stuff. I spent some years, some years back, writing for a number of unsavory magazines as newsstand smut breathed its last. Aside from an excellent editor who remains a good friend, not much from that experience remains current. As you’ll see below. I wrote about computers for D-CUP magazine, trying to help my one-handed readers make the most of the changing technology. Which has completely changed again since then. This is part two of a three-part series; I cannibalized the first part for a Metroland piece you can see here.


BACK IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS when every decent community had a porno theater – and porno movies were shot on film – some titles were released in 3D. This was once hoped to be the salvation of movies in general, as evening television grabbed more and more of the viewing public, so it was only natural that the technique was tried out with X-rated movies. You wore those goofy red lens-blue lens glasses, of course, and were treated to the fuzzy spectacle of arms, legs, and breasts popping out at you.

But nothing topped the payoff, the “money shot,” as it’s fondly known. The leading man, nearing the literal climax of the scene, withdrew, turned, aimed ... and everyone in the theater ducked.

You had a sense of being right there, even if it also meant that you feared you were in the way. Although the comings and goings of porno videos is much more mundane, computers and network technology promise to usher in a new age of interactive smut.

In the previous issue of D-CUP we looked at ways of tailoring an interactive experience to your special preferences. But what hardware – apart from the obvious – will you be using in this pursuit?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Friday, May 09, 2014

Sweet Buggery

Hive and Seek Dept.: A friend who recently visited spotted me and my wife in the back field where the beehives stand, and couldn’t have been more put off by the hats and veils and gloves we were wearing. “You look so goddamn stupid!” he exclaimed. As I describe below, we certainly are not in it for the fashion aesthetics.


UNTIL LAST SUMMER, I hadn’t been bee-stung in 25 years. Last time, it was a wasp in the attic that puffed my thumb to the size of a novelty toy. So I figured I’d better find out how I react to the sting of a honeybee, and I approached the hive in my backyard wearing no protective gear.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Almost immediately, a bee smacked against my shoulder and stung it. I suspect I’d simply gotten into the flight path of a very determined critter, provoking a flash of grumpiness. Honeybees have barbed stingers, so there’s a likelihood of it remaining in your skin, which is then fatal to the bee—one of the true examples of “this is going to hurt me more than it does you.” I carried no epipen or other palliative, reflecting the level of witlessness I’ve brought to my new-found hobby of beekeeping. But the venom proved only momentarily and mildly irritating.

I’d long been contemplating putting in a hive or two. At food-related trade shows I always made a, well, beeline to the honey distributors, who insisted that backyard apiarists are the ones who will keep this much-threatened population alive. I visited my nearby friend Nathan, whose dozens of hives were producing enough honey to pay for the investment and put a little cash in his pocket. And I lived in a household struggling to stay free of refined sugar, which meant we were going through pounds of the amber sweetener.

The cost was daunting. A hive kit can run $300 or more; bees add another $100 to $150, depending on how you obtain them. And this doesn’t begin to approach the cost of ancillary gear—clothing, hive tools, honey extraction gadgets, buckets, bottles, medication and more. Although I was advised that you really should start with at least two hives to shorten the learning curve, last spring I could only put together cash enough for one.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Monuments Man

Art Isn’t Easy Dept.: What I feared would be another police procedural tome turned out to be a fascinating look at international art theft – and the difficulty of its recovery.


IT STARTS CONVENTIONALLY ENOUGH, with undercover FBI agent Robert Wittman, narrator of the book, being Rolls-whisked by mobsters to a boat in a Miami dock, where he’s engineering a dangerous double-cross in order to get at a cache of stolen goods. The stakes are high, the personal risk daunting. The chapter breaks off at the climax. direction. We won’t learn the resolution until the final chapters.

Where this book departs from the standard true-crime saga is in its subject matter – fine art. And not just that: it’s Wittman’s contagious belief in the cultural value of fine art that makes the book compelling. Co-written with Pulitzer Prize finalist John Shiffman, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Priceless is Wittman’s story both of the high-stakes pursuit of stolen treasures and his own eventful life.

The product of a mixed-race marriage, Wittman had a close-up view of intolerance even as he watched the civil rights confrontations of the 1960s unfold. His Japanese mother helped instill his love of fine art; his army-vet father taught him resourcefulness and determination. Impressed by a neighbor who worked for the FBI, Wittman nourished a desire to join the bureau – but he settled into a family business and didn’t pursue that dream until he was 32.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Protean Dracula

Monster Mashup Dept.: Here’s another set of program notes I wrote for the ensemble Proteus 7 when they were making CDs on the Dorian Recordings label. (Others are Bernstein Tribute and Cha-Cha Lounge.) Sessions were at the venerable Troy Music Hall, where I usually spent some time listening to takes and talking to the musicians. And here’s the result.


CREATIVE EXPRESSION NEEDS an outlet. In the case of trumpet wizard Anthony DiLorenzo, this also takes the form of writing and arranging music, painting and drawing, and now as scenarist and composer for ballet. This CD presents the small ensemble version of a suite of highlights for a full-length ballet that draws on Dracula lore.

“The complete piece will be written for full orchestra, and there’s more music tying these scenes together,” says Tony. The piece had its genesis in an overture he wrote a few years ago. “It was an orchestral piece, designed to be something else, but after I finished it I thought, ‘This sounds an awful lot like it could be about Dracula,’ and that’s also when I thought it would make a fantastic ballet. When Dorian suggested that Proteus 7 do a recording for Halloween, everybody said I should finish my Dracula piece.”

He plunged into Dracula study, an intimidating subject that has Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel at its center but spins out back into Romanian history and forward to a glut of books, plays, and movies. Mindful of the importance of the Dracula myth, he concocted a wild, appropriate story with full Grand Guignol effects.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A Schickele Mix

From the Turntable Dept.: Peter Schickele’s public radio program “Schickele Mix” was in its comparative infancy when I wrote the piece below; it would go on to include 169 episodes and a dozen listener-support specials, and would continue to be broadcast long after he stopped recording new episodes. Because of licensing issues, it can’t be reissued, so we’re stuck with replaying whatever we might have happened to record off the air. But here’s a snapshot of what was happening in the Professor’s life twenty-some years ago.


IT’S A MIX THAT DEFIES CATEGORIZATION: you’ll never hear such musical juxtapositions on a mainstream radio show. When Peter Schickele wants to illustrate a musical point, he digs into a seemingly limitless library that can jump from Buxtehude to the Byrds. “Schickele Mix” airs Fridays at 11 AM over WAMC and covers subjects as diverse as the use of bells, songs about unhappiness, canons and rounds, and, not surprisingly, humor in music.

Peter Schickele and Friend | Photo by Peter Schaaf
As discoverer of the music of P.D.Q. Bach, Schickele adopts the pontifical pose of a professor at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, paying tribute, along the way, to his midwestern background – and to his real-life job as professor of music at the Juilliard School in Manhattan in the early 1960s, after a stint there as student. In fact, it was at Juilliard that he put on the first P.D.Q. Bach concerts, celebrating the supposed last and least of the great Johann Sebastian’s sons.

As Schickele has observed on his radio show, it makes sense to parody that which you know and like, and he’s a special fan of the music of Bach and Mozart – the very era P.D.Q. seems to straddle. Otherwise, “I was a Spike Jones freak when I was a kid and knew his records inside out,” Schickele explains, also explaining the chaotic, vaudeville-comedy nature of the P.D.Q. Bach concerts still performed annually at Carnegie Hall. Those early Juilliard concerts were given with no thought of an eventual career, but P.D.Q.’s growing popularity led to a public debut at New York’s Town Hall in 1965.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Sushi Exclusive

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s restaurant review singles out an area sushi restaurant that does the incredible: It features only sushi!


THE PHOTOGRAPHS TELL the early story: young Yoshi Arita standing among the dozens of kitchen staff at Japan’s Hotel Nagoya Castle; an older Yoshi at the Restaurant Nippon in Manhattan’s midtown. And that might have been journey enough had he not been persuaded to leave the city’s craziness behind to work at (the now long-gone) Ginza in Latham.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Sixteen years ago, Yoshi and his wife, Yon, opened their own restaurant in a small strip mall on Route 9 in Latham, just south of Route 155. It’s small and easy to overlook on a street that hurls its promises of commerce at you from every which way, but it’s therefore a welcome retreat. A sanctuary.

Here, Yoshi presents what he does best and does better than most: fresh fish bound to vinegared rice in all the many forms we’ve come to expect from sushi. And that’s all he does, o teriyaki seekers.

As is traditional, you can sit sushi-side, at a narrow counter that gives you the best view of Yoshi at work, or at one of the handful of tables, where you’ll find menus and pencils with which to select your comestibles.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Road to Compatibility Is Paved with Good Intentions, Or, a Bus Named Desire

From the Tech Vault Dept.: This looks like a proposed column for one of the several computer magazines that published my stuff during the early 1990s. As far as I recall, this never made it into print. What a wise editor chose to spare the world, let this blog inflict.


EVEN THE MOST ROTTENLY-SPOILED CHILD can’t achieve the snooty insolence my computer comes up with. You’d think it had to worry about baths and bedtime. Most of the ill-behaved kids I know won’t eat a number of health-giving vegetables and fruits; try to feed my computer a necessary add-in card and it crosses its arms, pouts, and refuses to listen.

The last time this happened I forced it into the car and across town to Uncle Dan’s Compute-o-Rama, the charmless hardware emporium that will some pretty story tell or kiss the place to make it well but not much else. Still, it’s the only game in town.

I was seated on a bench amidst a crowd of fellow-sufferers, my ailing machine propped on my knee, when my eye was arrested by a sparkle of silver. A lanky, snap-brim-hatted fellow with a George Raft sneer was flipping a shiny co-processor chip, leering in my direction.

“The dingus is sick?” he said, his voice mulched with irony.

“Bad board,” I replied. “Don’t know why it happened.”

Friday, May 02, 2014

Viande fumée

From the Smokehouse Dept.: As barbecue season nears – and I promise you, it’s nearing – here’s a look at how our neighbors to the north smoke their meatstuffs.


THE LINE ON THE SIDEWALK outside of Schwartz’s Delicatessen stretched for half a block – peopled two or three abreast. It was five o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. “They line up like this even when it is 25 below,” a man named Bosko tells me.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
He leads me to the front of the line, explaining, to my relief, that take-out orders could be placed in another, much shorter line by the door. This gave me a look at the chaos that is Schwartz’s seating – chaos insofar as each of the dozen-or-so tables was packed, each table was spread with meats and fries and the fries were spread with bright red ribbons of ketchup and the servers slipped deftly through the crowded aisles as conversation roared and the aroma of smoked and pickled everything pervaded all.

The competition among purveyors of Montreal-style smoked meat is dramatic enough to inspire passionate blog partisanship, but nobody seems to question Schwartz’s dominance in the field.

“It’s the best,” says Bosko. “I’ve been coming here since the ’60s. They take the time here to marinate the meat properly. Other places cut corners, and you can taste the difference.” Schwartz’s opened in 1928, and was run for its first 40 years by its unpopular founder, Reuben Schwartz. Curing time for the famous meat is ten days.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

That’s Alvin, Folks!

From the Vault Dept.: Dance isn’t as frequent an area visitor as it was in decades past. I suspect that my reference to the audience size at this 1988 appearance in Schenectady by the Alvin Ailey company was a veiled way of noting that it was still a pitiful turnout. Unlike that sported by the dancers themselves.


WITH THE EXCELLENCE of the reputation the Alvin Ailey American Dance theater enjoys, it’s no wonder there was a larger-than-is-usual-for-dance turnout at Proctor’s Theatre Friday evening. And the company certainly did nothing to disappoint those high expectations. Technically and theatrically, this company is stunning.

"The Lark Ascending," photo by Donald Moss
“American Dance Theater” is a key. The Ailey sensibility goes beyond the strictures even modern dance has imposed upon itself, exploring movement using the tools of the stage director, informing the always-challenging choreography with enlightening wisps of plot and characterization, finding tension and release in the clash of dancer and dancer, and dancer and stage.

“Bad Blood” was a good example. A 1986 work choreographed by Ulysses Dove, it’s a series of vignettes in which sexual tension is played out against a stark backdrop of knotted rope.

Breathtakingly acrobatic, “Bad Blood” features seven dancers in varying combinations of number who approach, examine, and eventually combine with one another on a level as metaphoric as the Laurie Anderson music that accompanies the piece.