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Friday, August 18, 2017

A Night in Ukraine

From the Recent Past Dept.: Here’s the long version of a review of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine that I wrote for The Alt back in February.

                                                                                            

PROKOFIEV, STRAVINSKY, AND SHOSTAKOVICH were the best-known Russian composers of the 20th century, a recognition that probably helped keep the ones who remained in the country alive. Stravinsky moved to Switzerland early on – visiting a summer house in his parents’ native Ukraine while he could – and ended up in Los Angeles by way of Paris. But it was rough sledding for Prokofiev, who quit a self-imposed exile during the 1920s to return to an oppressive regime, and Shostakovich, who never left the country.

Volodymyr Sirenko and members of the
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
Photo: Mykola Swarnyk for New Pathway
Seeing their works performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine gave an extra political frisson to those pieces. According to a pre-concert talk by the orchestra’s conductor laureate, Theodore Kuchar, the orchestra has weathered many decades of political vicissitudes. Its official history goes back to 1918, but even before that it existed in a variety of identities, most colorfully monikered of which may have been as the Imperial Music Society of the Great City of Kiev.

“Most Americans don’t know how lucky they are to have been raised in this country,” said the U.S.-born Kuchar. “The repression in the Soviet Union affected every artist and everything those artists created.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Hospitable Caledonian and the Thankless Viper

Guest Blogger Dept.: Guy Wetmore Carryl is back, with his oh-so-politically incorrect re-telling of an Aesop fable.

                                                                          
         

Guy Wetmore Carryl
A CALEDONIAN PIPER
      Who was walking on the wold
Nearly stepped upon a viper
      Rendered torpid by the cold;
By the sight of her admonished,
      He forbore to plant his boot,
But he showed he was astonished
      By the way he muttered “Hoot!”

Now this simple-minded piper
      Such a kindly nature had
That he lifted up the viper
      And bestowed her in his plaid.
“Though the Scot is stern, at least he
      No unhappy creature spurns,
‘Sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,’”
      Quoth the piper (quoting Burns).

Monday, August 14, 2017

It’s Not Dirty – It’s Art!

From the Smut Vault Dept.: Back in the early ‘90s, I made a decent amount of money writing for porn magazines under a number of different identities. For D-Cup, I was computer columnist Dr. Barry Tetons. What’s most interesting about this 22-year old piece is how fantastically dated what once was up-to-date technology has become!

                                                                                                 

SOME VISITORS ARE OBSESSED with checking medicine cabinets in other people’s houses. You and I look for the porno stash.

Christy Canyon
So it makes sense to look for the stash when you’re wandering around an online service like Compuserve. It’s been around for years, it’s huge, and there are plenty of electronic “rooms” where dirty pictures are hiding.

Keep in mind, though, that Compuserve doesn’t promote smut. If you’re rampaging through the forums calling for big tits, you’re in for the electronic cold shoulder. What’s there is art, of course, and what you’ll find are artistic figure studies. It just happens that some of those figure studies have whopping great bosoms. I’ve found old friends like Alyssa Alps and Christy Canyon, and some who became new friends very quickly.

Compuserve is the largest competitor of America Online, which we toured last month. Because Compuserve is rooted in the dull old days of character-based screens, before the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows made fancy graphics the standard, it took the Compuserve folks a while to put on as good-looking a front end as America Online sports. Now that it’s available, with a program called WinCIM, you can easily browse conferences and download images. Here’s how.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rural Rhapsody

From the Vault Dept.: The several journeys I made back in the ‘80s to enjoy L’Ensemble performances in a Washington County barn contributed to my own move to a rural farm in 1990. Although I sometimes wish I’d taken the plunge and moved to Manhattan, it would be far less restful, even with all this lawn to mow.

                                                                              
                    

JUST AS THEY WERE ABOUT TO PLAY a piano quartet by Dvořák, violinist Barry Finclair noticed that cellist Andre Emilianoff's chair was squeaking – so he grabbed a replacement from against the wall.

Georges Enescu
An audience member in the front row observed that the crickets  outside were kicking up an even louder creak.

“I don't mind hearing the bugs,” said Finclair. “But I don't want to have to hear the chair.”

Which is what a L'Ensemble performance is all about. A very rustic setting in the heart of the Cambridge countryside where Mom Nature adds to the magic of the music.

The opening concert of this season was performed Saturday night and featured a typical L'Ensemble program: slightly eclectic and brilliantly done. When your artistic director is a soprano you can bet you'll hear songs, but Ida Faiella goes on to find worthy but not-often-encountered material, such as Charles Martin Loeffler's “Quatre Poemes,” Op. 5, written in 1904 to texts by Baudelaire and Verlaine.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Art of the Edible

“WE’RE VERY BUSY,” says Claudia Crişan, “and I’m always surprised about it.” Her modesty may be genuine, but there’s no cause for it, as she’s the force behind Crişan Bakery and Edible Art Gallery at 197 Lark Street in Albany. “We don’t do any advertising,” she explains, “so it’s nice that we’re doing so well.”

Claudia Crisan
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Well enough that, just over a year ago, she closed the café portion of the establishment in order to concentrate on the orders that pour in for specialty cakes and pastries. She and her husband, Ignatius Calabria, opened the bakery in 2008, and established the café as a place to enjoy a pastry, gelato, and coffee even while salivating over display cases of their incredible creations.

Actually, the café hasn’t vanished. It moved to the Albany Institute of History and Art, “where it’s similar to what we used to have here. And you’ll find many of our classics there, like the devil’s food cake, the porcelain cake – ” coconut, genoise – “our olive oil cake with lemon,
and a very nice carrot cake, because it was one of my obsessions to create a good carrot cake.”

As for her storefront, “we split the space in two,” she says, “so we have a tiny tasting room in front, and the back, where the cases were, is now highly air-conditioned, which is especially good for the summer.” If you’re in doubt about the cake for your wedding (or whatever function), she’s happy to meet with you in that tasting room to allow you sample your options. “And I love the weddings,” she says, “because it’s such a happy occasion for whoever’s ordering it.”

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Rite Stuff

From the Tech Vault Dept.: As CD-ROMs came into their own (over 20 years ago!), I was thrilled to see those capabilities put to use burrowing deep within some classical-music standards. Beethoven’s Ninth, of course, but then the discs I reviewed below were issued, focusing on a piece of chamber music and a game-changing orchestral warhorse. They were (and remain) great fun to explore.

                                                                                                   

WHAT’S FASCINATING ABOUT A GOOD PIECE OF MUSIC is its longevity. Not only will it stand up to repeated performance over the years, it will also sound fresh after you’ve cycled the CD player into its sixth consecutive session.

With that in mind, and taking advantage of the capacity of a CD-ROM to store both music and text, the Voyager Company recently issued two more titles in its interactive series that began with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Mozart’s “Dissonant” Quartet and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” may never share a concert bill, but taken together they illustrate the diversity of focus this interactive format allows even as each disk pumps reams and reams of information at the interested auditor. Put together by UCLA professor Robert Winter, the accompanying material is impressively free of academic fustiness.

The “Dissonant” Quartet was written in 1785 and published as part of a set of six string quartets--for two violins, viola, and cello  – dedicated to Haydn, who pretty much formalized that instrumental structure. It earned its nickname by its use of unexpected harmonies, a shocking device that has lost much of its bite over the centuries.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Bel Canto, Bella Cantori

WHEN YOUR CAREER PASSION points you towards opera, it must be the arias of Donizetti that inspired you. He perfected bel canto, and, over the course of some 75 operas, offered plenty of compelling material. Works like “Lucia di Lammermoor” and “The Daughter of the Regiment” cemented his reputation, yet, amazingly, “The Siege of Calais,” his 49th opera, had to wait until now to get its American premiere.

Leah Crocetto and Aleks Romano
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
This is happening at The Glimmerglass Festival, where an astonishingly talented ensemble brings to life a torn-from-the-pages-of-history story of a beleaguered city driven to the brink of starvation at the start of the Hundred Years War – and the terrible bargain that could bring salvation.

Unhappy with the version that premiered in Naples in 1836, Donizetti tinkered with the piece, eliminating its ballet and shrinking it from three acts to two, but he never seems to have made peace with it and it dropped out of sight for decades. Glimmerglass Festival music director Joseph Colaneri restored it to its three-act glory (though sans ballet) and conducted the virtuoso orchestra.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Printer’s Error

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome back P.G. Wodehouse – and an example of his light verse, much of which was written for Punch in the early 1900s. This one, I think, dates from the 1950s, when he again was contributing a column to the magazine. The literary organization P.E.N. was founded in 1921, which post-dates that early verse, and I’m guessing that Gerard Hoffnung’s illustration was contemporaneous. I have Americanized the punctuation.

                                                                            
                  

Drawing by Gerard Hoffnung
AS O’ER MY LATEST BOOK I pored,
Enjoying it immensely,
I suddenly exclaimed “Good Lord!”
And gripped the volume tensely.
“Golly!” I cried. I writhed in pain.
“They’ve done it on me once again!”
And furrows creased my brow.
I’d written (which I thought quite good)
“Ruth, ripening into womanhood,
Was now a girl who knocked men flat
And frequently got whistled at,”
And some vile, careless, casual gook
Had spoiled the best thing in the book
By printing “not”
(Yes, “not,” great Scott!)
When I had written “now.”

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Cel Service

From the Vault Dept.: Re-reading this after 26 years, I was astonished to find images from the movies discussed below bubbling up from the depths of my sluggish brain. That has to be a good tribute – or a neglected cerebellum.

                                                                                               

Like its long-running cousin, the International Tournee of Animation, the Animation Celebration offers a startling variety of film styles, none of them featuring live action. But it’s a collection of lighter-hearted fare.

Drawing from Bill Plympton's "Wiseman"
Cartoons from nine countries are on display ranging from traditional single-cel technique to claymation to realistic computer-generated animation. The twenty-five films include a terrific student project (“This is Not Frank’s Planet”) and works from established masters like Bruno Bozzetto (“Mr. Tao”) and Ferenc Cako (“Zeno Reads a Newspaper”).

If the animators have any common thread to their comic vision, it’s an obsession with the human body. What starts out looking like an animated remake of an old Ernie Kovacs television routine in John Schnall’s “Reading Room” turns into a splendid use of anamorphic exaggeration.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Tangle of Roots

From the Recent Past Dept.: Revisiting a highlight of this year’s concertgoing – David Bromberg at the Cohoes Music Hall, with Austin Shaw’s terrific opening set.

                                                                                
              

AMERICAN ROOTS MUSIC, as we now term that ferocious confluence of old, weird songs, has had a longtime exponent in David Bromberg, not only as a guitarist and singer but also as one who has penned many a song with that been-singin’-it-for-years flavor.

Suavek Zaniesienko and David Bromberg in Cohoes
Photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk
“Diamond Lil,” is an example. It dates at least back to Bromberg’s second LP, released in 1972. “Go ahead and drink your whiskey,” it begins. “Run around and stay high all the time. It's your body and your soul – you save yours and I'll save mine,” then going into an enigmatic refrain that chants “A man should never gamble / More than he can stand to lose.”

The sentiment seems both novel and familiar, which is one secret of the power of the blues. Studies of classic blues songs have found lyric elements that attach themselves to song after song, plucked, as it seems, from the blues-tinted air. Thus, you “woke up this morning” in some manner of distress, typically associated with a now-vanished bedmate.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What's in a Name?

From the Vault Dept.: Dipping back into the Metroland archives, I found another of the utility pieces I cranked out so steadily. This is from 1984. Amazing what they let me get away with.

                                                                                                

THE NAME MUST HAVE SOMETHING to do with it. How many guys named Beethoven do you know? You associate it with music, that name, just as Shakespeare is the fellow who wrote those plays. (There was a Bill Shakespeare who played in the Ray Noble Orchestra during the ‘30s, but I’m convinced that he kept the name so he could have fun with phone operators and the like.)

Ruth Laredo
Photo by Christian Steiner
Beethoven’s achievements were so phenomenal that he has been given a godlike status in the classical music world, which in some ways is a shame. You lose sight of the Beethoven who hung around the streets of Vienna; the Beethoven who partied, who hustled concerts, who wrote mash notes to his attractive female students.

His music never will let you down – even his garbage is interesting – so it would be a shame to let snobby canonization of the man drive you away. Here, then, is all you need to know about him – at least to get you started.

He was born in Bonn in 1770. His dad was a musician at the court of a local prince, where young Ludwig got his first gigs as an organist. When he was 17, Beethoven played for Mozart, who was impressed: “Keep an eye on him,” the older composer told whomever it was who writes down such things. “He will make a noise some day.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Notable Notation

From the Computer Vault Dept.: I learned music engraving in the pre-computer days when you needed compass and ruler and an excellent lettering hand. So I was happy to be invited to beta-test a computer-based engraving program, a massive, ambitious beast called Finale. I spent hours going through its tutorial and then throwing different challenges at the program, so I was well placed to write about the program after it was released in 1988. Below is my piece about Finale 1.1, which amusingly compares it to the long-defunct DTP program Ventura Publisher. My review of Finale 2.0 is here. The program has seen many an upgrade since, and there’s information about it here. And Coda Music is now MakeMusic, Inc., in Boulder, Colorado.

                                                                            
                                

FINALE COULD BE TO MUSIC ENGRAVING what Ventura Publisher is to writing. It’s designed for a much more specialized audience, true, but music copyists have a more demanding task even than typesetters.

Screenshot from Version 2.0. It's the earliest
version I could find for a graphic.
And, while Ventura is the program of choice for many desktop publishers, it’s not the only worthy runner in the field. Finale is also one of many available programs, but it happens to pack enough power to satisfy – and delight – many users.

The job of putting notes on paper has rules that require a knowledge of rhythm and harmony along with the mechanics of page design. It’s so specialized and ultimately subjective that there’s an art to effective engraving.

Satisfying the mechanics is easy with Finale – once you’ve gotten the hang of a challenging program. Using its MIDI interface, you can go from keyboard to page pretty quickly and enjoy acceptable output.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cuban Treat

From the Pantry Dept.: Enjoy this recent piece about Carmen’s Café in Troy, NY – but, even better, enjoy a meal there soon. As an update to this piece, Carmen and Jim were just married.

                                                                                          

WHEN CARMEN’S CAFÉ opened in 2005, it had a happy, haphazard look. A diner counter, a handful of tables, arresting artwork on the walls. The Cuban-inspired food was fairly simple, with a pork-and-pickles sandwich, the Cubano, a star of the lunches.

Carmen Gonzalez
Now that counter is made from carved slabs of ailanthus and there is flooring of birch and cherry and cedar, the handiwork of Jim Lewis of Springwood Studios. But only because he insisted.

The restaurant closed abruptly in 2009, after owner Carmen Gonzalez leased it to a chef who wasn’t able to keep up with the business and fled. “Jim and I were on a vacation,” says Carmen. “We came back and found the place closed. I said to Jim, ‘Let’s patch up the place and sell it,’ and he said, ‘No. We’re going to fix it up and make it an amazing place. It took six months to renovate, and we reopened in 2010.”

It looked charming in its original incarnation, “but now it’s really pretty. Jim did the renovations. It was a complete gut. We did the electrical, we did the plumbing – we did everything. We had a hard time getting people back, but we plugged away at it and we made it work.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

Rise Up Singing

WHEN MUSIC DIRECTOR John DeMain conducted “Porgy and Bess” for Houston Grand Opera in 1976, he presented it in a form as close to its operatic original as could be managed, and in doing so helped right a terrible injustice that had been done to the piece. It was the first major production in a quarter-century, and even before then, poor “Porgy” had been tampered with severely.

Justin Austin and Musa Ngqungwana
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The Houston production reminded us that George Gershwin had produced a masterpiece, as deserving of a seat in opera’s pantheon as are his musicals entitled to their esteem in theatrical history. And, despite what Diane Paulus would have us believe with her recent Broadway production, the work is an opera, and was written on opera’s grand canvas with the emotional artillery of aria and recitative.

This is brilliantly proven by the Glimmerglass Festival production – the orchestra conducted, appropriately, masterfully, by DeMain – as a top-notch cast brings Catfish Row to life with a sense of honesty and urgency that reminds us of theater’s power to make the artificial seem all too real.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Gastronomic Guile of Simple Simon

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome back Guy Wetmore Carryl, light versifier extraordinaire, with a selection from Mother Goose for Grown-Ups.
                                                                     

"Now Simon’s taste was most profuse"
Drawing by Peter Newell
Conveniently near to where
    Young Simple Simon dwelt
There was to be a county fair,
    And Simple Simon felt
That to the fair he ought to go
In all his Sunday clothes, and so,
Determined to behold the show,
    He put them on and went.
(One-half his clothes was borrowed and the other half was lent.)

He heard afar the cheerful sound
    Of horns that people blew,
Saw wooden horses swing around
    A circle, two and two,
Beheld balloons arise, and if
He scented with a gentle sniff
The smells of pies, what is the dif-
    Ference to me or you?
(You cannot say my verse is false, because I know it's true.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Raw Story

What a Carve-Up! Dept.: Here’s another restaurant review from my brief stint covering such places for The Alt.

                                                                            


THE TRUE DEATH OF CIVILIZATION began when food handlers in restaurants were forced to wear plastic gloves. There’s no question that the unclean walk among us and occasionally get their mitts on our grub, but this was yet another example of fear outstripping reason, with the consequence that a vital tactile component of professional cooking was proscribed. And it may be no more deeply realized than at the sushi-assembly level.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
A serving of nigiri-sushi is a well-chosen, carefully sized strip of seafood laid across a base of vinegar-piquant rice, and there’s a legend that the finest sushi chefs are able to form that rice so deftly that each and every grain is parallel to its neighbor. How can you do that with gloves on? And I won’t even go into our obsessive de-bacteria-izing of ourselves, except to note that it’s gone too far.

One of the beauties (and there are many) about Unagi Sushi, Troy’s four-month-old, much-needed eatery, is the pristine look of its fish, on display behind the counter at which you’re invited to sit. That right there wins my trust.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hitting the High Notes

KINGSLEY AMIS’S 1976 NOVEL The Alteration imagined a world in which the Reformation never occurred, setting the stage for a boy’s struggle to remain intact as forces within the church seek to maintain his glorious soprano. It was such an obsession, this voice quality, that in the early 18th century there were thousands of boys being thus altered. And in the midst of it all, glorious operas were being written for the best of these singers.

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The voice was needed once the Vatican forbid women from singing in church choirs, a ban that went into effect in the 16th century, and the voice was prized for a clarity of tone combined with the vocal strength such singers developed.

By the early 18th century, the London-based George Frederic Handel was at a peak of fame. His opera output was tremendous, with some 40 such pieces to his name. “Xerxes,” first performed in 1738, featured four high voices in its tale of misplaced love and mistaken identity, the title role intended for one of the soprano castrati the composer worked with.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Whose Land Is It, Anyway?

Woody’n You Dept.: Here’s a review of a recent performance by members of the Albany Symphony, performing a very welcome piece by their friend Michael Daugherty.

                                                                                   

WE WERE TEASED with a snippet of Woody Guthrie singing his anthemic “This Land Is Your Land,” and the concert’s first half finished with composer Michael Daugherty’s instrumental meditation on the song, a tune that he noted had pre-Woody identities as the Baptist hymn “O My Loving Brother” and the Carter Family’s “When the World Is on Fire.” That’s how a folksong evolves, and Daugherty’s variations found a place for fiddle and washboard effects, for a three-quarter-time dance, even for a reprise of a melody from an earlier number.

Michael Daugherty
“This Land Sings” is Daugherty’s multi-movement meditation on Guthrie’s life and legacy, and it received its second-ever performance with members of the Albany Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Alan Miller during last week’s American Music Festival. Although there were plenty of recognizeable elements, Daugherty’s own voice was woven throughout, a reminder that intelligently and skilfully synthesizing surrounding sounds into a more formal setting used to be the job of what’s (insufficiently) termed “classical” music.

In truth, there’s no label that easily fits Daugherty’s creation. He describes it as a radio show – he served as announcer – and that’s a good conceit for the work’s aural theatricality. Biographical snippets introduced each of the 16 selections, and  the opener set the tone for what was to come.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Blowing in the Wind

“WHY DON’T YOU WRITE a piece about all kinds of prostitution – the press, the church, the courts, the arts, the whole system?” This was Bertolt Brecht’s reaction when Marc Blitzstein played for him a song titled “Nickel under the Foot,” a streetwalker’s lament, that Blitzstein had written as part of an unproduced sketch. This was in1936, when the American labor scene was about to undergo its most visible transformation, and Blitzstein was at its artistic center, bringing an awareness of history, a social conscience, and an immense talent to bear upon his ill-fated musical “The Cradle Will Rock.”

John Tibbetts and Scott Purcell
Photo by Gary David Gold
Blitzstein did exactly as Brecht suggested, finishing the piece in five weeks. It was true to its time. It was prescient. At the very end of 1936, workers at the Fisher body plant in Flint, Michigan, staged a sit-down strike that would lead, six weeks later, to the affirmation of the United Auto Workers to bargain for the strikers. It made national headlines.

While occupying the factory, the workers put together their own band and sang songs old and new. One of the new ones, “Sit Down,” is quoted in “The Cradle Will Rock,” along with folksongs like “Go in and out the Window,” the Yale fight song, Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture, and even a Bach chorale. Believing in the power of theater to influence middle-class thinking, Blitzstein fashioned a giddy polemic that tears into capitalist greed with a Depression-era perspective, but in a tuneful, witty way. So appropriate was it for its time that the Federal Works Progress Administration, spooked by right-wing threats, shut it down just before its opening night.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Cinematic Classics

From the Vault Dept.: Speaking of music and movies (as was the case yesterday), here’s a trip down the memory aisle, to one of my earliest pieces for Metroland Magazine.

                                                                                           

IN A SHREWD PROGRAMMING MOVE, the new Crossgates Cinema 10 movie complex opened last weekend with three MGM chestnuts: “Gone With the Wind,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I saw 2001 a decade and a half ago, in its initial distribution, and was very frustrated by its ambiguities; since then, I’ve caught it a few more times, each time persuading me to enjoy it more. Last Sunday I went to see it with an eye (and an ear) toward discovering how director Stanley Kubrick’s inter-planetary vision has stood the test of what time has passed – and I came away most impressed with the endurance of the music he chose.

First of all, it was an ideal setting: “2001" in 70mm stereo is an audio-visual orgy, and Crossgates is equipped to project it as such. As you recall, the movie begins and ends with the first two minutes of Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which inspired it to become the theme song for every half-assed automobile ad and basketball game during the ’70s. Still, it was an inspired choice.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Le Cinema

From the CD Vault Dept.: Here’s my review of a pleasant recording by Gidon Kremer that, as far as I can recall, never ran. So here’s some light of day for it.

                                                                                                

COUNT ON VIOLINIST Gidon Kremer to find a unique theme for a recording. Sure, Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg saluted the movie “Humoresque” on a recent CD, but Kremer manages to fit a virtuoso recital, great music and new works onto a disc that celebrates a fascinating range of movie-related material.

So the mushy, heartwarming “Smile,” written by Charlie Chaplin for the film “Modern Times” jolts into Nino Rota’s more abrasive “Improvviso,” non-film music by Fellini’s favorite composer. Not surprisingly for a Kremer recording there are works by Piazzolla and Shostakovich, but you’ll also find an arrangement of music by Isaak Dunayevsky, the leading Russian film composer of the ‘30s, and Takemitsu’s “Nostalghia,” from the Tarkovsky film.

Giya Kancheli wrote “Ragtime” for a production of “Richard III,” but adapted it for the violinist and renamed it “Rag-GIDON-time,” a bouncy little gem. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Passing of the Orthodox Paradox

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome back Robert Benchley, whose work as a drama critic in the early decades of the last century attuned his gentle eye to such phenomena as he recounts below.

                                                                                           

WHATEVER IRREPARABLE HARM may have been done to Society by the recent epidemic of crook, sex and other dialect plays, one great alleviation has resulted. They have driven up-stage, for the time being, the characters who exist on tea and repartee in “The drawing-room of Sir Arthur Peaversham's town house, Grosvenor Square. Time: late Autumn.”

Drawing by Gluyas Williams
A person in a crook play may have talked underworld patois which no self-respecting criminal would have allowed himself to utter, but he did not sit on a divan and evolve abnormal bons mots with each and every breath. The misguided and misinformed daughter in the Self and Sex Play may have lisped words which only an interne should hear, but she did not offer a succession of brilliant but meaningless paradoxes as a substitute for real conversation.

Continuously snappy back-talk is now encountered chiefly in such acts as those of “Cooney & LeBlanc, the Eccentric Comedy Dancing Team.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Best-Known Farmer in New York

From the Vault Dept.: In 1987, a chunk of NYS Thruway dropped into the Schoharie Creek. In order to re-route traffic, the state seized land from farmer Walt Dufel. I interviewed Dufel two years later, and found a very unhappy man. Born in 1926, he was part of a long-settled Montgomery County family of farmers who got embroiled in a lawsuit that never resolved satisfactorily. Walt’s health started to go bad during the years-long process, and he died in 2000.

                                                                             
                 

Photo by Martin Benjamin,
scanned from the magazine's pages.
WANT TO SEE WHAT WALT DUFEL IS ALL ABOUT? Poke around his Antique Barn for an afternoon. Give yourself plenty of time, too, because the place is piled high with stuff.

Wandering through it is good preparation for a conversation with Walt. He’s a collector: of junk and antiques, of homilies, facts and figures. The labyrinth of the barn, through which small aisles wend crazily, is a floor model of the intricate pathways of his mind.

Walt’s a farmer. You know him from his “Scho-Mo Farms” stand on Route 5, out past Amsterdam. But he’s also, lately, a fighter. You know him from his fight with the state that’s been going on since the Thruway Bridge collapsed over the Schoharie Creek in 1987. Or you know him from his fight alongside a Montgomery County group that protested the threat of a radioactive waste site in their midst.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Scene and Herd

IT’S A SCENE FROM THE TUSCAN COUNTRYSIDE. Dancing Ewe farm sprawls across a Washington County hillside, dotting it with sheep. The Somers family purchased it in 2000 and brought it back from years of neglect, inspiring son Jody to learn the Italian style of making sheep’s-milk cheese.

Luisa and Jody Somers
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
He’d already been training sheepdogs and was looking at a veterinary career when he moved to Italy instead. The result was a twofold bounty: he met and married Luisa Scivola and thereby expanded the scope of the operation.

The hours of herding and milking and processing started to pay off as they took their wares to a number of farmer’s markets, including local venues like Troy and Saratoga and the sprawling operation at Manhattan’s Union Square.

But they wanted it to be about more than just cheese, and four summers ago added dinners at the Granville farm. “The idea started,” says Luisa, “when customers asked what they should do with the ricotta we sold them. We wrote down recipes for them and put the recipes on our website, but we wanted to show them how versatile ricotta can be.”

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Oklahoma: Okay!

RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S “OKLAHOMA!” typically is lauded as the first Broadway musical to integrate book and lyrics, its songs flowing seamlessly from dialogue setups. It’s an overstatement: this already had been happening often enough for a few prior generations to claim credit for such, including Hammerstein’s own work on the 1927 “Showboat.”

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
But what “Oklahoma!” most strikingly achieved, at least in hindsight, was a shift away from the casual sexism of pre-1943 musicals, eliminating the nudge-wink of the chorus line and giving an operatic lift to the emotions of attraction. The show ran for five years on Broadway, hit the movie screens a few years later, and has become a staple of school and community theater productions.

My scant exposure to the piece left me thinking it was a cloying mess of sentimental mush, best avoided, yet I couldn’t recall the last time I saw it as I sank into a seat at the Glimmerglass Festival’s Alice Busch Theater for this season’s musical-theater classic. Which is just as well, because this production wipes the others off the map. It’s a glorious, fully committed, high-kicking three hours of joy. With, yes, a lot of sentimental mush, but the score is wonderful, the cast is first-rate, you’ve got a full-sized orchestra in the pit, and none of it is amplified. You’ll never see a production this good on Broadway.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Chopin Fantasy

Following upon yesterday's review of When the World Stopped to Listen, Stuart Isacoff's study of Van Cliburn's triumph at the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, here's a moment from a concert he gave in Russia in 1962:


Thursday, July 06, 2017

From Moscow, with Love

VAN CLIBURN ROCKETED TO FAME on the back of Sputnik, metaphorically, when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958. Russia’s launch of the satellite the year before gave the Cold War a boost, adding a fresh layer of paranoia as the Communist orb orbited.

The Tchaikovsky Competition was intended to be a world-class event that would crown a Russian virtuoso and thus assert Soviet superiority in yet another realm. But the 23-year-old Cliburn, already making waves on the music scene, proved so irresistible a soloist that judges like Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter, themselves renowned Russian virtuosi, insisted that the young Texan should take first place.

Not surprisingly, it caused an international sensation, putting Cliburn on the cover of Time and pitting classical music against political brinksmanship. This moment in history, which plausibly can be viewed as the first step towards the Soviet Union’s eventual dissolution, is examined in Stuart Isacoff’s new book When the World Stopped to Listen (Knopf, $27.95), which charts an intricate process in which the gifted pianist landed in the perfect place to put his talent to work for the good of mankind – even though the repercussions he suffered eventually cost him his career.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Road to Heaven

Here, for your Independence Day delectation, is a stirring anthem by Charles Ives, a setting of a poem by Vachel Lindsay.


Monday, July 03, 2017

Anything but Sandwiches

From the Food Vault Dept.: After a while, it became difficult to come up with fresh ideas for the annual Outdoor Dining article, but here’s one from eleven years ago that seemed to work and remains just as appropriate.

                                                                                       

WE PACK THE CAR with folding canvas chairs, a cooler for drinks, a cooler for food, a portable grill – just in case – and the usual array of blankets and umbrellas and plastic plates and cutlery. And a wine opener. Never forget the wine opener.

Beirut Restaurant, Troy, NY
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But even before we rally the forces to head picnic-ward, the cry goes up: “A B S!” And that stands for Anything but Sandwiches.

Not that there’s anything horribly wrong the things. There’s no beating two slices of lightly toasted bread as a container for that toothsome mix of meat, veg and sauce, a container that travels easily to the mouth and waits until only until you bite down hard to spatter your shirt with sandwich guano.

We have been enchanted by the empanada, impressed with the Cornish pasty and, more recently, seduced by the wrap. But a sandwich of any kind never lets you forget that it’s food on the go. And what we want is food that helps us relax – food you’re better off consuming while sitting still.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Gaming the Jungle

From the Tech Vault Dept.: I tried to avoid computer games, figuring that my time was too ... but wait! Along came “Doom” and “Duke Nukem,” and I got hooked. For a while. Long enough to pen this review of yet another game, a piece that ran (minus my original lede, given here) in Computer Shopper magazine in early 1993.

                                                                                            

COMPUTER WIZARDRY MEANS ADOLESCENT SUFFERING. But, as the movie “Revenge of the Nerds” suggested, that lanky Poindexter with the tape on his specs is nevertheless a randy guy who can think his way through problems that leave the hunky halfbacks scratching their heads.

Like it or not, the heritage of computer-adventure games sprang from the imaginations of those feverish boys who spent too much time alone in poorly-lighted rooms. We roamed through labyrinthine castles, crossed galaxies, and rescued a maiden or two, with crafty intelligence taking the place of the brute force of handsome movie heroes. Where else can the undersocialized go to vicariously triumph?

Access Software, known already for games with great graphics and interactive challenges, tops all previous efforts with “Amazon: Guardians of Eden.” The game has three out-of-the-box hooks: political correctness, as it reminds us that the Amazon forests need protection; an old-movie design, which turns us into characters from a 1957 cliff-hanger serial; and Super VGA support.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Soul of Schenectady

You Eat Where You Are Dept.: Here’s a review that ran recently in the pages of The Alt, but this is a pre-edited version.

                                                                             
       

MY WIFE PHONED to say she’d be late, adding, “I’m not really hungry. Don’t order for me.” We were about to put our college-age daughter, Lily, and Taylor, her friend, on a bus back to Manhattan, and decided that dinner out would be a nice celebration. By the time Susan reached our table, we had fried chicken and barbecued chicken and deep-fried pork chops and all manner of side-dishes piled high. Five minutes later, she, too, was attacking her own generously filled entrée plate.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Aunt Ronnie’s promises you won’t go away hungry. My wife’s experience proves that the whole concept of hunger is deceptive, especially when chicken dishes this delicious are involved.

It’s been open for a year and a half, in a Schenectady space known for many years as the Brandywine Diner. It’s easily accessed from I-890 (take Exit 6) and it’s the finest bargain in the area.

“This was my husband’s dream,” says Veronica (Ronnie) Clarke. “He wanted a restaurant. So I was behind him, because I can cook and everybody likes my cooking. I have a big family, and all of the functions usually happen at my house. And I do the majority of the cooking.”

Friday, June 30, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finish Lines

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Bill Carragan made his name as a Bruckner scholar – he completed that composer’s unfinished ninth symphony, as well as producing performing editions of others of those symphonies – while working as a physics professor. And he has turned his formidable powers to other musical challenges as well. I noted in this article his work arranging Sousa for strings, but he also took on the Big One: the Unfinished Symphony by Schubert, for a concert that took place in 1988. It’s since been recorded by the Philharmonie Festiva, and you easily can find excerpts from it on YouTube.

                                                                                 
             

NEVER MIND THE MYTHS about that most famous of uncompleted works, the Symphony No. 8 by Schubert. As far as composer/professor William Carragan is concerned, it's an unfinished work and thus unsatisfying. And, after a lot of sleuthing and imaginative work, Carragan has finished the “Unfinished.”

William Carragan
“Imagine if Beethoven had written only the first half of his fifth symphony,” he says.  “You’d have a performable work with two movements that are symphonically related to one another, but it wouldn’t be at all as fulfilling as the work we know.”

Carragan’s completion of the Schubert will have its premiere at concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the Troy Music Hall and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1 at the Albany State University Performing Arts Center when the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra presents a program of musical “firsts.”

“Now, Schubert left many, many torsos of other works,” Carragan explains. “It was an annoying but common habit of his. And I think the reason he didn’t complete this symphony was because he needed to generate the incidental music to ‘Rosamunde’ in three weeks. He’d already written an almost-complete sketch of the symphony’s third movement, and, as my theory goes, he had ideas for the finale that weren’t put down on paper. So he cannibalized that finale for the Rosamunde music, working it into two of the four movements in that piece.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Red Book’s Back

ONE OF THE TREASURES of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, situated outside of Barcelona, is a volume of writings bound in red, a collection of devotional music and texts. It was put together at the end of the 14th century – about four centuries after the monastery itself was founded – and has survived, although not necessarily intact, the intrusive waves of history, including a looting of the abbey in 1811 by Napoleon’s troops (the book was out on loan at the time).

Ten songs are notated in medieval style, songs intended for the pilgrims making regular visits to the serrated mountain to worship La Morenata, the Black Madonna, one of the most celebrated icons in the country. Singing and dance were important to meditation and worship, and the songs in the Red Book note, for example, when a Round Dance would be appropriate.

Mystical and musical clues also inform the manuscript. It’s speculated that there were twelve songs originally, twelve being significant in medieval symbolism, and there are numerological intricacies aplenty in the performance practices these songs invite. These are detailed by Josep Maria Gregori, a Barcelona-based arts professor, in the notes to Jordi Savall’s newest recording of the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All-American Whirl

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The Albany Symphony just finished this year’s American Music Festival (I’ll post reviews later), and is about to embark (literally) on a tour of the Erie Canal, which, these days, is the Mohawk River, fitted with locks to accommodate such passage. Each of the canalside concerts they’ll perform features Handel’s “Water Music” alongside music by living composers written in celebration of the event. Here’s a schedule and info. The ASO has been doing this kind of thing for quite some time, and here’s a piece I wrote in 1999 that looks at what was happening then.

                                                                                           

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE classical piece? Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”? Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata? Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot”?

David Alan Miller
If you haven’t got the last-named on your list, a pair of weekend concerts might revise your thinking. And, for the dozens of students who play in the bands at Guilderland and Tamarac High Schools, the concerts will affirm what they’ve been learning from the Common Sense Composers’ Collective: Good music resists categorization.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra kicks off a two-week American Music Festival at 7:30 PM tomorrow (Friday) with a Bandjam Concert at the Guilderland High School. In the spirit of the classic battles of the bands, ensembles from the Guilderland and Tamarac schools will premiere variations on “Zoot Suit Riot,” a theme chosen by the students for their work with the eight composers who comprise the Common Sense Collective.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Family Spirit

IT MAKES SENSE that Mouzon House would have a resident ghost. The apparition is described as mischievous but kind, a spirit who is heard to rearrange the furniture upstairs. And that fits in with the spirit of rebellion that informs the history of the building, a handsome structure bought by the eponymous family in 1919, when Ardel Mouzon-McCoy, a Cherokee Indian, took possession of the place. She married a dark-skinned man of Creole descent, and her daughter, Mia, was said to be the first “woman of color” to graduate from nearby Skidmore. The house became the target of Saratoga’s relentless pursuit of raze and rebuild during the 1970s and 80s, but Mia refused to sell even as the rest of the Spring Valley neighborhood disappeared.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
When she sold, she sold to Dianne and David Pedinotti, who had opened One Caroline Street Bistro a decade earlier. “We don’t actually own the Caroline Street building,” David told me, “so we thought it would be a good idea to have one that we do.”

He describes the menu of the earlier eatery as “that of an Italian family living in New Orleans. Mouzon House is a house in France, or a French family in New Orleans.”

There’s a French Quarter quaintness about the house, which was built in 1883. The brick structure has a pair of covered porches, one of which sports the bar and a playing area for musicians; there also is a row of tables in the open air. The rooms within the house have been converted to discrete dining areas; an easy-to-look-into kitchen sits behind the bar area.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Happiest Corpse

WHEN “CABARET” OPENED ON BROADWAY a half-century ago, it was the edgy exception to a lineup of musicals that included “Mame,” “Sweet Charity,” the sentimental two-hander “I Do! I Do!” and “Cabaret” director Harold Prince’s previous, unsuccessful production of “It’s a Bird ... It’s a Plane ... It’s Superman.”

Although we’re now farther time-removed from 1966's “Cabaret” than it was from its setting in 1930 Berlin, the show’s message remains as relevant as ever. And it has struck a chord with audiences through the years: Its original run lasted nearly 1200 performances; the 1998 Broadway revival had almost twice as many shows.

The production that visited Proctors in Schenectady last week is based on the 2014 revival of the 1998 version, itself an import from a 1993 London revival by Sam Mendes at the Donmar Warehouse.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Violin Variations

THE LAST PIECE I’D EXPECT TO SEE first on the program is Beethoven’s first violin sonata. In fact, I’m surprised to see this runt of litter anywhere, overshadowed as it is by the composer’s later works for the same instrumentation. It’s an example of Beethoven’s Mozartean roots, but it’s still Beethoven, and Anne Akiko Meyers mined it for its surprise and intensity.

Anne Akiko Meyers
Which was a harbinger of her approach to the works that followed. Her fascinating programming array otherwise was rooted in the 20th and 21st centuries, including pieces written at her behest.

Beethoven’s first sonata emerged from a tradition of letting the piano grudgingly share some of its sound world with the violin, although by the time he got hold of the form the partnership was gaining equality. The opening phrase features arpeggios that sound at home on both instruments, but the first movement’s exposition culminates in a chord-rich call-and-response that asserts the violin’s own identity – the more so because Meyers gave it no unwonted sentiment, even roughening the edges of the notes at times.

This was an effective contrast – and Beethoven’s music is all about contrast – with pianist Akira Eguchi’s role as a nimble virtuoso almost daring his music partner to keep up with his fleet-fingered fun.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Perreca’s: More and More

From the Food Vault Dept.: I profiled Perreca’s bakery in a 1987 issue of Capital Region magazine, at which point I’d already been convinced that they made the finest Italian loaves to be had anywhere. This opinion hasn’t changed. I was delighted to see a restaurant appear as a bakery offshoot, and reviewed it in a 2010 issue of Metroland. But one of the hazards of the one-unannounced-visit approach is that you can catch a place at a bad moment that doesn’t reflect its true nature. I tried to draw attention to a problem without being overly negative, because I found plenty to enjoy about the place. But read to the end for more.

                                                                            
                     

A POSTER ON THE WALL of More Perreca’s reproduces an article about Jack Nicholson’s discovery of Perreca’s bread while he was in Albany filming “Ironweed,” and the lengths to which he’d go to keep supplied. What never got chronicled (so you’re reading it here first) is that his onetime co-star Kathleen Turner also became a big fan of the stuff.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
This was when a longtime friend of mine named Christine worked as a personal assistant for Turner, and took a couple of Perreca’s loaves back to Manhattan after a visit here. From then on, as long as Christine was in her employ, she was under orders to do the same after every such excursion. I even recall a time when I put a couple of loaves on a bus to the Port Authority Terminal, where Christine retrieved them.

Perreca’s bakery has been operating for nearly a century, turning out one thing only: bread. Dense, crusty loaves of Italian bread that have defined the way this bread should break and taste. The small North Jay St. shop offers a small selection of deli-type goods, including pizza slices, and the recently added cupcakes also have been a success. So it stood to reason that, as Schenectady’s Little Italy takes shape, they should add a restaurant.

But that’s almost too intimidating a word for what’s there. It’s like an outdoor café brought inside, airy and casual and with an engagingly retro feel – and there are a couple of sidewalk tables, too.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tales of Schumann

ROBERT SCHUMANN’S MENTAL VOLATILITY worked its way into the music he wrote not in a stormy Wagnerian way but as something that agitated in the heart of his romantic-era voice. His piano works erupt in storms of thick harmony, then lay back for the sparest of melodic sighs. His Fantasie in C, Op. 17, seems sometimes to boil with rage, even as that rage shimmers into exultation. Release yourself to the music and you’re buffeted along an emotional switchback that leaves you, as the final section eases to its end, drained and yet hopeful.

How extreme should those extremes be rendered? If pianist Mitsuko Uchida’s recent Schenectady performance is any guide, they can be contained within a context that never punishes the keyboard, and is all the more effective for that restraint. We’re asked to listen with 19th-century ears, and, once we surrender to that restraint, we enjoy an intensity of feeling rendered all the more intense by the claustrophobia of it.

Uchida performed as part of the Union College Concert Series, and she has reputation enough to inspire a long line of restive patrons to start forming an hour before the show, just filling the hall before it started.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hops Do It

ONE OF THE STORAGE SHEDS on my Montgomery County farm property sports a side room finished with lath and plaster, which usually is only found in old houses. A savvy neighbor explained that it was a hops drying room, the legacy of an industry that once dominated this and several neighboring counties, and then died out with nary a trace.

Photo by Dietrich Gehring
Hops were probably an ingredient in Babylonian beer, and the Romans used them as a vegetable, in which guise they arrived in Britain. But the only edible portion is the young shoot, which requires so much effort to harvest that it counts among the priciest of nibbles. The earliest written reference to hops as a beer component dates from 1079.

Hops were shipped to New World settlers until 1640, when colonists began growing their own. New York’s first romance with hops began at the beginning of the 19th century, and by the time the Erie Canal opened, the crop was fetching $1,000 per ton. By 1855, three million tons were harvested; by the end of the century, 40,000 acres of hops were being grown in the state, with a harvest of 60 million tons, some of it grown on my property and dried in my barn.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Traveling with The Phoenicians

THE PHOENICIANS RESTAURANT opened in 2007 in an unassuming building on Albany’s Central Ave., not far from Fuller Road. Business has increased enough during the past decade that owner Robert Rahal dreamed of moving – and found a spot in a Fuller Road strip mall. “We opened there on Black Friday,” says Rahal, “November 25 of last year. But I’d been working for 725 days to get into this space. Working non-stop. Believe me, it’s been a project of love.”

Robert Rahal and Joe Marino
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
He has traded 800 square feet for a space well over ten times larger. If you visited during its Deli Warehouse days, you won’t recognize it: it’s been transformed into an array of differently functioning spaces. There’s a bar to your left as you enter; before you are few tables in a casual dining area. The formal dining room is to the right, and it’s flanked by a private dining room and a hookah lounge with couches and pillows. “I’ve been doing a lot of the work myself,” Rahal explains, “to make sure I get the place the way I want it to be.” 

But there’s even more. A deli section is being developed, and a banquet hall will be opened later in the year. There’s also a space near the front of the building that brings it full-circle, in a way: This is his jewelry store, which is the business with which he first greeted Albany. Robert’s Fine Jewelry also had a Central Avenue storefront; now they will be combined.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Out in the Cold

A YOUNG MAN, spurned by his beloved, sets off on foot across a chilly winter landscape, exploring a range of volatile emotions as he surveys the countryside. Dogs bark at him as he halts by them; a cemetery casts an inviting spell. These are elements of Wilhelm Müller’s “Die Winterreise,” a cycle of poems set to music by Franz Schubert in 1828.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Tenor Ian Bostridge, a frequent “Winterreise” performer, combined personal impressions of the work with an insightful historical and philosophical overview in his book Schubert’s Winter Journey, wherein he notes that it’s “Odd ... perhaps, that we always give the cycle in a warm hall, that we never feel the cold or live in the silence of the snowy landscape. How often do the audience really imagine it? Should it be part of the recipe?”

We got the answers on Saturday, Feb. 11, when baritone Christopher Herbert gave a brilliant performance of “Winterreise” in Saratoga’s Spa State Park – outdoors, in the snow, clad in duffel coat, boots, and watch cap.

Monday, February 13, 2017

All in the Family

A BEAUTIFULLY ACTED, cracklingly funny study of some of the indignities of dating had its world premiere at The REP last week, shrewdly melding two disparate demographics through a story that probably plays out in one form or another in many a family: the search for love after the death of a longtime partner.

Sol Katz (played with irascible cheerfulness by Barry Pearl) isn’t so busy mourning his just-deceased wife that he hasn’t time to ramp up a romance with bridge partner and longtime friend Edie (Cheryl Stern) – to the horror of his son David (Brian Sills), who deftly undermines the relationship.

Bob Morris, who has written often for the NY Times Sunday Styles section among many other publications, captured this autobiographical story in his memoir Assisted Loving; adapting it for the stage has given him the opportunity to broaden characterizations beyond the confines that memoir imposes, inviting us on a two-hour journey through some difficult and compelling character developments.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Happy Heifetz Birthday

THE FANTASTIC FOOLISHNESS of Groundhog Day has been worsened for me since my early teens, when I fell under the spell of violinist Jascha Heifetz and soon realized that my coevals didn’t know who he was and had little interest in sharing my enthusiasm – and chattered each February 2 about a rodent in Pennsylvania.

Heifetz was born in Vilna, Lithuania, on this date in 1901 (some say 1900), studied in St. Petersburg with the renowned Leopold Auer, from whose school enough famous violinists emerged to prompt George Gershwin (a Heifetz friend) to write a song in 1921 titled “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha,” a tribute to the renown of Elman, Heifetz, Seidel, and Jacobsen. Heifetz made his American debut in 1917, became a citizen of this country soon thereafter, and concertized and recorded into his early 70s, when he decided he couldn’t maintain his own high standards.

He shares a birthday with Fritz Kreisler, another extraordinary fiddler, but my household celebrates the Kreisler birthday on February 1. In lieu of cake, I offer a morceau by Mozart:

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Walled Off

Oh, No, Not Poetry! Dept.: One of the most unique theatrical/musical events I’ve ever been involved with takes place (as of this writing) quite soon, when Musicians of Ma’alwyck join forces with Nacre, a Saratoga Springs-based dance troupe, and Creative License, an Albany theatrical company, to present a program titled “Suite of Love” at 7:30 pm Sat., Feb. 11 at the Cohoes (NY) Music Hall and at 2 pm Sun., Feb. 12, at Schenectady County Community College. A dozen musical works ranging from Henry Purcell to Cole Porter will be performed by a trio of flute, violin, and guitar (my arrangement for them of “Night and Day” contains an obscure musical surprise) between scenes of narrative verse performed by a quartet of actors, myself among them. And there is an impressive variety of dance to the words and music and even moments of stillness. I also crafted the texts for this event, which look at a variety of the manifestations of love and its exciting offshoots, and offer below one of the more overtly political poems.

I EMIGRATE towards your heart
But you Ellis Island me with suspicion.
Do I look like you? I don’t.
Does it matter?

It matters to me, says your eye –
Which, as a child, saw beauty alone
But since has been carefully taught
That beauty resembles your twin.
No touch of the tarbrush,
No renegade blood.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Post as Romantic

PROKOFIEV’S FIRST PIANO SONATA is over a hundred years old; he finished his ninth and last in 1947. There hasn’t been a time more tumultuous in music before or since that period, yet he rode through it with his Romantic banner held high. Being Prokofiev, however, he redefined musical romanticism, and his piano sonatas exemplify this progress.

I’m hoping that Alexander Melnikov’s recording of three of those sonatas is the harbinger of more. This Russian-born pianist (a Richter protégée) made his mark with a recording of Shostakovich’s formidable Preludes and Fugues a few years ago, offering performances both electrifying and unifying, letting the composer’s distinctive voice shine in these Bach-homage settings.

That’s also what sets this Prokofiev recording apart from the pack. If you’re looking for music that’s relentlessly pleasant, don’t look here. The sonatas give an illusion of accessibility, but even at their most melodic, those melodies are in service to an architecture of unease.

The composer’s life was bracketed by wars. He exiled himself to Paris between them, but returned to his homeland as it entered its most repressive phase. This is the story being told in the Sonata No. 6, which was finished in 1940. He began work simultaneously on the ten movements that would comprise the sonatas 6, 7, and 8, eventually concentrating on the four for number 6 – and it’s one of the most difficult and disconcerting works in the piano repertory.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On the Other Hand

Given the Choice Dept.: When The Alt debuted in New York’s Capital Region last November, I wrote the piece below to celebrate the concept of culinary alternatives.

                                                                                           

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE when your larder isn’t yielding what the recipe demands? We’re familiar with some of the common ones: use white sugar and molasses in place of brown sugar, try yogurt in place of mayonnaise, add a little vinegar to some tomato sauce in place of ketchup – although if you’re running out of ketchup before the tomato sauce is gone, then your diet may need more than this article for help.

Such tips, once buried in the end pages of books like The Joy of Cooking, are now at the easy other end of an online search. But what’s the alternative when you just don’t want to eat a particular item? It’s a more subjective path, but it’s a path that opens new culinary vistas.

For example: You need protein, and you want to turn to the garden for more of it. The leading candidate: Kale. It’s way up there on the green-leafy protein scale, with 2.9 grams of protein in one cup (67 grams) of the chopped-up stuff. The only drawback is that kale is vile, a tough tangle of stems and resistance that probably costs you a gram or more of that protein in chewing alone. The alternative: Arugula. Although it contains only 0.6 grams of protein per cup, a cup of arugula weighs only 10 grams. On an equal-weight basis with kale, 67 grams of arugula contains 4.2 grams of protein, and a mere 6 calories versus kale’s 33. Of course, that’s a hell of a lot of arugula to chew through, and it needs dressing, so there go your calories.