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Friday, December 08, 2023

In the Dorian Mode

From the Recording Vault Dept.: Here’s a piece I wrote 35 years ago about a record company while it was in its infancy. A CD company, to be technically correct, but it’s hard to shake old jargon from your heels. I was so impressed with Dorian and its recordings that I convinced them to hire me to write some liner notes, many of which have been reproduced elsewhere on this blog (just search “Dorian” if you’re curious). Dorian had a 16-year run, ultimately succumbing to financial troubles that left them a million dollars in the hole. They declared bankruptcy, and their assets were sold to Virginia-based Sono Luminus, which now markets many of the CDs and has added new ones under the Dorian imprimatur, but without any sense of the wonderful graphic design that graced the original catalogue. I got in touch with them to see about some royalties for the liner notes of mine that they’re using, but they refused to return my calls. There. That’s off my chest!


CRAIG DORY PLACES SIX COMPACT DISCS upon his desk with the care of a man dealing a high-stakes poker hand. “The artwork arrived today,” he says. “This is our first look at the finished product.” It’s the culmination of over two years of working and waiting, and Dory is as radiant as a new father.

On the other side of his desk sits partner Brian Levine, placing jackets into the jewel boxes of a dozen or so more copies of the discs. Both men are big, bearded fellows in flannels and jeans. They fit nobody’s image of the world’s newest, and possibly best, entrepreneurs of recorded classical music.

Nevertheless, that’s Dorian Recordings’ specialty. The operation is located at State and Second Streets in Troy for proximity to the acoustically marvelous Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, where most of the discs will be recorded. The offices are in a quiet building that mixes doctors and other professionals with long-time residents.

Dory and Levine like it that way. Both came from small towns – Dory in Iowa, Levine in the Toronto suburbs – and appreciate Troy’s small-town feel.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Miller’s Dale for Tidewell

THE TWELVE STONE DWELLING-PLACES known as Ravensdale Cottages were built in 1823 as two rows of six facing one another across a small terrace. They sit in a sheltered valley with a picturesque view of the tree-lined slopes that flank this gorge. To reach them, you drive along an impossibly skinny cartlane until you despair of seeing civilization; then you park as the cottages come into view. But you have to walk to the brink of the terrace to get a full dose of the charm of the place.

Ravensdale Cottages
They’re now holiday retreats, or possibly domiciles for the truly anti-social. True, you’re cheek-to-jowl with adjacent neighbors, but it strikes me as a place where you can count on being ignored or otherwise left alone. Our friend Moz has a connection here: a good friend of his spends summer in one of the cottages. His attempts to reach the fellow by phone were fruitless, but (as we learned) cell service there is variable. And so our long drive through the Peak District brought us here, Mohammed again skillfully piloting us. Moz phoned again; no answer. We parked in a small lot near the terrace and walked to the houses. Not surprisingly, there was no response when Moz knocked on the door. We were left simply to enjoy the peaceful surrounding on a pleasant summer day, looking at the craggy cliffside that drops from the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, dreaming of the comfortable retreat any one of these cottages would provide.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Myths of Thanksgiving - An Encore!

 From the Vault Dept.: This originally ran in Metroland, and I posted it to this blog about a decade ago. I think it’s time for a reprise.


BACK IN THE UNENLIGHTENED ’60s, we elementary-school wretches celebrated the run-up to Thanksgiving by collecting dying leaves, cutting endless amounts of corn ears and turkey tails out of colorful cardboard, and most annoying of all, holding some manner of classroom pageant complete with hastily made approximations of the received image of Pilgrim haberdashery.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"
Painting by Jennie Brownscombe, 1914
You would have thought, to see this spectacle, that the 17th-century Pilgrims threw an annual party to which they invited their Indian neighbors, reflecting the general goodwill that prevailed and endured among the races. At the expense of many a turkey.

Like leftover turnips, such misbegotten ideas accumulate until someone mercifully gets rid of them, so let’s clean up a few of them. I’m indebted, not surprisingly, to the Internet, where Plimoth Plantation and contributed info. Not to mention The Thanksgiving Book by Jerome Agel and Jason Shulman (Smithmark Publishers, 1987).

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving Menu & Music Fiesta!

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, but it sure takes up a lot of space in the fridge and on counters and stove. Here's today's menu, and you'll find a slide show menus past - dating back to 1990 - here.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Dance the Atlantic

IT ISN’T LONG after we struggle upright and walk on shaky legs that we wish we could fly. We see birds in flight; we’ve yet to believe in gravity. Soon enough we learn our earthbound limits and do our flying in dreams.

The dancers on board: Daniel McCormick,
Francesca Velicu, Ivana Bueno, Eric Snyder,
Julia Conway, Miguel Angel Maidana

But there is one special type of person who can fly. You see it on stage in “Swan Lake,” in “Le Corsaire,” in “Sleeping Beauty” as the principal dancers lift off, soaring into the space humans aren’t supposed to occupy. But they’re up there, for dazzlingly long periods of time, their bodies portraits of a grace that hides the incredible athleticism of their art.

“I grew up in Bucarest,” says Francesca Velicu, Junior Soloist with the English National Ballet. “I started dancing when I was four. Eventually I danced with the Bolshoi before moving to the English National Ballet.” She’s speaking on Tuesday morning from the stage of the Royal Court Theatre, an entertainment venue on board the Queen Mary 2, and she’s part of the “Dance the Atlantic” theme of this particular voyage. Entertainment director Amanda Reid has gathered four dancers and Ballet Master Antonio Castilla to describe the dancer’s life. Velicu may be the one who summed it up best: “Ballet is not meant for the human body.”

Friday, November 10, 2023

The NYC Ballet in Rehearsal - 1984

From the Dance Vault Dept.: I began my journalism career writing about everything in the arts that appealed to me, including dance. Here’s one of my first such pieces, when I was given an interview with then-New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Heather Watts, one of the true stars of that universe. (Next week I’ll publish my most recent ballet-oriented piece.)


THE MUSIC IS QUICKLY RECOGNIZABLE as Bach’s Double Concerto: The two violin
soloists stand in the pit, one of them is introducing the first theme with the orchestra. The stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center looks enormous, the deep blue of the backdrop matching the color of the surrounding twilight. Eight women, in two groups of four, are onstage. They are dressed in white, their costumes reminiscent of tennis outfits. 

Heather Watts and Peter Martins
With the first solo violin passage, another woman dances on, then another as the second violin begins a contrapuntal statement. That enormous stage is suddenly filled with movement, and two of the special qua1ities of the New York City Ballet are evidenced: talent and presence. They don’t merely occupy the stage: they overwhelm it. This is “Concerto Barocco,” one of NYCB founder George Balanchine’s signature ballets.

It’s a startling contrast to their rehearsal earlier in the day. The music came from an upright piano stage right, and there were no costumes, lights or scenery. The proscenium was ringed with dancers, colorfully dressed in the practice uniforms of tights,, leotards, leg-warmers and such, each dancer with a large handbag nearby. While they watched the rehearsal, some worked on their ballet shoes, some stretched. Nobody talked. Ballet Master Peter Martins sat on a metal stool. He wore blue jeans and a denim shirt with the sleeves pushed up. Beside him, in green tights and leotard, with a white sweater tied around her waist, stood Ballet Mistress Rosemary Dunleavy. She and Martins whispered ideas. She strode hack and forth along the stage, watching, nodding.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Manchester, Part Two

I BOUGHT A KOBO E-READER for this trip and promised to buy no books. We have made trips to England in the past where I ended up shipping home a couple of cartons of acquisitions at great expense, but this was before you could easily find such things on an e-site. But then I bought Eric Schlosser’s “Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market” at the Hidcote bookshop and Moz passed along three books – two of them by mystery writer Andrea Camilleri, featuring his eccentric Inspector Salvo Montalbano (but what literary detective isn’t eccentirc these days?), alongside Alastair Cooke’s “Letters from America,” so I figured what the hell and walked to Paramount Books our second day in Manchester while Susan lay immobilized in our hotel room, felled by a hookah-adjacent headache.

Lobby of the Manchester Indigo
Paramount is what a shop of used books should be, with organized sections in each of the rooms alongside cascades of the yet-to-be-shelved. During the height of my bookshop-browsing days, when Manhattan’s South Fourth Avenue sported a zigzag of worthy emporia, I was collecting fiction. Now I’m more interested in vintage theater and music books, with nothing particular in mind. I hoped that this would be an occasion to engage a bookseller in conversation, bridging our divergent origins with a shared interest, but nothing doing. The elderly fellow working the sales counter offered not even a greeting, never mind some chat.

Sir Charles Cochran was a British theatrical producer, best know for presenting a number of Noël Coward’s best-known plays as well as musicals by Cole Porter and jerome Kern; he also managed the Albert Hall for a dozen years. On the shelf was his 1941 reminiscence titled “Cock-a-Doodle-Do.” I weighed it in my hands. I riffled through it. It was tempting. Had the shop felt friendlier, I would have bought it. I recall a price of £15. As with any appealing book left behind and any uneated dessert, the thought of it haunted me. Back home, I found a copy online for under ten dollars, with the un-noticed bonus that it was autographed by Cochran. It proved to be a dull recitation of dates and name-drops.