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Friday, February 19, 2021

Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours

From the Food Vault Dept.: Schenectady’s restaurant profile has never matched its demographics, but every now and then a dining establishment pops up that strays from the white-bread norm. How nice to see a New Orleans-inspired eatery appear a decade ago on a stretch of Union Street that was threatening to become a vital restaurant row; how tragic to see the place shuttered a few years later because of unpaid taxes. At the space now is a restaurant called Malcolm’s, diligently struggling through the pandemic.

                                                                                    

RECOGNIZED – AT LAST! I maintain an impressive anonymity at this job, despite frequent in-print descriptions of my size and usual dining companions, not to mention a scattering of likenesses in the webosphere. But, compared to many other markets, Capital Region restaurateurs don’t worry as much about reviews. They don’t post photos in kitchens; they require no need for pseudononymous credit cards.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
So it was with a mixture of pleasure and regret that I saw many eyes turn towards me at Café NOLA a few nights ago, sudden surprise in their eyes followed by a sense of wonder. And even as I began to allow myself to bask, I realized that their focus was on a spot somewhat above and to the side of my left shoulder. I turned to look.

Perched, or I should say newly landed on the service counter, across which all of the restaurant’s finished dishes are passed, was a strange amalgam of flying saucer and hero sandwich. It was large – about 12 inches in diameter, and half of that high if you measure to the top of the toothpick securing each of the sandwich’s quarters.

This is the muffuletta, a sandwich that may exemplify New Orleans better than any other single item. It’s a true melting-pot item, for starters, one that literally came together at the French Quarter’s Central Grocery early in the 1900s, named for the style of Sicilian loaf used for the sandwich or for one of its original customers.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Vienna Then, Brooklyn Now

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Capitol Chamber Artists presented 50 seasons of intimate works throughout the Albany, NY, area. Not surprisingly, their activities were put on pandemic hold. Here’s a look back at one of their charmingly themed events, this one from 1985.

                                                                                       

Capitol Chamber Artists continues to prove that you don’t need to import a glamour group from Europe for a fine chamber-music performance. In fact, the community-based ensemble provides a sense of neighborly informality that contributes a lot to the fun to the group’s concerts.

Aaron Copland
The ensemble amended its Sunday afternoon program at the Albany Institute of History and Art from “Vienna Then, New York Now” to “ ... Brooklyn Now,” because the two New York-based composers represented both hail from that borough.

Introduced by violinist Mary Lou Saetta and flutist Irvin Gilman, the opening work was Louis Haber’s “Six Miniatures for Flute and Violin.” Haber, himself a practicing violinist, wrote the piece while working on the Broadway show “Subways Are for Sleeping,” Gilman explained.
The six movements, which range from a march to a pastorale to a delightful South American dance, combine the instruments quite skilfully, and offer each a chance to display its voice. The performance, all the way through the fast perpetuum-mobile finale, was first-rate.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Valentine for Handel

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Another sweep of the classical-music offerings in the Albany, NY, area in early 1985. And you can see my review of the Munich Chamber Orchestra concert here.

                                                                                   

WE’RE BEING GIVEN a valentine all this year thanks to a year that was “portentious to the annals of music,” as an old source book (from which I once copied a school-assigned report) began. In 1685. Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti were born, and this year the classical-music boys are going berserk with celebrations.

George Frideric Handel
There seems to be more of a hangup about anniversaries with classical music than with any other creative field I’ve noticed – these 40th-anniversary-of-the-end of-World War II type of things seem more journalist-on-deadline-inspired than anything else – and make me wonder if there’s some problem in offering the music solely on its own artistic merit. You don’t need an excuse to listen to Bach (unless it somehow embarrasses you for social or political reasons, but this is the sort of pontifical twaddle that informs too much classical music writing).

There’s a Handel Spectacular slated for this weekend, a tribute to the big German-English composer by the Capitol Chamber Artists. (They say that Handel was in a restaurant in England once where he ordered a huge meal, then waited and waited for it to be served. He asked the waiter about the delay. “I thought I should wait for the rest of the company,” the waiter explained. “De gompany!” Handel bellowed. “I am de gompany!” (This story comes from the same source book from which I stole that phrase in the opening sentence.)

Monday, February 08, 2021

Eliza’s Husband

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome, at his debut in this blog, the very prolific Barry Pain (1864-1928), whose series of Eliza books are among the funniest books in the English language, certainly influential precursors to P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome. Here’s the opening chapter of the first book.

                                                                                    

“SUPPOSE,” I SAID to one of the junior clerks at our office the other day, “you were asked to describe yourself in a few words, could you do it?”

Barry Pain
His answer that he could describe me in two was no answer at all. Also the two words were not a description, and were so offensive that I did not continue the conversation.

I believe there are but few people who could give you an accurate description of themselves. Often in the train to and from the city, or while walking in the street, I think over myself—what I have been, what I am, what I might be if, financially speaking, it would run to it. I imagine how I should act under different circumstances—on the receipt of a large legacy, or if for some specially clever action I were taken into partnership, or if a mad bull came down the street. I may say that I make a regular study of myself. I have from time to time recorded on paper some of the more important incidents of our married life, affecting Eliza and myself, and I present them to you, gentle reader, in this little volume. I think they show how with a very limited income—and but for occasional assistance from Eliza’s mother I do not know how we should have got along—a man may to a great extent preserve respectability, show taste and judgment, and manage his wife and home.

Friday, February 05, 2021

My Little Dumpling

From the Food Vault Dept.: Albany’s Dumpling House was a revered institution during its two decades of operation, an old-school sit-down restaurant a little off the beaten path, but near enough to a Interstate exit to make it a convenient destination. Here’s a snapshot from two decades ago. The “Ron” who’s named as dining companion in the piece was actually Metroland’s founder and then-publisher, Peter Iselin.

                                                                                     

THE STORY OF CHINESE FOOD in America, like that of most other cultures whose cuisine is here embraced, is one of evolution. To put it another way, it becomes less about Asia and more about what this country likes to eat.

This was the basis of a backstage discussion I had recently with my friend Ron, a fellow actor in a show we’re currently rehearsing. He was lamenting the lack of the truly authentic, while I wondered if there were an authentic benchmark left anywhere in the world, so pervasive has our culinary so-called culture become.

Take the case of General Tso’s chicken. An immensely popular Chinese dish, it was born in the U.S., although it still (as far as I could determine) has a murky history. According to one source, General Tso is a historic figure who has taken on the aspect of a bogeyman – “Behave yourself, or General Tso will get you.” Another source suggests that the recipe originated in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

I once worked with a chef who studied Asian cookery and decided that you could make a reasonably authentic-seeming Chinese dish by sauteeing garlic and ginger with a dash of sherry in a wok, add meat and vegetables, season it and finish with a little cornstarch. I suspect that this philosophy was behind the creation of the Chicken of General Tso.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Bad Boy Goes Good: George Antheil

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Here’s a little snapshot of the Albany, NY-area concert scene at the beginning of 1985, when the Albany Symphony was weaving more recent works in with the classics (as it still, admirably, does), and when top-flight artist would land in the area for a performance or two.

                                                                                
           

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL doesn’t share the reputation as troublemaker which both Beethoven and George Antheil had; still, his “Royal Fireworks Music” shares a place in the popular repertory with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, a place that Antheil’s Sympbony No. 4 doesn’t enjoy. So you don’t have to be a troublemaker to insure lasting attention to your music, although it might help.

George Antheil
Antheil’s symphony was written during the European beginnings of World War II; the piece was intended as a response to some of the brutal events that were taking place. First performed in 1944, with Leopold Stokowski conducting the NBC Symphony, the piece won enthusiastic critical response, yet it hasn’t received a place of any permanence on the schedules of symphony orchestras since then. Perhaps Antheil’s reputation, sparked by a single piece, has dogged him and aided this obscurity. The piece, “Ballet Mechanique,” scored for eight pianos, anvils, bells and a host of other contraptions, was written in the 1920s when machinery was being widely celebrated in music: Carpenter’s “Skyscrapers” and Honegger’s “Pacific 231” were among the other such works.

But Antheil outdid them for sheer noisiness. He spent many years in Europe, particularly with the Berlin State Opera. When he returned to the U.S. in 1933 he worked for a while as a journalist before traveling to “Mecca” (read “Hollywood”) to compose for movies, although his most often-heard score was for a British film, Ealing Studio’s “The Lavender Hill Mob,” which starred Alec Guinness and featured scenes in a fiery casting foundry.

Friday, January 29, 2021

From Munich with Hans

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Back when daily newspapers covered classical-music events, I often had the assignment both to preview and review an event. That’s what you see here. First the review, which had to be kept annoying brief, then the preview, which, with no interview available, became a rewrite of a press release. I’d say, “It was a living,” but I didn’t even make a living off of writing this stuff.

                                                                                             

THE PERFORMANCE by the Munich Chamber Orchestra at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall confirmed what listeners who’ve been able to find this group’s recordings already know: It’s a superb little group, led (as it has been for the past 30 years) by Hans Stadlmair. Although best known for performances of music from the Baroque and Classical periods, the orchestra also presented a very contemporary work in this concert, giving a nice variety to its programming.

Hans Stadlmair
Michael Haydn, brother of the illustrious Franz Josef, has gained a reputation for his prolific output only in recent years. His Notturno in F, which opened Tuesday’s concert, is a short, four-movement symphony with a lot of charm and nothing terribly memorable about it; it benefits most from skillful execution, and so it came across well.

Bach’s “Ricercare for Six Voices,” from “The Musical Offering,” requires very precise playing, laying bare, as it does, so many individual instruments. Again, the orchestra served it well, but so slowly that it verged on a dirge rather than a royal celebration.

Violinist Young Uck Kim has gained a notable reputation during the past 20 years, but his performances of Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 wasn’t the sort from which good reputations are made. Perhaps he’s more at home in the romantic works for his instrument. Mozart seemed to get a heavy dose of the romantic laid upon him, whereas a more successful approach would be to treat the piece as you would a Mozart aria: Discover its character and sing it through the notes rhather than try to twist the notes into a foreign characteristic.