Search This Blog

Monday, January 10, 2022

Parchment Treats

NORWEGIANS DON’T WAIT for a holiday to put treats on the table. This I know, having grown up with a Norwegian grandmother. So did Isabel Burlingham, although her mormor stayed in Norway. During her many visits, Burlingham learned recipes that she now employs in the delectable offerings she bakes and sells as Parchment, a Troy-based enterprise that offers its comestibles at the ongoing Troy, Saratoga Springs, and Schenectady farmers’ markets, as well as on the shelves of the Honest Weight Food Co-op. Come May, her products will be back in many seasonal markets as well.

Isabel Burlingham in Troy
Burlingham left a career in chemistry to do this, a career that resonates with the science of baking. What drew her to chemistry in the first place? “A desire to understand how things work. I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was really little, and that inspired my love of the magic behind life and the planet. So chemistry was a natural progression for me – especially versus biology or physics. It wasn’t the science or how bodies work. It was, Why is a stone blue? Is it because there’s a mineral in it that is reflecting a blue light? Or is it like a green leaf, absorbing everything but the green color? The chemistry perspective came more naturally to me.”

She worked for over a decade in that career, first in a corporate setting, then with a Saratoga County-based startup company. “I didn’t start my career as a baker until Covid, when the startup laid everyone off so that we could collect unemployment. I’d been unhappy with corporate life, which is why I moved into the startup field. But even then, I was not satisfied.”

Friday, January 07, 2022

Musically United

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Stripling that I was at the time, I remember that there was some excitement in the music press when Ursula Oppens’s recording of “The People United.” came out in 1979, three years after the work premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1976. I bought that record and fell in love with the piece, written by Frederic Rzewski (who died last summer) on a commission from Oppens and as a political gesture as well, something that was always important to him. The piece stands alongside Bach’s Goldbergs and Beethoven’s Diabellis as one of the towering works in the keyboard literature. You can also read my account of seeing Rzewski perform the work in Troy, NY, here.


WRITTEN IN 1975 for a commission from pianist Ursula Oppens, Frederic Rzewski’s hour-long “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” is one of the most fascinating, monumental works of the 20th century. It explores the sound of the piano with sometimes bizarre results, indulges in oddball time signatures and calls upon the soloist to slam the lid and whistle along.

Yet it’s a defiantly tonal work, paying as much tribute to Bach as it does to Rzewski’s post-Cowell contemporaries. The short, tuneful theme, which shares a chord structure (“changes,” in jazz lingo) with a well-known Paganini variation subject, is followed by six sets of six variations apiece, each set exploring a different concept (rhythm, harmony and more).

But it’s more intricately constructed still, with the sixth variation of each set serving as a summary of the preceding five, and the component variations of the sixth set referring back to each ordinal correspondent.

This puts the work in a structural league with the ’70s output of such writers as John Barth and Gilbert Sorrentino and the seeming non-sequitur style of Donald Barthelme – and, like the work of those authors, Rzewski’s piece is dramatically effective even without a knowledge of its innards.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Honest to Goodness

From the Food Vault Dept.: Albany’s expansive food co-op has been in business for 45 years. Since the time I wrote the piece below, it moved to larger quarters (with easier parking), went through staff and management upheavals, successfully waged some union-busting, and has settled into a corporate-like entity still beloved by many. The pricing and selections reported below have, not surprisingly, changed, and Gustav has long since left the place.


NO MATTER WHAT ELSE I take away from this place to eat, the picture I always take away is that of Gustav Ericson, factotum of the cheese department, beguiling me – and everyone else who happens to standing nearby – with a taste of something I’ve never before sampled, something pleasingly aromatic and exciting to the palate.

Gustav Ericson, recommending
“Now try it with some of this chutney,” he says, and suddenly I’m in a spicy, more complicated flavor arena, and he knows I’m hooked and cheese and chutney both join my shopping basket.

Thus it was on a recent visit. I cruised the produce aisles, admired the bulk staples, looked longingly upon the hair and skin care products, then made my way past the deli case into the next room. “Have you had a sample yet?” asked Gustav, and who am I to say no?

Ericson has been a protean presence in the region, a pastry chef who spent time in a variety of shops and kitchens before settling in at Honest Weight. “I joined the co-op well before I started working here,” he explains. “I came in as an assistant manager, and seven years ago I became manager of the cheese department. But I have some customers who’ve been following me for about 15 years, buying their bucheron from me every week. I love the co-op, and I love the way of doing business here.”

Friday, December 31, 2021

I’ve Heard That Song Before ...

WHAT DO BEETHOVEN, CHOPIN, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Haydn, Dvořák, and Grieg have in common? You’ll find their music in vintage jazz recordings by the John Kirby Sextet, an infectiously bouncy little group that also swung its own versions of melodies by such less-known classical composers as Sinding, Toselli, Donizetti, Delibes, and Massenet. These were terrific versions, too. Listen to Evan L. Young’s arrangement of Schubert’s “Serenade” (“Ständchen,” D 957 #4), and marvel at how the song’s heartbreaking quality is maintained against the band’s swinging pulse.

Kirby believed that his sextet was the ideal size to give such pieces a “tasteful treatment,” as he put it, telling downbeat in 1939, “I believe that symphonic pieces can be handled by jazz groups in such a way that serious music lovers won’t throw their hands up in despair.”

But jazz ensembles large and small have been unable to resist the lure of the longhair, and we can enjoy everything from Duke Ellington and His Orchestra playing “The Nutcracker” to Eddie Lang’s solo guitar performance of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.

That’s because music professionals don’t see rigid lines between different types of music. Strict boundaries have, however, been thrown up by others – especially those who market music to particular demographics, and thus it is that we’re inculcated with the canard that classical music is an elitist pursuit, and that those who pursue it merit scorn.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Silent Night

I'd like to share another of my video collaborations with Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, this time realizing a project she suggested to honor her late mother. With Maria Riccio Bryce's arrangement of "Silent Night" as the heart of the piece, Florin Vlad and Natalia O'Connor Vlad created a lovely dance sequence, and it was captured by the skilled videographers at Chromoscope Pictures.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Mark Twain’s Christmas Elephant

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain’s recently published autobiography runs three volumes, or two and a half if you discount the padding at the end of the third book; but it’s in that book that we read the account of the gift of an elephant that he was supposed to receive for Christmas in 1908. He hired Isabel Lyon as his secretary in 1902 as his wife grew too infirm to handle his correspondence. Ralph Ashcroft was a business associate whom Lyon married in 1909.


TEN DAYS AGO Robert Collier wrote me that he had bought a baby elephant for my Christmas, and would send it as soon as he could secure a car for it and get the temporary loan of a trainer from Barnum and Bailey’s winter-quarters menagerie at Bridgeport. The cunning rascal knew the letter would never get to my hands, but would stop in Miss Lyon’s on the way and be suppressed. The letter would not have disturbed me, for I know Robert, and would have suspected a joke behind it; but it filled Miss Lyon with consternation – she taking it in earnest, just as he had expected she would. She and Ashcroft discussed the impending disaster together, and agreed that it must be kept from me at all costs. That is to say, they resolved to do the suffering and endure the insomnia and save me. They had no doubts about the elephant. They knew quite well that if Robert was inspired to do a kindness for a friend, he would not consider expense, but would buy elephants or any other costly rarity that might seem to him to meet the requirements.

Miss Lyon called up New York on the telephone and got into conversation with Robert. She timidly suggested that we had no way of taking care of an elephant here, it being used to a warm climate and –

“Oh, that’s all right, put him in the garage,” interrupted Robert cheerfully.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Touches of Sweet Harmony

ONCE I DISCOVERED classical music, I was ineluctably set on a path that would keep me free of the ties of mainstream anything, particularly its so-called culture. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a total snob. But at least three-quarters of me is suffused with a snobdom that I do try to hide when I’m out in public.

In any event, as a cash-strapped teen, my main source of music became the radio, and in the New York metropolitan area, there were three stations broadcasting fairly full schedules of the stuff I wanted to hear. WQXR AM and FM, the “radio stations of the New York Times,” as it was styled back then; WNCN-FM, which lived in its own rarefied universe; and WNYC, which was a Public Broadcasting affiliate, and thus required to add news and public affairs programs to its roster. (WRVR, WKCR, and WFUV sometimes aired classical works, as did Bridgeport’s WJZZ, so don’t complain that I’ve overlooked them.)

And there was a booming yet dulcet voice that issued from the speaker late at night over WQXR, and then on WNCN, and then on WBAI, depending on how fed up any of those stations had grown with Bill Watson. And vice-versa. He was peripatetic. He was opinionated. He was devoted to Walter Gieseking and Jussi Bjoerling, among others, and was inclined to favor their recordings, often in marathon sessions.