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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Worthy Parley

From the Vault Dept.: The Union College Concert Series kicks off its current season on Oct. 16 with an appearance by the Belcea Quartet, performing works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Below is a look at a memorable event from the 1987-88 season.


PAUL O’DETTE LOOKS MORE LIKE a computer designer than a virtuoso lutenist, and his roly-poly hirsute appearance makes him look like a Koala. His theorbo, a bass lute, is taller than he is; and, he assures us, it’s one of the smaller models of that range.

The Parley of Instruments
Whether balancing the huge theorbo or crouching over a tiny sopranino lute, O’Dette was a master of the instruments. He performed with the Parley of Instruments yesterday afternoon at Union College’s Memorial Chapel in a program of Baroque-era works by Vivaldi and others.

Artful violence, merriment, worship and nasty weather were among the ideas represented on the program – the turn of the 18th century was a good time for painting pictures in music. A study of “The School of Fencing” was depicted in a sonata by Heinrich Schmelzer that opened the concert and was concerned with the stylized moves – and not-so-stylized wounding – of a fencing match.

Monday, September 29, 2014


From the Vault Dept.: What with jalapenos appearing in the most prosaic dineraunt dishes, hot peppers have made significant inroads into American cooking since I wrote the piece below in 1992.


“ONE ENGLISH TRAVELER temporarily paralyzed by the pepper’s bite in South America described it as ‘a lash from Lucifer’s forked tail.’” Of all the many dining experiences, fooling with peppers can be the most devilish. To the querulous it looks like a rite of pure masochism. Yet the devotees, who are many, collect those colorful fireballs with the single-mindedness of addicts.

In his thoughtful study of the phenomenon, Peppers (from which the above quote was taken), Amal Naj describes his method of breaking in newcomers: “I prepare the guests with tales of the pepper’s mysterious an beneficial attributes and implore them with an evangelical pronouncement: ‘All it takes is an open mind.’”

“The initiation works if the uninitiated has an open mind and faith – the sort of frame of mind recommended for prompting God to reveal Himself.”

Can any other foodstuff suggest such blatant extremes?

Let me confess at the outset that I’m a pepper addict. It’s a bane in my household, where I’m inclined to spice meals to an extent that my wife howls in a combination of pain and derision. Am I abashed? No: I exhort her to join me in my addiction.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

In the Lebanese Kitchen

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s food piece takes us behind the scenes of a wonderful Lebanese restaurant to discover what gives it its distinctive flavor.


ALLSPICE. BLACK PEPPER. CINNAMON. Cloves. Fenugreek. Ginger. Nutmeg. From such an array of spices great meals are crafted, and this particular array offers the seven that make up Lebanon’s most characteristic seasoning. Every family has its own recipe for the seven-spice blend, but if you measure these together in more or less equal proportions, you’re on your way.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
At the Phoenicians, Rindala Rahal has been offering food from her native Lebanon for the past six years, using recipes she learned from her family to offer what’s probably as authentic a Lebanese experience as you’ll find in the area.

She and her husband, Robert, share a keen sense of hospitality, so the dining experience has a nice sense of sitting-with-the-family about it. But I wanted to find out what makes the flavors here so distinct, and spent some time peppering them with questions before the start of business one day.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014


Working in Coffeehouses, Evening Edition: I’m going to sit here until I come up with an original post. I’m going to delve into my personal depths and reveal all. I’m going to discover . . .


I HAVE NOTHING on my mind right now. Nothing! I’m eager to capture in words the chaos of thought and feeling that occupies body and brain, yet when I order them to line up and be described, there’s nothing. Nothing worthwhile, anyway, or so whatever it is that dispatches said thoughts and said feelings to wherever it is they dwell wants to assure me.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But this should be easy. Pluck a possibility from the universal list of problems – or at least the list tailored to middle-class baby-boomers living in the U.S.A. – and figure out how it applies. The obvious first choice is money. Or the lack of it. Or, most properly, the lack of it perceived while working in a coffee shop while sipping some jive-ass java, to which I drove several miles in order to escape the perceived demands of a house and property for which I’m getting awfully close to paying off the bank. That kind of poverty. So, while the details of my indebtedness continue to fascinate and oppress me, I’m sure that they’d bore you.

What’s next? Romance, I suspect, although I believe that at my age it’s termed “family.” Having been married for 31 years – 29 of them to the woman to whom I remain married – I’m so far from the world of dating that it would seem quaintly nostalgic were I not the father of a young woman on the brink of that world. I’ve done my best to reassure her that the World of Boys is as emotionally unstable as it seems, if my own high-school behavior is any indication, but that she shouldn’t be discouraged. Really

Her mother and I spent her formative years learning not to fight with another, with the unexpected result that we get along better than ever, and it’s never been very bad. But you’re already yawning and looking away from the page, because the only place where harmony isn’t dull is in music, and even then it can get on your nerves.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Campus Comedy

Your Eyes Are Getting Heavy Dept.: Tom DeLuca evidently is still going strong: his website bills him as a “corporate hypnotist,” although that means he’s dealing with people who already seem asleep, if nowhere else than at the proverbial wheel. I’m guessing that the Jabberwocks were from Brown University, where that group in its current incarnation continues to perform, while Dan Riley also continues to perform, with a Roy Orbison tribute as one of his shows.


THERE’S A LITTLE BIT OF ACTOR in all of us. Tom DeLuca demonstrated that Saturday evening at Proctor’s Theatre when he invited a couple of dozen audience volunteers to participate in what, under other circumstances, could have been an acting exercise. Imagine that you’re hot, imagine that you’re freezing, imagine that you’re on vacation and pretend to be fishing.

Tom DeLuca
(as he looks today)
Except that his volunteers were hypnotized before launching a hilarious and fascinating display of the powers of the unconscious – or at least somewhat liberated – mind.

DeLuca was part of the “Campus Comedy and Music” program that also served to introduce several hundred Union College freshmen to the theater and to the downtown area. The bill also include the a cappella vocal quintet The Jabberwocks and singer/comedian Dan Riley.

Riley was last at Proctor’s opening for Billy Crystal, and reprised some of his sure-fire routines, such as an all-sound-effects-included version of “Leader of the Pack” and a “She’s My Baby Now” complete with echo.

He does more than just effects: “One-Ton Tomato” must have Jose Marti spinning in his grave (the tune is “Guantanamera”), while a routine about condom ads includes endorsements by Johnny Cash and Pee-wee Herman.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Post-Election Stress Disorder

From the Slush Pile Dept.: Here’s a piece I wrote for a post-2002 election issue of Metroland, but for a reason that now escapes me, it never ran. Twelve years later ... not much has changed, has it? Think about it when you head out to vote in a few weeks.


WHAT IF THE RIGHT’S RIGHT? Suppose the Republicans really are on to something, and we’ve been deluding ourselves into thinking these causes we espouse are anything but time- and money-wasters? I had this dream a couple of Tuesdays ago wherein I was visited by Kevin McCarthy. Garbed in his 1950s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” suit, he insisted that they were all around us, indistinguishable except for a certain heartlessness.

By Wednesday morning, they had become us – or so it seemed according to every news source. I felt oppressed and adrift until I tuned my radio to the usually nauseous Rush Limbaugh. His gloating sounded repulsive, but I forced myself to surrender to the joy of his celebration. It required only that I abandon the more complicated thought system of our “new mammalian” brain, the large neocortex, and indulge instead the Manichean emotionalism of the limbic brain below, the “old mammalian” layer.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pulling up Stakes, Putting down Roots

Where’s that Food Coming From? Dept.: This week’s Metroland food piece looks at a family that gave up mainstream life to run a farm.


“JENNY IS A WATCH-DONKEY,” Kirsten Fredericks explains as the large, angry animal approaches. Woolly brown fur makes the donkey look like a plush doll, but her ears are up in a wary V, and she seems intent on chasing me away, just as, moments ago, she convinced the family’s dog to leave the field where the cattle are grazing. “She and the cows see the dog as an enemy,” Kristen explains, leaving no doubt where in that reckoning I now stood.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
At Kirsten’s urging, I join the cows by ducking between two strands of electric-fence wire. “It’s off right now, but Jenny won’t think so.” Safe from the donkey, I turn to look at the cows and note that the one advancing the quickest sports a pair of horns. “Aric!” Kristen calls, alerting her son, standing nearby, to ward off my visitor. “The steer probably wouldn’t try to hurt you,” she continues, “but better to be safe.”

The Fredericks family operates the 88-acre Windrake Farm in the Montgomery County town of Glen, a rural landscape of farms less than an hour west of Albany. Over the past decade, many of the properties that were considered too small for industrial farming have been bought by Amish families, who now have a strong presence in the area, so there’s a renewed sense of the kind of shared land dependency that defines a community.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Computer Time

From the Vault Dept.: Computer time, like dog years, is reckoned differently. The piece below, which I wrote in 1987, seems positively Pleistocene today. Most of the technology is long since superannuated; most of the retail outlets mentioned are gone. But Russ Walter, author of the finest-ever computer book, now sells the 32nd edition of The Secret Guide to Computers, about which there’s more info here. Highly recommended!


AT A RECENT COMPUTER SHOW in Manhattan, over 400 exhibitors competed for the attention of the buyers with sales gimmicks that included a wandering mouse, a dance drill-team, a close-up magician and a Wheel of Fortune-esque display.

Couldn't find a cover image
from the first edition.
Not IBM. Big Blue, ever the corporate-minded entity, had politely-dressed sales reps quietly demonstrating the machines that have the computer world in a mild tizzy, the Personal Systems series.

Many took is a threat to the old PC. It certainly means another billion for Bill Gates, MS-DOS designer and author of the new OS/2.

But your PC was obsolete the moment you hauled it out of the box, so what difference does it make how loudly the death-knell is sounded? Computers outstrip home stereos in speed of obsolescence, but there is a handy network of hackers out there devoting a lot of effort to making it easy for you keep up with the trends.

And, while the attention is shifting towards the new IBM rig, the many, many clones of the old PC are coming down in price. This may be a splendid time to get in on one.

Computer people have the same fierce loyalties as dog owners or sports fans: IBM people turn up their noses at the Apple corps, who in turn won’t even acknowledge the Commodore. A PC user myself, I’m totally ignorant of any of the other types and won’t begin to explore them. But if you’re IBM interested, read on.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Red Wine with Fish

From the Vault Dept.: Since this 1990 interview with him, award-winning wine maven Joshua Wesson founded the retail store Best Cellars, which later became part the A&P, was named Retailer of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magzine and, in 2011, founded Joshua Wesson Wine & Food, a retail and restaurant incubator. His most recent book, Williams-Sonoma Wine & Food—A New Look at Flavor, was published in 2008.


“I DON'T BELIEVE IN WINE TASTINGS,” says Joshua Wesson. Round spectacles with a tiny rim of tortoiseshell and hair in a three-quarter part give him an anachronistic appearance, as if he just finished defending Brian Donleavy in a courtroom scene from a film of half a century ago.

Joshua Wesson
Wesson was in Albany last weekend to speak at – and lend impressive expertise to – the Desmond Americana's fourth annual Albany American Wine Festival. He’s co-author of the recently-published book Red Wine with Fish and co-factotum of the magazine “Wine and Food Companion.” He may not, as he candidly puts it, believe in wine tastings, but he certainly believes in wine.

“This is the only country I know where having wine with a meal is seen as something novel,” he says. “For most of the world it’s just another agricultural crop. Here it’s been translated into an alcoholic beverage or something merely collectible.”

Wesson’s parents worked for the United Nations, and travelled with their son throughout northern Europe. “In every country we visited, I saw wine served as a natural part of the whole process of eating and enjoying life.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Utah in Troy

From the Vault Dept.: Bruce “Utah” Phillips was a Wobbly, an organizer, a storyteller, a singer-songwriter and a delightfully cranky performer. I booked him to perform in a concert series I produced near my home in 1992 and spent a delightful post-concert evening learning that his history wasn’t as made-up as he made it sound. Ten years after that – a few years before he died – I reviewed his appearance in Troy, NY.


Utah Phillips
WOULD THE CONGREGATION PLEASE turn its attention to the first hymn on the program: “Railroading on the Great Divide.” This is not printed in our hymnals because it’s woven into the fabric of our hearts. Rev. Phillips has taken pains to point out that it is a folksong, despite the fact that folksingers don’t sing it, and that folksingers don’t sing it because it is boring. But we are going to sing because we are folk and thus joint owners of the song.

And Rev. Phillips adjusts his harmonica rack and blows chords about as tuneful as a train whistle, strums his guitar and gives forth in his reticulated baritone voice. And we sing along not out of obligation but because it’s actually fun to do so, fun to savor simple lyrics that evoke a sense of freedom hard to achieve these mechanized days. We sing along also because we need this sense of community, need it more than ever in a country gone imperialistically insane.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mia Gioia

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s restaurant review took us to Altamont, NY, where a three-year-old Italian restaurant has evolved into a community fixture.


THE COUPLE DINING BESIDE US clearly were enjoying their entrĂ©es, so when Tim Turano stopped by their table (he stops by everyone’s table) to ask if they needed anything, the woman insisted there was nothing they lacked. “Except that I could use a Tide pen,” she added ruefully, noting evidence of trajectory misdirection.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Turano reappeared moments later with a Tide pen.

He’s a partner in Mio Vino, a restaurant that opened three years ago to offer traditional Italian fare to a town with very few eateries. He has helped guide it to an identity that takes into account Altamont’s wishes. “Conversation between the community and the restaurant has to work two ways,” he says. “There are 1,700 people in this area, so it was important to hear their opinions. These are the Tuesday through Thursday people, and they want to be able to dine here without being asked to spend too much money. That’s possible now.”

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Labor Day

31 August 2014 | Styling by Gerian Williams
Photo by B. A. Nilsson

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mrs. Faulkner

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain’s autobiography had to wait, per his instructions, a hundred years after his death before seeing publication. An excerpt from the recently issued Volume Two should give an idea of why this is a must-have book.


Mark Twain
DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY all Vassar, ancient and modern, packed itself into the Hudson Theatre, and I was there. The occasion was a benefit arranged by Vassar and its friends to raise money to aid poor students of that College in getting through the college course. I was not aware that I was to be a feature of the show, and was distressed and most uncomfortably inflamed with blushes when I found it out. Really the distress and the blushes were manufactured, for at bottom I was glad. When the ladies started to lead me through the house to the stage, when the performance was over, I was so coy that everybody admired, and was moved by it. I do things like that with an art that deceives even the hardened and experienced cynic. It has taken me a long time and has cost me much practice to perfect myself in that art, but it was worth the trouble. It makes me the most winning old thing that ever went among confiding girls.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Caldwell Confessions

From the Vault Dept.: In the 1980s, I had an office on Schenectady’s Barrett Street. A few doors away was the office of cartoonist John Caldwell, whose work I’d admired long before I was able to meet him. And his prestige has continued to climb since I wrote the piece below in 1988; you’ll find him in Playboy, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal – and once, during my very brief tenure as a board member of the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra, I talked John into illustrating a series of display ads for which I provided copy. Apparently they lacked the gravitas a big-time symphony orchestra requires, and the campaign was squelched. I offer one of John’s brainstorming drawings below.


CARTOGRAPHER AND CARTOONIST are encyclopedic neighbors, and to shift his career from one to the other took John Caldwell a few years and countless rejections.

But he’s a professional cartoonist now, enjoying the success that comes with a nationally-syndicated panel (one daily and four on Sunday), appearances in the top magazine markets and several books, the latest of which, tersely titled Caldwell, will be signed by the artist from noon to 2 p.m. tomorrow (March 5) at the Open Door, 128 Jay Street, Schenectady.

“You like the title?” he asks. “I wanted to call it Iococca, but my publisher said I couldn’t do that.”

Caldwell lives with his wife and daughter in Ballston Spa but keeps an office in downtown Schenectady, on an atmospheric side street that might have come out of one of his drawings.

He’s been selling drawings since the late ‘60s, during a time when the cartoonist’s tradition was changing from the precise line of the New Yorker regulars to the anarchic setups of George Booth and others.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Age of Concert-Sense

From the Vault Dept.: Although the concert reviewed below, which took place at the end of 2008, seemed a harbinger of more such programs in the culturally underserved city of Johnstown, NY, that has yet to happen. Not that I ever stop hoping!


A RECITAL OF PIANO MUSIC by Brahms and Chopin in a fine old midcity church has a Edith Wharton-ish aspect to it, and this program could – and, for all we know, might – have taken place here a hundred years ago.

Juana Zayas
But nothing like this has occurred here in recent memory. Johnstown has no major concert hall – the Glove, in neighboring Gloversville, is closest – but the First Presbyterian Church offered an acoustically pleasing sanctuary and a small but well-appointed Steinway was brought in for the occasion.

Cuban-born pianist Juana Zayas forged a career in America that has put her in the classical music world’s small spotlight only intermittently, but when she performs (and records), it’s an event worth celebrating.

She chose a demanding program that celebrated the instrument’s Romantic-era heyday, with Brahms and Chopin providing the bulk of the works she chose. And I can’t imaging a piece announcing itself more Brahmsianly than that composer’s Rhapsody No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 79 No. 1. It opens with a characteristic theme that wanders for a bit before settling into a passage with a unique sense of majesty and introspection, and just when you think you’re about to stride off in autumnal triumph, it eases into a soft, haunting section with just as much motion as the beginning but in a far more cantabile manner. The piece shimmers between those modalities even as it plays with harmonic modes, with a major key often threatening to break through its minor-ness.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Saratoga Institution

From the Vault Dept.: Yesterday’s review of PJ’s Bar-B-QSA referred to the review I wrote 27 years ago. Here it is.


A PLUME OF SMOKE leads you to six large vats of smoldering charcoal. The chef is wielding huge wire grills, built to enclose a couple dozen chickens or hunks of ribs. A grin on his face, ruddy from the heat, as he swabs the meat with marinade.

He’s known as P.J., and he’s at work on what he terms Saratoga-style chicken.

“The recipe was developed at Cornell about 40 years ago,” he explains. “I wanted to call this something other than just `barbecued chicken.’ So it’s now Saratoga-style. Why not? When I expand, people will know where I came from.”

P.J.’s has been serving up plates of great barbecued bird for four seasons just south of the Route 9 entrance to SPAC, but the business began as a catering service – you’ve seen him year after year at the Altamont Fair.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Raising the Barbecue

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s restaurant review takes me back to a place that has more than flourished since it opened in 1983 – it has transformed. Here are the details.


TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO in these pages I declared PJ’s Bar-B-Q a Saratoga institution. The place had been open for four years, and its plume of grill smoke was a sign to Route 9 travelers to and from Saratoga that summer was in session. Two years ago, PJ’s made an ambitious leap into year-round operation. Not only is there a comfortable indoor dining area, there’s also an expanded menu that’s part of PJ’s even grander ambition.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“My dream is to have a chain of barbecue places,” he says, “and we built this as the prototype.” We being PJ and Carolyn Davis, husband-and-wife schoolteachers who parlayed a peripatetic catering business into the eatery. “We’re bucking a popular belief that you can’t have a barbecue chain because barbecue is too regional.”

They’re bucking it by offering an array of regional varieties. First and always is what they’ve dubbed “NY State Fair” chicken, its marinade based on a Cornell-developed formula. The birds are rotisserie-grilled and served in quarter- ($4.75) and half-portions ($8.25). Add $4 to turn it into a platter, which includes a hunk of cornbread and two side dishes.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Man Hunt

Guest Blogger Dept.: Before he became one of Hollywood’s most-renowned and highest-paid screenwriters, Ben Hecht slogged at an Underwood in the offices of the Chicago daily papers, an experience enshrined in his play “The Front Page.” Here’s one of his newspaper stories.


THEY WERE HUNTING HIM. Squads of coppers with rifles, detectives, stool pigeons were hunting him. And the people who had read the story in the newspapers and looked at his picture, they too, were hunting him.

Tommy O’Connor looked out of the smeared window of the room in which he sat and stared at the snow. A drift of snow across the roofs. A scribble of snow over the pavement.

There were automobiles racing through the streets loaded with armed men. There were crowds looking for a telltale face in their own midst. Guards, deputies, coppers were surrounding houses and peering into alleys, raiding saloons, ringing doorbells. The whole city was on his heels. The city was like a pack of dogs sniffing wildly for his trail. And when they found it they would come whooping toward him for a leap at his throat.

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Thousand Friends

I have had, and may have still, a thousand friends, as they are called, in life, who are like one's partners in the waltz of this world – not much remembered when the ball is over, though very pleasant for the time.

– Lord Byron (from a letter to Mary Shelley, 1822)


Lord Byron
This is my thousandth blog post, a tribute
to the amount of nonsense I can cough up
when self-challenged. I like Lord Byron’s
view of his thousand friends, but I took
a different approach in a song lyric I wrote
for the musical Beasley’s Christmas Party,
an adaptation composer Tom Savoy and I
are continuing to carve out of an old
Booth Tarkington novel. This is a song sung by
young Hamilton Swift, and it makes much more
sense when set to its music:

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Do Insects Think?

Guest Blogger Dept.: Another entry from Robert (“Come on over here and take a bow, Bob!”) Benchley, on a topic never more timely than in late summer, when your porch light is obscured by a frantic, buzzing multitude.


IN A RECENT BOOK ENTITLED, “The Psychic Life of Insects,” Professor Bouvier says that we must be careful not to credit the little winged fellows with intelligence when they behave in what seems like an intelligent manner. They may be only reacting. I would like to confront the Professor with an instance of reasoning power on the part of an insect which can not be explained away in any such manner.

During the summer of 1899, while I was at work on my treatise “Do Larvae Laugh,” we kept a female wasp at our cottage in the Adirondacks. It really was more like a child of our own than a wasp, except that it looked more like a wasp than a child of our own. That was one of the ways we told the difference.

It was still a young wasp when we got it (thirteen or fourteen years old) and for some time we could not get it to eat or drink, it was so shy. Since it was a, female, we decided to call it Miriam, but soon the children's nickname for it—“Pudge”—became a fixture, and “Pudge” it was from that time on.

One evening I had been working late in my laboratory fooling round with some gin and other chemicals, and in leaving the room I tripped over a nine of diamonds which someone had left lying on the floor and knocked over my card catalogue containing the names and addresses of all the larvae worth knowing in North America. The cards went everywhere.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Gould, Ives, and Sousa

From the Turntable Dept.: My mixed bag of CD reviews includes these entries from 1991. The Gould disc is still available in reissued form; the Ives disc can be had from third-party sellers via Amazon, priced from $3.50 to $100; Sousa CDs also are out there, but all three discs are available as MP3 downloads. So there’s hope for keeping hold of this music.


GLENN GOULD’S CONDUCTING DEBUT is a depressing reminder of his too-short career. He died in 1982 at the age of fifty, a couple of months after recording Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” as leader of an ensemble of 13 musicians.

He was long interested in conducting, but with a typically Gouldian neurasthenia thought the physical demands impaired his piano playing. With a typically Gouldian reversal, he changed his mind.

Unreleased for nearly a decade, the “Siegfried Idyll” is paired with a piano arrangement by Gould, bookending two other piano arrangements of Wagner pieces.

They’re the most interesting aspects of this recording (which probably is why they were released earlier). Gould rendered the Act I Prelude of “Die Meistersinger” and two linked sections from “Gotterdammerung” (“Dawn” and “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey”) as well as the “Siegfried Idyll” because, as he put it, he wanted some Wagner to play on the piano.

But these aren’t simple reductions. Complicated orchestral textures sound stupid when reduced to left-hand tremolos, and Gould instead devised alternate figures to replace the orchestral counterpart. It’s unexpectedly effective.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Not-So-Crazy Quilt

From the Vault Dept.: An early (in my reviewing career) review of the musical Quilters – a review that glows with praise but otherwise doesn’t tell very much, but nevertheless boasts an I’m-so-smart Nabokov reference. It’s followed by the earlier advance I wrote.


Beverly Fite in Quilters
THE PROTEAN VILLAIN (or antihero, really) of Nabokov’s Lolita is named Clare Quilty, the clarity of his character obscured by the crazy quilt of his various identities. An effective use of the guilt as a metaphor, it established, for me at any rate, an interest in the literary possibilities afforded by that item.

Ample justice to that subject has been done by the authors of the newest Capital Repertory offering, Quilters, which seeks to provide not only a look at the pioneer women whose vital role in expanding the frontiers of this country isn’t well recognized, but also a quilt-like framework to the story, giving us patches of story that are then woven into a dramatic whole.

Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek put together the book, inspired by a study titled Quilters: Women and Domestic Art. They followed that with interviews of pioneer women, and the authenticity of their material shines through.