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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Slidin’ into Schenectady

Safe at Home Dept.: Since this piece was published back in April, the Slidin’ Dirty Schenectady location has opened, a very welcome addition to the city’s downtown.


IT’S TAKING LONGER THAN EXPECTED, this renovation, but, “We still feel pretty good about opening before the start of summer,” Tim Taney says. “It’s a big project, and we’d like to have all the contractors finish at the same time – but it doesn’t always work out that way.” He’s talking about the Schenectady location of Slidin’ Dirty, the food truck-turned-restaurant that has been such a success in Troy that he and his wife decided to add a second location just down the street from Proctors.

Tim Taney | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
You couldn’t get away from sliders, it seemed, back when he launched the Slidin’ Dirty food truck in 2012. Has the phenomenon peaked? “I think it may have come and gone even before we opened. But that’s okay. We don’t consider ourselves a trendy kind of place. We’re more about serving a unique product, and we want you to have a unique experience. When we’re putting together a menu, we ask ourselves how we can make things different. We’re a burger concept that doesn’t serve french fries.”

We’re speaking at the Troy location, on 1st Street, a space that has the warehouse look of exposed ducts and brickwork, offset by the warm wood of the bar. “We opened here in November 2014, right before Thanksgiving. The space was still boarded up when we first looked at it, so we couldn’t see it working here.” Taney was studying the lease for a space in Albany when he heard again from the Troy landlord. “He asked us to take one more look at his site. This time it was gutted, so we saw these beautiful bricks, and this arch, and decided that this was the space we wanted to be in, and Troy was the city where we wanted to be.”

Monday, August 28, 2017

No Strings, Good Times

THERE’S NO SOCIAL MEDIA, no presence of cell phones in “Company” – not surprising, considering that the musical had its Broadway debut in 1970, which now seems pretty antediluvian.  But the show itself does not, as brilliantly proven by the production at Pittsfield's Barrington Stage. This Berkshires-based company has gained a reputation for presenting shows – especially musicals – of such quality that their “On the Town” from 2013 transferred to Broadway for a healthy run.

Paul Schaefer, Aaron Tveit, and Lauren Marcus
This “Company” certainly cements that reputation. The show is rightly famous for its Stephen Sondheim songs; if the witty book by George Furth isn’t as lauded, this production should help change that, seeing how all the laughs and pain and absurdities come across with easy precision.

It’s an ensemble piece performed here by such strong talent that there isn’t a weak spot, even when they’re down a cast member, as happened the night I saw the show (one of the actors had to leave suddenly to be at the birth of his child). And it was performed with a excellent nine-piece pit band, relieving the actors of what’s become an overused gimmick of having to play their own instrumental accompaniment.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A More Perfect Mozart at Union

From the Vault Dept.: Here’s a visit to Union College’s Memorial Chapel for a performance by the superb Nash Ensemble that I reviewed for the Schenectady Gazette in 1990.


LISTENING TO MOZART in an ornate, antique hall while watching a steady snowfall through oversized windows is the most peaceful kind of fun you could ask for on a winter afternoon.

The Nash Ensemble
While cars smacked into one another outside on Union Street, the Nash Ensemble worked wonders with three of the juiciest pieces in the chamber-music repertory.

Anthony Pay came onstage with an odd-looking instrument that he helpfully identified as a clarinet such as might have been used in Mozart’s time. It was made of boxwood, blonde in contrast to the usual black, “and I like to think of the difference between this and the modern clarinet as the difference between a vintage car and a modern Ferrari. Newer models are more powerful and more able to cope with the dynamics demanded in today’s concert hall.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Bee

Guest Blogger: Mark Twain. Maurice Maetrlinck’s Life of the Bee is a wonderfully poetic record of observations and philosophy accrued during Maeterlinck’s years as an apiarist – and it inspired Twain’s essay below.


IT WAS MAETERLINCK who introduced me to the bee. I mean, in the psychical and in the poetical way. I had had a business introduction earlier. It was when I was a boy. It is strange that I should remember a formality like that so long; it must be nearly sixty years.

Mark Twain
Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.

Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees get drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and it is the queen’s business to keep the population up to standard – say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and elect a queen that has more sense.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chopin and His World

THE THEME OF THE FESTIVAL was Chopin; it could as easily been termed “love,” provided we were warned that there would be pairings as unusual as human passion provokes. Chopin’s “Andante spianato and Grand polonaise brilliant,” for example, pairs disparate works, written at different times, in different keys, and for different instrumental forces – but Chopin sensed an overarching unity and/or ignorable differences, which describes many a human couple I know.

Painting by Maria Wodzinska
It was performed as the opening work on a concert that featured Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a massive symphonic poem written as a sort of anti-opera, with the vocal forces subordinate to the orchestra’s emotionally charged coloring. And this was the final concert in this year’s Bard Summerscape program, “Chopin and His World,” which ran Aug. 11-20 and gave us two weekends’ worth of lectures, concerts, and other events.

“Chopin’s Influence” was discussed and charted the afternoon of the festival’s final day. Is the resemblance of Wagner’s famous “Tristan” chord to a chord from Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 a coincidence? asked composer Richard Wilson during his witty, engaging pre-concert talk. His evidence was convincing: a Chopin chord progression build on the steps of a diminished seventh turns up in Debussy and Brahms, among others; and his suppositions were charming, such as the notion that Chopin built up the ornamentation in repeated passages (such as a Nocturne that Wilson demonstrated) because the composer grew bored.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

B-Minor Ass

From Bad to Verse Dept.: This was written to commemorate a visit my wife and I paid to our daughter in her Manhattan dorm over a year ago, an event that should have included dinner out and some show-seeing -- but she was felled by a stomach bug, the explosive results of which inspired me to take up my pen.


Our lovely, busy, stressed-out daughter,
But still she rallied, hopeful still –
Until she drank that lemon-water.

Her illness played its grievous start
Upon the trumpet of her ass;
She ripped a double-forte fart
More poisonous than mustard gas.

That richly seasoned blast she blew
Began the oratorio;
She crab-walked to the nearest loo
And sang with all her glory. O –

That trombone’s raspy pedal, and
That bass bassoon she hooted through!
And while she led this hellish band
A thousand meals were blasted, too!

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
      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
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.