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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Love Is in the Air

WHAT’S MOST ENDEARING about the story that gives us “She Loves Me” is its improbability. We need to see two lonely people despise one another even as they pine for an idealized version that the other represents through correspondence. It’s a musical with a Christmas theme, and as holiday entertainment, it’s more probable than seeing a succession of ghosts show up – and less overdone.

Marc de la Concha, Julia Burrows, Michael McCorry Rose,
and David Girard in theREP's "She Loves Me."

As theRep’s December offering, it couldn’t be better – as a choice and as a production. It’s old enough to be fresh, and timeless enough to be up-to-the-minute.

It’s a ‘30s story (a play, in fact) that became a ‘60s musical – although it also spawned three motion pictures. It fell naturally into the hands of director Ernst Lubitsch, a German refugee, whose 1940 film “The Shop around the Corner” took the wistfulness of Miklós László’s play into the unique Lubitsch world of romantic longing and sexual sophistication.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Come, They Told Me

THANKSGIVING SEEMS MORE AND MORE subsumed into the Christmas frenzy, if the displays of lights in my neighborhood are any sign. Not all waited until Friday to flip the switch, although the blow-up Santas didn’t start billowing until this week.

Artie Shaw
Visually startling though some of these buildings and lawns may be, they don’t provoke anything approaching the trauma that hits me when the Christmas Muzak comes to town. It used to ease into our ears, with one such song only once in a while as December began. Thirty-some years ago I worked for an AM daytimer, a low-watt radio station that played big bands and jazz, and the general manager gave me a formula for slipstreaming in the holiday juice: “First week of the month, one song out of every four. Second week: double that. Don’t make it all Christmas music till a week before.”

Would that were still the case. From gas station to coffee shop to shopping mall, we’ll be hearing the angels on high non-stop from now. Perhaps this has helped fuel my Christmas retreat, as my wife and I haven’t bought (or stolen) a tree these past couple of years, and we celebrated last Christmas in the Jewish style, with dinner at a Chinese restaurant, which we plan to do again in a scant few weeks.

Let me harken (or herald) some previous thoughts on the matter: There’s this piece, a fuller look at my relationship with the end-of-year music, and this piece, in which I found more to gripe on pretty much the same topic. You’re welcome to listen to whatever you wish, but I prefer to exercise choice and attention. Which probably means I’ll be spending the holiday with the likes of Artie Shaw.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Delhi Meet

SOMETHING (FOR US) COMPLETELY DIFFERENT was the watch cry as this year's Thanksgiving planning commenced, and somebody (my daughter, I'm sure) came up with the idea of Indian fare -- a few of the classic Punjabi dishes we know from Indian restaurants. We turned some late-season tomatoes into a terrific chutney, and we were off. I found seasonings like asafoetida and fenugreek leaves in local Indian-food stores, and soon we were wringing panir out of curdled milk and coloring basmati rice for the right biryani look. The only item I purchased were the papdum. Thanks to a recent acquisition of chafing dishes, we presented it as a buffet, breaking the theme only for dessert. Menu below. And here are links to 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and all the menus before then.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Among Your Souvenirs

From the Theatrical Vault Dept.: Some of us simply worship Florence Foster Jenkins, and have done so since long before the movie came along – and even before Stephen Temperley’s play hit Broadway. It was a relief, when seeing it there, to note that her legend was well respected, and I was delighted to see the same degree of respect in the production that played earlier this year in Catskill and Fort Salem, two small New York towns where theater is a luxury.


Perhaps it was a more genteel time back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The salon audiences for whom Florence Foster Jenkins performed stifled their laughter and applauded their support. They were a patrician bunch. Cole Porter never missed her Ritz ballroom concerts.

Jay Kerr and Alison Davy | Photo by John Sowle
The consensus is that Mme. Jenkins was wildly deluded, her lack of musical awareness probably aggravated by the syphilis she contracted as a teen. Thanks to a comfortable inheritance, she became a society dowager and indulged her passion for music with a voice so dreadful that those who heard her live swore that the handful of recordings she left behind barely do justice to the awfulness of the experience.

Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir” is subtitled “A Fantasia,” and the playwright uses the facts of the woman’s life to imagine what might have driven her to inflict her unique performing style upon her friends – and, eventually, to a gloriously sold-out night at Carnegie Hall.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Floor It! The New 56K Modems

From the Tech Vault Dept.: Strictly for those who enjoy the intersection of technology and nostalgia, here’s my comprehensive look at the then-blazing 56K modem technology. It ran on CNet’s site in 1997, complete with appropriate graphics – none of which I retained. So it’s all the drier in the form below.


THEY KEPT TELLING US it couldn’t get faster. Each time, something faster happened. For several years, modem speeds regularly doubled. When we reached 28.8 kilobits per second, however, we were told that was it. Nevertheless, a year ago the rate crept up to 33.6K (but just try to find many ISPs at that speed). And once again we were told that was it: analog phone lines had hit their limit. The only thing faster is digital, but ISDN lines are expensive and hard to get.

Now, suddenly, we have 56.6K modems. For ease of marketing, they’re referred to as 56K modems, although U.S. Robotics, a company with massive modem market share, terms its brand X2, while Rockwell, the firm that makes the modem chipsets for the majority of other modem companies, calls theirs K56flex. Thanks to these modems, Web pages are now flying onto screens at breathtaking speed – over plain old phone lines. But the two implementations of 56K technology, while based on similar principles, are incompatible. And it’s likely that the standard eventually ratified by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) won’t be exactly one or the other. In its long history of ratifying transmission standards, the ITU has never simply adopted a single company’s proposal, so it’s not expected to happen this time – this time being around mid-1998.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Up in Flames

From the Food Vault Dept.: The life expectancy of most restaurants is brutally brief. Sakura, a hibachi steakhouse that I reviewed a decade ago, hung on for only a couple of years. It was replaced, early in 2010, by Ala Shanghai, an excellent eatery that continues to persevere.


HIBACHI DINNERS – also known as teppanyake – are a cross-cultural phenomenon, making them about as authentically Japanese as many another ethnic-restaurant mainstay. But if that’s the dinner you’re looking for, you’re probably not worried about authenticity. Let that therefore not be an issue.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
It’s dinner and a show rolled into one, and, goofy as it seems as a concept, it’s no end of fun when the knives flash and the spatula spins. I’m sure you know the way it works. Start with a meat. At Sakura, your choices include chicken ($16), shrimp ($19), two grades of steak ($19 or $21), lobster ($26) and an economical veggie array ($14). Not to mention higher-priced combos ($21 to $36).

You’re sitting, of course, at a large table with a griddle in the middle. Possibly you’re seated with several strangers – it’s a communal kind of meal. A bowl of hot, easygoing miso soup starts you off, bits of tofu and scallion texturizing the broth.

An iceberg salad topped with ginger dressing follows, a dressing my daughter is so nuts about that I’m still trying to replicate it at home.

Then the show begins.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Shadow of the Rainbow

From the Vault Dept.: For no studied reason, except that this piece of mine appeared in Metroland almost exactly 21 years ago, here’s a look at the kind of musical premiere that used to be more common in the Capital Region.


ALTHOUGH THE IDEA OF A REQUIEM, composed for full orchestra and chorus, is very old-fashioned, ideas of death and dying, grief and conciliation remain very current. While writing “In the Shadow of the Rainbow,” composer Timothy Luby found a compelling link. “As a singer, I was familiar with most of the major Requiems,” he says. “But I’d never studied the text before from a larger, literary standpoint.”

Timothy Luby | Photo by Martin Benjamin
The traditional Requiem Mass follows the sequence of prayers from a burial service, although Luby, like many other composers, took some liberties with the texts. He’s a traditionalist at heart, however, and was pleased to discover a reassuring aspect of the Requiem as he prepared his text. “The sequence of prayers follows the sequence of the grieving procedure. The five stages of a dying person’s grief, as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – which also can be seen as sanctification. You find this mirrored perfectly in the text of the typical Requiem.”

Luby’s Requiem was commissioned in 1991 by Dr. Rudy Nydegger in memory of his father, Vernon Nydegger, a musician whose last few months of life were eased by Hospice care. As a founding board member of Capital District Hospice, Rudy Nydegger also wanted to draw attention to the benefits of Hospice, so the world premiere – which takes place at 8 PM Sat., Nov. 16 at the Troy Music Hall – will benefit Schenectady’s Capital District Hospice and St. Peter’s Hospice of Albany.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Great Vibrations

AS THE KING’S SINGERS eased into the end of Billy Joel’s “Lullabye,” the sonority of the shifting chords produced one of those silent audience reactions that every performer hopes for: a sense of transformation touched with a sense of awe. Six men comprise the ensemble, as has been the case for the group’s half-century of existence. The personnel has changed over the years, but slowly, slipstreaming in those replacement members to keep the sound the same.

The King's Singers | Photo by Marco Borggreve
The performance Tuesday evening at Proctors in Schenectady was a welcome return for the group, last seen here in 2010. They’re not a house-filler, which is a shame, but some intermission eavesdropping suggested that many in the audience were themselves ensemble singers and longtime fans.

A programming style has evolved over the years, placing sacred works and commissions towards the beginning, then moving into madrigals and the more popular stuff. With a just-released 3-CD set celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary to promote, most of the selections were drawn from that playlist, starting with “The Founder’s Prayer,” a decades-old setting (by Henry Ley) of a centuries-old text (by Henry VI). The closing “amen” had a slight raggedy moment in synchronizing that second syllable, and that was the last such problem I picked up as the concert moved elegantly on.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Prokofiev and a Premiere

IN ORDER TO COMMISSION THE DISCOVERY of P.D.Q. Bach’s “Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra,” pianist Jeffrey Biegel enlisted sixteen ensembles from around the world to accompany him – and one of those stops was in Troy last Saturday, where the Empire State Youth Orchestra joined him for the work’s New York premiere.

The music of P.D.Q. Bach, thoughtfully discovered by composer Peter Schickele since the early 1960s, has been a reliable antidote to the stuffy conventions of classical-music concertgoing, and gave rise, for a few of those decades, to holiday-season concerts in Manhattan as well as performances elsewhere where the entire event was suffused with laughs. Does the music work as well when free of that context? It does, although it took a little while to loosen this particular audience – but we’ll return to that point.

This was the opening concert of music director Helen Cha-Pyo’s final season with the orchestra, a 15-year run that has maintained the vital tradition of grooming students to be the music-lovers of tomorrow, whether continuing as music professionals or not. The P.D.Q. Bach concerto was a challenging confection that shared a program with a pair of warhorses, but let’s look at the premiere piece first.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Seoul Food

From the Food Vault Dept.: In the twelve months since the piece below ran, Sunhee’s in Troy has continued to gain an enthusiastic following while owner Jinah Kim maintains an important presence in the growing Troy restaurant scene.


JINAH KIM’S OBSESSION with helping fellow immigrants began at an early age. She grew up in Latham, transplanted from her native Korea at the age of three. “I watched the struggle my parents went through,” she says. “As I grew up, I learned what was happening in North Korea, with people there fleeing or being forced to migrate, and the more I heard the more I realized I needed to learn more – and the more I wanted to dedicate myself to helping people.”

Jinah Kim | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
She has turned her sense of social responsibility to a project that only seems to make more and more sense as you examine it: a restaurant that also serves to help area immigrants.

Sunhee’s is a casually appointed space that serves an array of popular Korean items. Order at the counter, where employees are eager to help you make your choice, and the food tray is delivered to your table.

Among the rice bowl items are beef-based bulgogi ($13) and the popular bibimbap ($10), made with fiddleheads, spinach, turnips, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. A Korean New Year’s soup ($12) features dumplings and egg strips, and a spicy soft tofu stew ($11) also sports garlic and green squash. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options abound.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Where the Heart Is

THERE’S A COMPARTMENT in my emotional makeup that remains closed and locked, containing, as it does, the most miserable memories of my childhood. These memories are largely set in the house where I lived, and most of those are tumultuous, alcohol-fueled domestic battles. What peace I’ve made I made through turning a few of those moments into darkly funny stories, stories that give me control over what I certainly couldn’t control back then. I tell these stories to people who note, admiringly, how candid I am. But I’m not. It’s a trick, a sleight-of-mind.

Carly Gold, Robert Petkoff, and Kate Shindle
Photo by Joan Marcus

The National Tour of “Fun Home,” the 2013 musical drawn from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 memoir, opened for a week at Proctors in Schenectady on Hallowe’en, giving me one of the scariest experiences I’ve had in many years. There weren’t any monsters on stage, save for the everyday fiends known as family, but it was enough to unlock that compartment of mine and force me to look at what remains, for me, scarily unresolved. It’s that kind of story. So when I assert that it’s a hugely entertaining piece of theater, I mean it in the best sense: it’s a show that moves you and stays with you and burrows deep.