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Monday, December 31, 2018

How to Sell Goods

Guest Blogger Dept.: I was delighted to spend time recently with Nat Benchley, grandson of the humorist whose work I revere, and to discover that (among his many varied talents and interests) Nat strives to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive, and abetted that cause by issuing two CDs that collect nearly two dozen stories in Nat’s very effective readings. So as not to compete, the story below is not among them.


THE RETAIL MERCHANTS’ ASSOCIATION ought to buy up all the copies of “Elements of Retail Salesmanship,” by Paul Westley Ivey (Macmillan), and not let a single one get into the hands of a customer, for once the buying public reads what is written there the game is up. It tells all about how to sell goods to people, how to appeal to their weaknesses, how to exert subtle influences which will win them over in spite of themselves. Houdini might as well issue a pamphlet giving in detail his methods of escape as for the merchants of this country to let this book remain in circulation.

"They intimate that I had better take my
few pennies and run 'round the corner
to some little haberdashery."
Drawing by Gluyas Williams
The art of salesmanship is founded, according to Mr. Ivey, on, first, a thorough knowledge of the goods which are to be sold, and second, a knowledge of the customer. By knowing the customer you know what line of argument will most appeal to him. There are several lines in popular use. First is the appeal to the instinct of self-preservation—i.e., social self-preservation. The customer is made to feel that in order to preserve her social standing she must buy the article in question. “She must be made to feel what a disparaged social self would mean to her mental comfort.”

It is reassuring to know that it is a recognized ruse on the part of the salesman to intimate that unless you buy a particular article you will have to totter through life branded as the arch-piker. I have always taken this attitude of the clerks perfectly seriously. In fact, I have worried quite a bit about it.

In the store where I am allowed to buy my clothes it is quite the thing among the salesmen to see which one of them can degrade me most. They intimate that, while they have no legal means of refusing to sell their goods to me, it really would be much more in keeping with things if I were to take the few pennies that I have at my disposal and run around the corner to some little haberdashery for my shirts and ties. Every time I come out from that store I feel like Ethel Barrymore in “Déclassée.” Much worse, in fact, for I haven’t any good looks to fall back upon.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Diva Farewell

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Eleven years ago, soprano Kiri Te Kanawa bid farewell to the performing stage with a tour that stopped in Schenectady, and which I was pleased to report on in the piece below.


FIRST SHE COMPLETELY DISARMED US. Regally striding onto the stage, looking gorgeous in a full-length black sequined dress, soprano Kiri Te Kanawa spoke to the Proctor’s audience before her first number. In a friendly, intimate voice that nevertheless filled the hall, she spoke briefly about this stop on her farewell tour—“My first and last visit to Schenectady”—and her desire to make this concert the best of them all.

Kiri Te Kanawa
And then, just as serenely, she blew us away with a recital of well-chosen songs, a repertory of lesser-heard numbers that suited her voice magnificently.

A curiosity by Mozart opened the program. One of his final works, it’s a brief cantata written for the Masons, which he had recently joined. And it was a pleasant enough trifle, an ecumenical celebration of life, giving the singer and pianist Warren Jones plenty to do in seven or so minutes.

But it really served as a gateway to the masterworks that followed: five songs by Richard Strauss, showing a more introspective side of the composer best known for his orchestral bombast. From the first one, “Ständchen,” which gave the vocal line pleasant melodic leaps over a rippling piano arpeggio, Te Kanawa showed her intense dynamic control, which was even more effective in the next song, “Nacht,” a lullaby-like number.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve

An appropriate-for-the-day song I co-wrote with Tom Savoy for our musical adaptation of Booth Tarkington's "Beasley's Christmas Party."

Friday, December 21, 2018

Makings of the Middle East

CHEF ANA SORTUN graduated from La Varenne in Paris, but her interest in Middle Eastern food has taken her beyond that classical French foundation. She opened her first restaurant, Oleana, in Cambridge, Mass., in 2001; she now also owns Sarma, a Turkish-style tavern, and Sofra Bakery & Café, all in the same general area. And it doesn’t hurt that her husband, Chris Kurth, owns and operates nearby Siena Farms.

She won the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef: Northeast” designation in 2005, even as she was working on her first cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean. Her latest book is Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery & Café, co-written with Maura Kilpatrick, a longtime cooking partner who specializes in pastry.

We learn from the start that “sofra encompasses everything you prepare for the table: food, place settings, glassware, décor, linens.” (The literal translation from Turkish is “table,” allying it with an old-fashioned English sense of the term.) “Soframiz” means “our sofra,” which is as welcoming a title as you could wish.

It’s a handsome book with a hundred recipes, but be warned that these recipes aren’t always easy. Nor should they be. We confuse cooking with convenience, and we lack the tradition of handing down recipes and techniques across generations. Which means that scratch cooking usually means learning it from scratch. Fortunately, the procedures herein are laid out in careful detail, with photographs to illustrate the more complicated steps.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The New Fable of the Private Agitator and What He Cooked Up

Guest Blogger Dept.: We return, as we often should, to the fables of George Ade, this one a lengthier opus limning the hazards of succumbing to Ambition’s call.


AMBITION CAME, with Sterling Silver Breast-Plate and Flaming Sword, and sat beside a Tad aged 5. The wee Hopeful lived in a Frame House with Box Pillars in front and Hollyhocks leading down toward the Pike.

“Whither shall I guide you?” asked Ambition. “Are you far enough from the Shell to have any definite Hankering?”

"You are entitled to One Hundred Thousand
Dollars," murmurs the stealthy Promoter."
Drawing by John T. McCutcheon
“I have spent many Hours brooding over the possibilities of the Future,” replied the Larva. “I want to grow up to be a Joey in a Circus. I fairly ache to sit in a Red Wagon just behind the Band and drive a Trick Mule with little pieces of Looking Glass in the Harness. I want to pull Mugs at all the scared Country Girls peeking out of the Wagon Beds. The Town Boys will leave the Elephant and trail behind my comical Chariot. In my Hour of Triumph the Air will be impregnated with Calliope Music and the Smell of Pop-Corn, modified by Wild Animals.”

Ambition went out to make the proper Bookings with Destiny. When he came back the Boy was ten years old.

“We started wrong,” whispered Ambition, curling up in the cool grass near the Day-Dreamer. “The Trick Mule and the Red Cart are all very well for little Fraidy-Cats and Softies, but a brave Youth of High Spirit should tread the Deck of his own Ship with a Cutlass under his Red Sash. Aye, that is Blood gauming up the Scuppers, but is the Captain chicken-hearted? Up with the Black Flag! Let it be give and take, with Pieces of Eight for the Victor!”

So it was settled that the Lad was to hurry through the Graded Schools and then get at his Buccaneering.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Brass Facts

From the Holiday Vault Dept.: Christmastime is here, by golly; disapproval would be folly ... so here’s a review I wrote of a brass quintet’s holiday concert in Schenectady, from the time when a city daily newspaper actually would commission a review about such an event.


“WE HAVE OUR LITTLE BLUE BRASS BOOKS,” said Carleton Clay, one of the Catskill Brass’s two trumpets, “which every brass ensemble has to have at Christmas. So we’ll see if we can take your requests.”

Carleton Clay (a more recent view)
This brass quintet managed to work a holiday sing-along into a program of seasonal music that otherwise ran a gamut from Michael Praetorius to Leroy Anderson, performed Sunday night at the First United Methodist Church.

It provided a spectacular setting for the ensemble, enhancing the noble sound of instruments. Along with the music was some insight into the nature of those instruments, as genial Clay pointed out the differences hidden among a similar-seeming family.

Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” was a stirring beginning, in an arrangement by a member of the Canadian Brass. In response, the Catskill’s own Ben Aldridge transcribed another number from the oratorio, “And the Glory of the Lord,” a fitting companion piece.

Aldridge and Clay went from trumpets to the mellow conical-bore cornet and fluegelhorn for two settings of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” which also took Donald Robertson from trombone to euphonium. And the difference in sound was remarkable, a darker color very appropriate to the Brahms choral prelude that constituted one of those settings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Barricades of Mystery

PIANIST SIMONE DINNERSTEIN set the stage well before she entered. Her piano sat on a darkened stage at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, with candles flickering on the soundboard and floor. The program notes – and you really have to read such things at an event like this – promised an intermission-free concert the components of which were organized into two sets, with applause requested only after each set.

 Simone Dinnerstein | photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
And then there were the sets. It was one of the most creative and satisfying arrays of pieces I’ve ever enjoyed in concert, each juxtaposition as powerful as the pieces themselves. The house was almost full on this cold, cold night. Dinnerstein swept in, acknowledged her greeting, and set to work, opening with one of the more overplayed and under-understood works in the repertory: François Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mystérieuses.” Written for harpsichord, it has traveled to many other instruments and feels very at home on the piano.

It’s a haunting, recursive work. As Tom Service wrote a few years ago in The Guardian, “The four parts create an ever-changing tapestry of melody and harmony, interacting and overlapping with different rhythmic schemes and melodies. The effect is shimmering, kaleidoscopic and seductive ... ” The lavish romanticism Dinnerstein imbued may send Baroque specialists screaming back to their cells, but it made great sense in the context of what followed: Schumann’s Arabesque, Op. 18, another work that conveys a sense of yearning. Its left-hand figurations seemed to pick up where Couperin’s left off, but in a voice that had harmonically advanced by a century. Like the Couperin piece, it’s in the form of a rondo, but its other-than-A sections are more obviously emotionally ravaged. Which is not surprising, coming from Schumann, who wore his heart on his keyboard.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Art of the Cello

THERE’S A SCENE in the 1947 movie “Carnegie Hall” in which cellist Gregor Piatigorsky performs Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” while surrounded by a half-dozen lady harpists plucking the accompaniment. He was a star cellist at a time when the instrument was still struggling to assert star status. And, as with all great soloists, he made it look easy. He was tall – tall enough to pose for a gag photo with the cellist hoisted under his chin like a fiddle. He had a chiseled face that seemed austere in repose, but lit up with his native merriment when he was at his ease.

You’ll get an excellent idea of the look of the man by browsing the photos at the Piatigorsky Archives at the Colburn School. Although the cellist died over 40 years ago, his widow lived to be 100 – and it was only after her death in 2012 that his collection of photos and letters; transcriptions, original compositions, and scores; books, concert programs, and audio – and more – went to the school thanks to the Piatigorsky Foundation, an organization founded by the cellist’s cellist grandson (and which also performs the admirable mission of offering live performances to underserved areas).

With some 19,000 items to deal with, the Colburn School put to work “a team of experts consisting of two archivists, two musicologists, a Russian translator, and a French translator” who collected their results in a 200-page inventory. Some 3,000 of those items were digitized, and the website gives an excellent taste of the breadth of those holdings.

Monday, December 03, 2018

A Precautionary Tale

PREACHING PRECAUTION isn’t often the same as practicing it. The “ounce of prevention” principle, seemingly instilled in us at birth, has long gone out the window where pesticide use is concerned. Touted as the farmer’s salvation before their risks were revealed, pesticides spawned a massive industry that flourishes, like any drug dealer, by keeping its users hooked.

As a political device, the Precautionary Principle – so named in the late 1980s – found a more secure footing in the European Union than it has in the United States. “In Europe the precautionary principle serves as a fundamental basis for generating sound public policy; public health and safety generally trumps potential threats to it. In the United States, however, dangers have to be established through what is generally termed risk analysis, meaning that ‘acceptable levels of risk’ are established. ... Precaution tends to be more of an afterthought than a guiding principle in the United States, and more of a guiding light in Europe.”

The quote comes from Philip Ackerman-Leist’s A Precautionary Tale, which tells the story of the small European village that took on and bested a corporate assault that would have spelled doom for small subsistence farmers – which was pretty much everybody not growing pesticide-anointed apples.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Russian Carnival

From the Vault Dept.: One of a series of liner notes I wrote for the sadly defunct Dorian Recordings label, although I swear my involvement with the concern had nothing to do with their downfall. This was for a CD of works by Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, and Anthony DiLorenzo, lovingly described below – and with notes on the DiLorenzo piece by Tony himself..


BACK IN THE LATE ’60s, after conducting a rip-snorting performance of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” conductor Leopold Stokowski turned to the applauding Carnegie Hall audience and shouted, “Wonderful Russian music!” At which the audience stood and cheered.

In the late ’70s, while airing a recording of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, a radio announcer in Connecticut got a phone call from an angry listener who berated him for playing commie music – the same piece that has reduced an audience to tears with its trenchantly mournful slow movement.

Russian music has excited similar passions for centuries, politics aside. With a thousand-year-old history behind it that includes an Orthodox singing traditon, strong Byzantine and (in the 18th century) Italian influences, not to mention a varied and rhythmic folksong heritage. It’s well known that Stravinsky’s sensual “Rite of Spring” inspired rioting at its 1913 Paris premiere, but even the relatively staid Tchaikovsky inspired howls of nervous derision at what was then judged to be the barbaric nature of his music.

This recording collects music by some of the best-known Russian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries – and adds a new work by an American composer strongly influenced by the Russians.

Monday, November 26, 2018

When Genius Remained Your Humble Servant

Guest Blogger Dept.: Here’s Robert Benchley, back to set us straight about the travails of correspondence, which clearly was in a parlous state even in those dark old pre-e-mail days.


OF COURSE, I REALLY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT, but I would be willing to wager that the last words of Penelope, as Odysseus bounced down the front steps, bag in hand, were: “Now, don't forget to write, Odie. You'll find some papyrus rolled up in your clean peplum, and just drop me a line on it whenever you get a chance.”

Drawing by Gluyas Williams
And ever since that time people have been promising to write, and then explaining why they haven’t written. Most personal correspondence of to-day consists of letters the first half of which are given over to an indexed statement of reasons why the writer hasn’t written before, followed by one paragraph of small talk, with the remainder devoted to reasons why it is imperative that the letter be brought to a close. So many people begin their letters by saying that they have been rushed to death during the last month, and therefore haven’t found time to write, that one wonders where all the grown persons come from who attend movies at eleven in the morning. There has been a misunderstanding of the word “busy” somewhere.

So explanatory has the method of letter writing become that it is probable that if Odysseus were a modern traveler his letters home to Penelope would average something like this:

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thai to Remember

OUR THAI CUSINE-INSPIRED Thanksgiving dinner had a preparation of khao soi, a wonderful coconut milk-based soup, as its centerpiece. Turkey appeared in the curry; an a-la-minute pad Thai satisfied the need for rice-stick noodles. The menu is below. Here's what we did in 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 1990 to 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Carnival of Animals

HOW SENTIENT ARE OUR DOMESTICATED BEASTS? How about beasts in general? We’d like to think that those creatures we take into our houses and hearts, at least, have a capacity to reckon – but for many years we’ve been accused of anthropomorphizing the animals: informing them with human characteristics they can’t possibly have.

Isabella Rossellini and Pan
Isabella Rossellini knows otherwise, and science has been catching up with her. Her show “Link Link Circus,” which played at Bard College’s Fisher Center last Saturday (following acclaimed runs in Manhattan and throughout Europe), presents a cheerful array of lectures, sketches, films, animations, and circus tricks all in the service of animals.

One of which, a dog named Peter Pan, considerably ups the “awww” factor. Like Liberace, the dog goes by its surname; unlike the pianist, Pan doesn’t rely on costumes for effect. But that didn’t stop him from appearing in a dazzling array. Pan is a rescue dog, and we learned that Rossellini is deeply involved with animal rescue and training. In addition to dogs, her Long Island farm accommodates populations of chickens and bees.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Art of Irony

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III AND DAVID BROMBERG are guitar-playing singer-songwriters who gained fame in the 1970s, but who, beyond that, would seem to have little in common. One was termed a “new Bob Dylan”; the other recorded with him. Both record and perform with varying configurations of ensemble; both are keen students of American songwriting traditions. Wainwright performed solo during their Nov. 10 appearance at the Troy Music Hall; Bromberg was surrounded by ten other instrumentalists and singers. And the still-hale baby-boomer audience proudly shook its whitened manes as the house commenced to rock.

Mike Davis, Birch Johnason, Suavek Zaniesienko, and
David Bromberg | Photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Wainwright opened, going back to his 1973 album “Attempted Mustache” (superb title and cover art) for “Come a Long Way,” setting the stage for a thirteen-song set that would comment on family, relationships amorous and otherwise, holidays, and, briefly and memorably, politics. Bromberg’s opener, his own “Sloppy Drunk,” set us up for a different kind of set, in which lyrics of defiance and pain would be set off by blistering solos.

It’s well understood that Wainwright (by and large) is singing his own songs; Bromberg never calls attention to the songs her performs that are his own compositions, which means that they nestle amidst classics by others with similar craftsmanship and timelessness. What links the two most thoroughly is irony. Classic blues songs have that built in, and the best work of both performers tell stories of love pushed awry.

Take Wainwright’s “Donations.” It presents an “in case of accident” scenario: “I’'m an unmarried orphan whose children have scattered, / Estranged from my siblings, / close friends just a few. / And of those few friends I consider you closest. / They must contact someone. / Could they contact you?” Delivered, characteristically, with smirking awareness of the question’s craziness. The classic blues plaint casts the singer as the not-too-innocent victim, and Bromberg deftly mines that genre with lyrics like, “The first time the girl quit me – this month / She wouldn’t even tell me why. / I couldn’t eat, sleep, drink, or work; / It was all I could do to just lie across the bed and cry.”

Monday, November 12, 2018

Keep Your Temper

A RECENT ISSUE of a classical-music magazine sports a letter from a reader who is aggrieved by the practice of singers to perform Baroque and earlier works with well-tempered interval values. Dramatic impact would be heightened, she argues, if those leading tones led a little more acutely, as Nature and the composer intended. Until the composer was Bach, who created the most famous exercise in well-tempered tuning.

Mahan Esfahani
Tune a keyboard from one note to the next and you’ll end up with extremes wildly out of tune with each other. This is a simplified explanation of a natural phenomenon that didn’t bother musicians much until more sophisticated instruments allowed the ability to play in a range of key signatures. The twelve-note scale to which western listeners are accustomed produces 24 major and minor keys, so Bach celebrated this by writing a set of preludes and fugues in each of those keys. Twice.

It’s a pedagogical exercise, sure, but it’s also music by Bach, which means that it offers transcendent rewards. His preludes offer moods; his fugues fuse emotion with time. A fugue opens with a sequence of notes that’s not quite a theme because it exists in order to reflect upon itself as successive iterations of the sequence occur. Thus, there’s always a characteristic striking enough to allow even the unaccustomed ear to pick out the not-quite theme as it appears and appears again in different registers while surrounded by accompanying musings.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Woods So Wild

JAMES LAPINE’S BOOK for the musical “Into the Woods” drew on the work of Bruno Bettelheim and Joseph Campbell to fashion a narrative that captured a number of seemingly disparate stories and intertwined them. Seemingly, because these stories all address a handful of fundamental fears, and, like all timeless storytelling, seek to offer some manner of comfort.

Gabriella Garcia and Celena Vera Morgan
Photo by Jazelle Photography
“The woods” offers the perfect hostile environment. It’s a place beyond cultivation; its native inhabitants are untamed. It’s a place of massive growth and what seems to be tangled confusion. In short, it’s an extension of our own fevered imaginations. But where, really, are the terrors today? I’d hazard the living room as potentially nasty place, being home to domestic conflict and that greatest of fearmongers, the TV set. Certainly it was terrifying to me to grow up with parents sparring nightly in knock-down-drag-outs, and I’ve had my own share of direct participation in squabbles since.

A pleasant living room (or gallery room, or performance space – call it as you will) provided the space for nine actors and a small audience group to engage in an up-close spectacle of a journey that (somewhat didactically) reminds us that storytelling is everything. That we must guide the children we bring into this world. And that witches aren’t necessarily all that bad.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Strike Force

PICKET LINES DON’T VARY MUCH. Marchers carry signs and chant slogans, and there’s usually some speechifying and music. When the strike looks to be long-term, a lot of planning and financial backing is needed. And participants need to withstand the nastiness both of the bosses and of the ignorant who have soaked up and spout the anti-union rhetoric made more and more popular since onetime Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan wandered into the White House.  

Patrick Meyer energizing the picket line.
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
An enthusiastic supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist, Reagan remained a tool of Hollywood forces who sought to do away with hard-won union jobs. But the cause of anti-unionism has its most ardent champion in the current White House occupant, who has redistributed Labor Department forces to exponentially increase the resources available to dismantle organized labor.

The Screen Actors Guild picket line that formed outside the Tribeca headquarters of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty numbered about 400, most of them actors, but with support from several other unions. The Guild’s recent consolidation with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists six years ago created the more powerful bargaining unit SAG-AFTRA, which has seen much success in negotiating its way around the dizzying changes in entertainment technology, but will forever face the greedy forces of bosses crying poor-mouth.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Alls Wells in Williston

“LET ME SHOW YOU HOW COUNTRY FEELS,” sings Randy Houser before the lights dim for the start of “Williston,” a new play by Adam Seidel. And then we’re in that kind of country, in a mobile home, a one-room misery in an oil town in the northwest corner of North Dakota. A real town that suddenly turned expensive thanks to its oil resources.

Robert LuPone, Drew Ledbetter, and Kate Grimes
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
It’s the headquarters for three representatives of Smith Oil, a small, family-run business that stands a chance of leasing the last remaining chunk of oil-rich land in the area. Enough of a deal is at stake to give Larry, the oldest of the group, visions of a magnificent commission – and he’s enough of an old hand at this process that success is all but certain. If “Indian Jim” is as ready to sign as he seems.

The only hitch, as Larry sees it, is the possibility that the new guy, Tom, might screw things up. Tom has never been on this kind of mission before and, at 34, he still seems (to Larry, at least) green around the edges. Which puts Barb, their third, uncomfortably between them. It’s not a position Barb enjoys – she was barely civil to Tom at their first meeting – but her crankiness is nothing compared to Larry’s foul-mouthed, know-it-all, high-energy rancor.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Working in Coffeehouses, Part 119

IT IS EASILY ARGUED THAT, more than ambiance, a coffeehouse needs wifi and enough room on the table for your computer, coffee, and cellphone. Of course, we’re far from the days of Addison and Steele, when a single, notable newspaper might be produced: now the coffees have designs etched in foam and the writing contributes to the solipsistic howls of a million little blogs.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But that doesn’t make it any less fun to work in the right place. I don’t require much. It’s nice to be considered a regular, at least when it gets you a free beverage now and then, but it’s nicer to find an electrical outlet yawning near your seat. As one for whom caffeine is forbidden, I have no patience with the snob joints that eschew decaf roasts. What may seem trendily arrogant from your Brooklyn-aping perch is a serious health issue for me. And I think your tattooed forearm looks silly.

I’d like the background music kept interesting and quiet. It doesn’t have to be classical – I subject myself to a sufficiency at home – but good taste in jazz counts for a lot, so how about a Bill Evans track or two? And please don’t try to imitate Starbucks. That pretentious, labor-hostile chain is annoying enough on its own. Be different. Call it a “large.”

Nothing furthers the cause of atmosphere more effectively that age, and there’s a spot in Manhattan’s West Village that is the hands-down champ of coffeehouse ambiance: Caffè Reggio at 119 MacDougal Street. I’ve written about the place before, but it’s worth revisiting, which I had the chance to do this evening.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Occupation: Conductor

AT THE CENTER OF THE DISCOGRAPHY of conductor Charles Munch are his many recordings with the Boston Symphony, which he music-directed from 1949 to 1962. A new 13-disc Warner Classics set bookends that era. While it far from completes Munch’s extensive discography (he recorded for many labels not included here), it does give us his first and final recordings and presents a fascinating look at his wide-ranging programming style.

Munch was unique. A renowned violinist who began his professional career as concertmaster of several significant European orchestras, he came to conducting with no specific schooling other than what he gleaned from playing under the baton of others. Never one to over-rehearse a piece, he was beloved by musicians who played for him because of his comparatively relaxed attitude and the passion he’d summon in concert, where the unpredictable result were typically triumphant.

He was born in 1891 in Strasbourg, in an Alsatian region that was variously claimed by Germany and France. Both languages were spoken in his house. During World War I he was conscripted into the German army; when Nazi Germany occupied Paris, he was conductor of two top orchestras in that city and contributed greatly to the French resistance, both financially and in the programming he selected.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Cal in Camo

THE BRAND-NEW DENIZEN THEATRE kicks off its first season with a new play in New Paltz, and it’s as well-produced and compelling a drama as you’re going to see in a good long time. “Cal in Camo” is a four-hander by William Francis Hoffman, receiving here its regional premiere, and it’s an excellent fit for the small house – a piece of theatrical chamber music, in essence, that explores some of the intricacies of family relationships.

John Hartzell and Valerie Lynn Brett
Which is, of course, fodder for so many plays – but the focus here is kept sharp, sentimentality is at a minimum (you’ll still shed tears), and, perhaps most importantly, the script never stoops to the superficiality of TV fare (an infection that has turned into theatrical MRSA).

It plays out on a spare, effective set (designed by Sean Breault) that gives us the kitchen of a small suburban house and its immediate outdoors. Here we meet Cal, a mother attempting to pump milk for her newborn. It’s not working. The scene shifts to a bar (our only venture away from the house), where Tim, Cal’s husband, is trying to sell the specialty beer whose distributor he represents. It’s not working, despite his winning ways. “It’s magic, this beer,” he explains, touting the flavorings that he guarantees will make it attractive to women. “And girls hate beer,” he insists. “It smells like their dad.” The bar owner, played in a low-key cameo by Craig Patrick Browne, has only this to offer: “It tastes like beer.”

Friday, October 19, 2018

Which Way the Wind Blows

THERE’S A CHAOS OF NOISE AND ACTIVITY as a group of movie people – directors, actors, hangers-on – wraps up a day on the set and prepares to travel to the desert home of actress Zarah Valeska (Lilli Palmer), to celebrate the 70th birthday of maverick director Jake Hannaford (John Huston). The procession is overrun with media people wielding cameras, recorders, notebooks, hurling questions at Hannaford and getting little in reply. Meanwhile, Hannaford’s  producer, Billy Boyle (Norman Foster), is in a screening room with Robert Evans-ish studio executive Max David (Geoffrey Land), previewing footage from Hannaford’s unfinished art film, “The Other Side of the Wind.” The footage is a beautiful and serene as the rest of this movie is not, as if to remind us that however topsy-turvy things may seem, it’s been done this way on purpose.

John Huston, Orson Welles, and Peter Bogdanovich
This is the world of “The Other Side of the Wind,” a just-released movie from the 1970s that takes its title from the film within the film, and which emerged from a lengthy legal limbo to become the final motion picture written and directed by Orson Welles. There are other unfinished projects out there, but this is the last one he helmed and the one about which he was the most determined to finish.

Reviews have bookended it with “Citizen Kane,” Welles’s startling debut film. Both films are fictionalized biographies of famous men with actual antecedents, and both surpassed contemporaneous film techniques with innovative approaches to photography and editing, not to mention the art of storytelling itself. And it’s tempting to compare them, as if there’s any way to conclusively rate these movies. “Kane” is a much-studied classic enshrined in any worthy best-of list; “Wind” isn’t even in general release yet, and, like “Kane,” like any movie worthy of the art form, it needs to be experienced more than once before credible judgment can be passed.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Wine as Food

From the Wine Cellar Dept.: Twenty-eight years ago, there was a fun, informative, and generally delicious event held at Albany’s Desmond Hotel devoted to wine and food, a long weekend of seminars and tastings and top-of-the-line meals. Here’s a piece I wrote for the Schenectady Gazette profiling a tasting with winemaker Jim Fetzer. The family sold their namesake winery quite a few years ago, and Jim went on to found the Ceago Winery, from which he recently retired.


JIM FETZER WANTS TO TAKE the intimidation out of wine buying. “The general consumer is afraid of it and shouldn’t be,” he says, suggesting that the two biggest questions have to do with price and pairing.

Jim Fetzer
“When my father founded the winery, he saw a need to produce wines people could afford to drink every day.” Jim, the winery’s current president, is one of eleven siblings, ten of whom are actively involved in a business that employs about 350.

He was in the area recently to conduct a seminar on wine and food matching at the Desmond Americana, bringing with him a supply of the Fetzer product along with winemaker Dennis Martin. It was a seminar with a difference, however, because it is designed to teach the teachers – the hotel’s food and beverage staff.

A slide presentation describing the Fetzer operation began the session, offering an armchair tour of the pleasant-looking Mendocino County facility. “We farm about 1400 acres of grapes,” Fetzer explained, “450 of them organically, the largest such area in the world.”

Friday, October 12, 2018

Tales from the Crypts

“THE LOVE OF ANOTHER will destroy the causes of my hatred!” The hulking figure is shadowed, his dark-rimmed eyes suggesting both ugliness and torment. He appeared suddenly, lit only by a flashlight, the beam of which turned on the audience to silhouette the keening monster. His voice wove pain and anger into a sound of heartbreaking beauty, as baritone Joshua Jeremiah gave life to the world premiere of composer Gregg Kallor’s “Sketches from Frankenstein” in the Catacombs at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

Joshua Jeremiah in "Sketches from Frankenstein"
Photo by Kevin Condon
Audacity informed everything about this performance, which took place on the chill evening of October 10. The cemetery itself sports a knoll that gives a panorama running from the Battery to Bayonne, and we began the journey there with a whiskey-tasting that continued in a nearby columbarium. Among the distillers: Pugilist Spirits, whose Prizefight Irish Whiskey is a transatlantic creation; Virgil Kaine, which shared a ginger-infused bourbon; and Brooklyn’s own Van Brunt Stillhouse. While such lubrication is always welcome, the dusk-spangled view was also an integral part of the experience. It made the trip into the Catacombs all the more oppressive.

Oh, it seems delightful at first. Here’s this 19th-century crypt hotel, tunneled into a hillside, intended to assuage those worried about being buried alive. Which seems an absurd worry – until you enter the world of Edgar Allan Poe. His “Tell-Tale Heart,” also set by Kallor, was another item on the musical program.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Culinary Junction

From the Food Vault Dept.: It was incredible enough to find fine dining in Canajoharie, a rural village where pizza would be the favored fare, and more incredible still that this restaurant pursued its ingredients from nearby purveyors. It was too good to last, and it didn’t. The space is now home to Gino’s, a pizza place.


SEPTEMBER SIGNIFIES HARVEST SEASON, which is the time to think again about the 100-Mile Diet Challenge. Eating locally is about fueling your body with the freshest possible ingredients, but it’s also much more: It’s a way of rebelling against the corporate control of farming; it conserves that temendous amount of energy wasted on food transportation, and it offers the probability that your food hasn’t been genetically debilitated.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
In his book Deep Economy, Bill McKibben describes the challenge of eating locally throughout a Vermont year, and it can be done with some creative changes of menu – especially during the winter months. But McKibben’s Champlain Valley – like our Mohawk and Hudson Valleys – is an especially bounteous area, offering not only plenty of produce but also a wealth of small farms that specialize in conscientious meat production.

The menu at Church and Main makes a point of listing those purveyors. Free Bird Farm and Hand’s Honey are from the western Montgomery County neighborhood; somewhat farther afield are Highland Farms in Red Hook and Newport’s Sunset Hill Farm. Local co-ops also provide ingredients.

Friday, October 05, 2018

The Big Cheese

IT EMERGES FROM a milky, opaque bath the temperature of bodily fluids, and it’s a white rubbery mass that looks like a medical mistake. My next task is to drain the fluid away from it – saving the runoff, of course – and compact the stuff in a cylindrical mold. Upon which it will yield to a succession of ever-heavier weights, until it’s ready for storage. It’s going to be a wheel of pecorino, a sheep’s-milk cheese born in Italy (where sheep are pecora) and which has a fabulously complex flavor when it emerges from its five or six months of aging.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
When I learned that I could buy sheep’s milk from some Amish neighbors, I determined to make my own pecorino. I’m working on my fourth wheel of the stuff, and I can confidently state that I don’t know at all what I’m doing.

Beyond the milk itself, you need gear. And chemicals. And a recipe. And once you start reading about cheese, you realize that starting with pecorino is like picking up a violin and expecting to play the Beethoven concerto. You should practice your way towards with easier stuff.

Nevertheless, I want to have my own pecorino. Thus did I begin. I acquired the chemicals – a thermophilic starter culture, which inoculates the milk with necessary bacteria; lipase, an enzyme that acts as a flavoring agent; and rennet, an enzyme that starts the curd thickening. I should have built my own press, but I was impatient. I bought one that accommodates two- and five-pound molds, and which allows you to use the physics of its press lever to arrive at the correct weight: for example, when I hang a ten-pound bag of rice at a particular groove near the lever’s end, I’m applying forty pounds of weight to the cheese.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Time for Catastrophe

THE IDEA OF A CIRCUS invites grotesque imagery, as demonstrated, in movies, at least, by the likes of “La Strada,” “Saboteur,” and “Nightmare Alley.” As a context for the plays of Samuel Beckett, it underscores the vaudeville aspect that informs many of those plays as well as reinforcing the playwright’s unique use of language. Circus talk is perfunctory and hortatory. The Ringmaster (Ethan Botwick) who led the audience into Troy’s cavernous Gasholder Building wasted no words in directing the crowd to the attractions, including a half-dozen playing areas and a concession area offering popcorn, cotton candy, and appropriate libations.

John Romeo in "Krapp's Last Tape."
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
This was actually a return to the circus for the historic structure, which spent 25 years as the winter home for the Oscar C. Buck sideshow companies that toured the country back in the day. But I’m sure that Buck could never have envisioned Beckett as the entertainment’s backbone.

The Gasholder was the setting for “Catastrophe Carnivale: An Evening of Beckett Shorts,” the opening show of the second season for Troy Foundry Theatre, a company that gypsies around the city to present its shows in unusual and appropriate venues.

It’s an approach that resonates with a question posed by the young Beckett: “Must we wring the neck of a certain system in order to stuff it into a contemporary pigeon-hole, or modify the dimensions of that pigeon-hole for the satisfaction of the analogymongers?”* The pigeon-holes  here answered to no one. Center stage, so to speak, was “Krapp’s Last Tape,” a monologue piece that pits an old man against a tape recording of his 30-years-younger self. It’s got the vaudeville flavor of Beckett’s more famous “Waiting for Godot” in that the process of self-examination is riddled with absurdity. Krapp has a banana; Krapp lovingly unrolls its skin; Krapp eats the banana, not so lovingly; Krapp slips on the banana peel.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bavarian Brass

From the Vault Dept.: The piece below ran in the Schenectady Gazette thirty years ago, and the group profiled is still active, with internet evidence of their travels very evident this time of year. Because it’s Oktoberfest time, of course, and you can’t enjoy German beer without German music.


LIKE SO MANY WORTHY CELEBRATION TRADITIONS, the Oktoberfest began as a wedding feast.  “The first one was back in, oh, 1810 or so,” says Harry R. Vincent, “when King Ludwig was marrying off one of his daughters. It was in a meadow in Munich, but as I understand it the event became more like a county fair.”

The Bavarian Barons - A more recent view
Vincent, founding director of the Bavarian Barons, presents the music of that era in a styling so authentic that his group recently received an award from the Federal Government of West Germany acknowledging the Barons as “America's Number One Bavarian Brass Band.” And the Barons will be an attraction at Schenectady's seventh annual Oktoberfest, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at State and Jay Streets.

This preserves the German custom of hiring the local musicians for such a performance; as Vincent explains, “Every town in Germany has a band, or ‘kapelle,’ and that’s the group which plays for village functions. They’re very aware of what they have musically there, much the same as it used to be in this country back around the turn of the century.” Although the reputation of the Bavarian Barons is international, the group is based in nearby Nassau.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Delhi Meet

From the Food Vault Dept.: Albany’s restaurant scene has evolved slowly. Forty years ago, only a single Indian restaurant could be found; soon after, a number of its employees quit and opened another. Neither is still in business, but I couldn’t begin to count the number you’ll find in the Capital Region now. Unfortunately, the one reviewed below also has left us – a Greek restaurant and a Thai restaurant are among those that took its place in the now-shuttered building. This is not to be confused with the Taj Mahal in Schenectady or the Taj in Glenmont, both of which I’ve visited recently and very much enjoyed. And I can’t recall who my dining companion was during this excursion twenty years ago, but he obviously wished to remain anonymous, and that condition shall endure.


THE FLAVORS REVEAL THEMSELVES in a cascade of contrasts. First there’s just a general pungency, followed by a vinegary pucker. Then the salt hits, conditioned by bay leaf and other herbs. This is the essence of achari, a type of Indian dish that includes some manner of pickle.

And not the pickled cucumbers we associate with that term. Pickles and chutneys can include a wide range of components, typically invoking dramatic contrasts of sweet and/or salt and sour. Chutneys are cooked, pickles are marinated, typically, in sunlight.

Lamb achari, which I ordered, has flavors that are intense without being devastatingly pepper-hot. The salt of the pickle dominates, so be prepared to pucker. You need the rice pilaf, which accompanies the dish, and a hunk of nan, the flat tandoori bread, to make the dish complete.

At Taj Mahal, four achari selections are offered (chicken, lamb, shrimp, beef) on a menu that includes other diverse specialties you won’t find elsewhere in the area: karahi dishes, cooked quickly in a type of wok; patia, from the cuisine of the Parsis, a Persian tribe that resettled north of Bombay who developed their own sweet-and-sour style; the aromatic stews known as nehari dishes, and a few jaipuri preparations, celebrating the desert cusine of Rajasthan with another type of stew.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Steal the Words

Guest Blogger Dept.: Ellen Terry owned the stage, as far as Shakespeare was concerned, during the last two decades of the 19th Century; she was also accomplished in comedy and loved the work of Ibsen and Shaw. Her advice on acting -- found inscribed in her copy of "Romeo and Juliet" -- remains ever pertinent. 


Ellen Terry ("Choosing")
Painted by George Frederic Watts
GET THE WORDS into your remembrance first of all. Then, (as you have to convey the meaning of the words to some who have ears, but don’t hear, and eyes, but don’t see) put the words into the simplest vernacular. Then exercise your judgment about their sound.

So many different ways of speaking words! Beware of sound and fury signifying nothing. Voice unaccompanied by imagination, dreadful. Pomposity, rotundity.

Imagination and intelligence absolutely necessary to realize and portray high and low imaginings. Voice, yes, but not mere voice production. You must have a sensitive ear, and a sensitive judgment of the effect on your audience. But all the time you must be trying to please yourself.

Get yourself into tune. Then you can let fly your imagination, and the words will seem to be supplied by yourself. Shakespeare supplied by oneself! Oh!

Realism? Yes, if we mean by that real feeling, real sympathy. But people seem to mean by it only the realism of low-down things.

To act, you must make the thing written your own. You must steal the words, steal the thought, and convey the stolen treasure to others with great art.

-- Ellen Terry

Monday, September 17, 2018

What Makes a Legend

MARLENE DIETRICH BECAME A LEGEND long before she died (at 90, in 1992), a legend invented by director Josef von Sternberg, with whom she made seven notable films, and preserved by Dietrich herself during her long career before the public. There was a sure knowledge of craft behind the art: when she filmed “Stage Fright” with Alfred Hitchcock in 1950, he let her light and compose her scenes, which was quite a tribute from the micromanaging director.

Justyna Kostek as Marlene Dietrich
The legend of Dietrich refuses to die, and it is in a post-mortem state that we meet her in the person of Justyna Kostek, who carries us in a matter of minutes from a wheelchair to a lively rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” with the formidable Nevada Lozano at the keyboard.

Kostek wrote the show in collaboration with director Oliver Conant, highlighting Dietrich’s career with a succession of signature songs and just enough narrative to plausibly move us from one to the next. An extended sequence recreates her “screen test” for “The Blue Angel,” the Sternberg film that put her on the map. We have the young Dietrich, nicely impersonated, shrilling her way through “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” as her accompanist veers from what she expects – so she berates him and tries it again. You can find the recently found footage on YouTube, but this version is more fun by virtue of seeming less staged.

And that leads us into her signature song, “Falling in Love Again,” and the years with Sternberg that followed after they both moved to Hollywood. This was when Dietrich became Dietrich, encapsulated in a well-written movie-making sequence that races the actress from one side of the playing space to another, barking orders through a small megaphone. But, as we know, she learned a tremendous amount from the autocratic director.

Friday, September 14, 2018

More Than a Matter of Taste

YOU’D THINK IT HAS MUCH TO DO WITH FLAVOR, this diet of ours. It turns out we’re making choices based on an amazing range of factors, including the color and size of the plate on which our food is served and the volume and tempo of the music that might be coming at us.

Rachel Herz’s book Why You Eat What You Eat examines not only the actions and reactions that go on within us but also how we’re influenced by a huge variety of signals from around us. People will eat more Hershey’s Kisses – 46 percent more, in one study – when they’re presented in clear jars, as opposed to opaque containers. “The moral: put your candy in ceramic jars and wrap your sandwiches in aluminum foil,” she writes.

And the color preferences we associate with food extend to how the food is presented or plated, which “is due to the associations that we have learned between color and temperature. Red, yellow, and orange are ‘warm’ colors. Blue and white are ‘cold’ colors.” Red makes food taste sweeter, yet it’s also understood as a color of warning. In a fascinating study, people were seen to eat half as many pretzels served on a red plate as when they were served on blue or white. And even color distribution plays a part: we’ll scarf up fewer M&Ms when they’re presented in a color-segregated array. 

Size matters, too. We eat fewer hors d’oeuvres when they’re smaller, and we feel more satisfied finishing a portion presented on a small plate than when the same portion appears on one that’s larger.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Pursuit of Happiness

WILLIAM BLAKE PUBLISHED HIS “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” a collection of metaphysical poems with mystical illustrations, at the end of the 18th century. It has baffled and inspired ever since, and some of its fans have been inspired enough to interpret the work in a variety of media. Thus we have settings of some or all of the poems by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Tangerine Dream, Greg Brown, William Bolcom, and Allen Ginsberg, while Joyce Cary’s fictional painter Gulley Jimson was inspired to paint his own versions in “The Horse’s Mouth” (and which were created by John Bratby for the film version).

Molly Parker Myers and Brian Petti
Photo by John Sowle
Playwright Mickle Maher has followed his own inspiration even further, turning Blake’s poetry into a ninety-minute exaltation of sensuality. “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is,” in a superb production at Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre, celebrates the language and ideas of Blake, personifying three aspects of the poet’s worldview in the form of three compelling characters.

The premise is outrageous and simple. Bernard Barrow and Ellen Parker teach at a small liberal arts college in the northeast. Bernard is a Blake specialist; Ellen also teaches the work of the poet, and each focuses on a different part of the “Songs.” Bernard has the Innocence, Ellen the Experience. And Bernard, whom we hear from first, is aburst with joy, despite the fact that he and Ellen were so carried away during a joint lesson they offered outdoors the day before that they fell into each other’s embrace. And pursued it to a carnal-enough demonstration to bring the wrath of the college’s president upon their heads.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Bernstein Conducts Bernstein

From the Record Vault Dept.: As noted in the lede, there had been plenty of versions of this set in the past and the years since have seen many more. So, although this out-of-print set is fetching upwards of a hundred bucks today, there’s a more recent (but drab-looking) seven-disc version and a more-recent-still 25-disc version, and that’s not even mentioning the stuff he later recorded for Deutsche Grammophon.


RECENT HISTORY IS LITTERED with Bernstein Conducts Bernstein boxes and singles, but this new issue, a joint production of Carnegie Hall and Sony Classical, puts together all of the composer/conductor’s Columbia Records recordings, most of them with the New York Philharmonic.

Although it’s part of Sony’s Original Jacket Collection series, which packs the ten CDs in cardboard miniatures of LP albums, these discs have been filled out beyond LP length, so there’s some creative fiddling with that original artwork.

Speaking of fiddling: Bernstein’s Serenade for Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion after Plato’s “Symposium” has withstood its pretentious title and become a something of a repertory item, but here’s a chance to enjoy two Bernstein-helmed performances. First, and the first-ever recording, features Isaac Stern as soloist. He concert-premiered the piece in 1954; this mono recording was made two years later with the Symphony of the Air (the former NBC Symphony).

With the smash popularity of stereo a few years later, this work became one of many re-recorded in the new format. This time (1965), Zino Francescatti was soloist; along with the expanded aural spread and Columbia’s strange, thin audio quality during that era comes a more consistently focused violin performance.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

West Side Story Reimagined

LEONARD BERNSTEIN’S “WEST SIDE STORY” wasn’t by any means the first time Latin-influenced music came to Broadway. Irving Berlin’s “Watch Your Step” featured Vernon and Irene Castle dancing the scandalous tango; the “George White Scandals of 1922” included Gershwin’s “Argentina” (a bolero), and Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” was part of his 1935 “Jubilee.” But those – and many, many subsequent offerings – either had no Latin context or, as with Porter’s “The Gypsy in Me” and Harold Rome’s “Don José of Far Rockaway,” were what we’d now understand as condescending.

But “West Side Story” had the temerity to put full-fledged Latin characters in leading roles. Its portrait of race hatred remains as poignant (and true) now as it did in 1957, as the many productions staged this year, the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, have proven.

Two years after the show’s debut, André Previn’s trio put out a jazz recording, inspiring other jazz greats to tackle the score in the early 1960s, among them Cal Tjader, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck, and Oscar Peterson. Songs and arrangements from the show have since been recorded by the likes of Earl Hines, Richie Cole, the Labeque sisters, and Joshua Bell; and there are the compilations, like “The Songs of West Side Story” (1996), which offered an array of terrific covers, including Aretha Franklin singing “Somewhere” and Little Richard’s “I Feel Pretty” (which will never be topped).

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Tom-Cat

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let’s welcome Don Marquis to these pages. Best known for the free-verse, lower-case writings of the reincarnated cockroach Archy and his alley-cat friend Mehitabel. Marquis was a newspaperman at heart, and worked for New York’s Evening Sun and Herald-Tribune during the ‘teens and ‘twenties of the last century. His writing also appeared in all of the popular magazines of the era, and were collected into many of the 35 books that bear his name. Here’s a sample of Marquis’s not-so-free verse.


Don Marquis
A Tom-cat comes to wail,
And he chants the hate of a million years
As he swings his snaky tail.

Malevolent, bony, brindled
Tiger and devil and bard,
His eyes are coals from the middle of Hell
And his heart is black and hard.

He twists and crouches and capers
And bares his curved sharp claws,
And he sings to the stars of the jungle nights
Ere cities were, or laws.

Beast from world primeval,
He and his leaping clan,
When the blotched red moon leers over the roofs,
Give voice to their scorn of man.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Lash Resort

From the Food Vault Dept.: Ten years ago, my wife and daughter and I treated ourselves to a post-Labor Day getaway to the mountains of Vermont. As was usual when we traveled back then, I turned one of our mealtime stops into a Metroland review. Menus and prices have changed, of course, so check out the restaurant’s web page before you visit.


DRIVE UP STOWE’S MOUNT MANSFIELD (or, if you have a constitution more rugged than mine, bicycle or walk) and, when you near the peak, clamber in and around the paths and boulders that constitute Smuggler’s Notch. Imagine forbidden cattle being herded over that mountaintop, cattle from Canada, forbidden because conflict with Canada-friendly Britain was a defining feature of early 19th-century politics.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
And agriculture was a defining Stowe industry, and politics be damned: cranky Vermonters needed their animal trade.

Mt. Mansfield continues to dominate the town: it’s the highest peak in the state, and has given rise to the tourism upon which the area now thrives. Hikers, campers and, especially, skiers show up when it’s warm or cold; foliage draws tourists in fall.

Lodges humble and swanky flank the road to the mountain, but in the center of the charming village of Stowe sits the Green Mountain Inn, one of the first structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with an 1833-vintage building at its heart. Other buildings have been added over the years, and the complex now offers tasteful accommodations ranging from a single queen bed to a two-bedroom, multi-story townhouse – over 100 rooms in all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rimsky-Korsakoff and His World

WHY DID MARFA SOBAKINA SICKEN AND DIE immediately after her wedding to Ivan the Terrible?  Scholars speculate that it was the result of a fertility potion gone awry, which sparked the 19th-century Russian dramatist Lev Mey to concoct a version where in a jealous rival substitutes poison for the love potion her beloved intends to slip the woman. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff had already set some of Mey’s other plays, so it was a natural progression to turn “The Tsar’s Bride” into an opera.

Andrey Valentiy, Efim Zavalny, Gerard Schneider,
and Lyubov Petrova. Photo courtesy Bard Summerscape
What was different was Rimsky-Korsakoff’s break from a style he and his fellow-composers had evolved that turned from the traditional compote of arias and ensembles into a more integrated presentation. With “The Tsar’s Bride,” the composer embraced everything he’d cast aside, probably because he was lovesick for the soprano who would sing the title role.

Soprano Lyubov Petrova sang the title role in the semi-staged production that climaxed the Bard Summerscape festival “Rimsky-Korsakoff and His World,” and I suspect that she, too, would have captivated the composer. Marfa is a character of exquisite goodness, two-dimensionally so, leaving it up to the singer to inform her with anything more interesting. This Petrova did with gusto, informing Marfa with appealing eagerness as she anticipates her marriage to Ivan Lykov (the excellent tenor Gerard Schneider) and texturing her descent into madness at the end with great vulnerability. And we got Petrova fresh from acclaimed appearances at the Met!

Friday, August 17, 2018

East Side Story

SASHA MARGOLIS IS A VERSATILE VIOLINIST, an accomplished actor, a witty novelist – but at heart he’s a tummler. He wants you to enjoy yourself, and he’s going to make you laugh along the way. His summer gig is playing violin in the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra. As he has done in previous summers, he gave the audience a single performance of a different kind of show. Margolis leads a klezmer band called Big Galute, a five-piece ensemble that spreads this unique style of music into the classical world and beyond.

Sasha Margolis, Mary Hangley,
Richard Sosinsky, and Robin Seletsky.
Photo by Connor Lange/The Glimmerglass Festival
Their performance at the Glimmerglass Festival on Tuesday, August 14, followed a matinee of “West Side Story” and so, as is their tradition, they saluted the piece in their finale. But it wasn’t only Bernstein whose music was tweaked. Brahms entered the Gypsy realm with his set of Hungarian Dances, inspired, Margolis explained, by the composer’s evenings in a coffeehouse where such music was played – and at a time when the terms Hungarian and Gypsy were used interchangeably to describe music heavily influenced by Jewish tradition.

Thus we were treated to Brahms’s Dances Nos. 17, 11, and the superstar 5. It’s amazing how much a work’s character changes when you add an accordion oomph on the off-beats. With mandolin adding atmosphere to the slow intro, the piece soon took off with a clarinet lead and accompanying figures from the fiddle. The next dance had a theorbo in its rhythm section, the outsized instruments twangy sound giving a bluegrass feel. Brahms didn’t write clarinet glissando into the piece, but I’m sure he would have approved, especially when he had enough caffeine in his system. And 5 is 5, which means you have to equal or better every version of it that’s ever been featured in cartoon or commercial, and this they did.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Savory is Sweet

DUTCH SCHULTZ IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE buried his $5 million fortune in the Catskill woods; his delirious deathbed confession has sent countless treasure-hunters searching for the stuff and, as far as we know, to no avail. The rumor of a treasure-lode of historic jazz recordings was more credible: Bill Savory had played some of the many airchecks he accumulated to friends, and Benny Goodman even made a successful commercial release of some of the sessions in which he was featured. But Savory remained circumspect about the rest of the stuff. When he died, in 2004, the status – and extent – of his collection was unknown. Six years later, thanks to a campaign among jazz collectors, Savory’s son authorized the sale of the collection to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

The serpentine tale is recounted by several of its principals in the booklet accompanying the Mosaic Records release of The Savory Collection 1935-1940, but the recordings themselves tell an even more exciting story, The six-CD set begins with an astonishing Coleman Hawkins “Body and Soul” and finish with Lester Young, at his peak with Count Basie. In-between is a hodgepodge of treasures, recorded off-the-air by Savory at a time when you needed uncommon equipment – and very special know-how – to do so. Airchecks differ from studio recordings in significant ways. They’re one-time-only performances, not necessarily mistake-free. They’ve usually got an audience, which often adds a discernible level of excitement to the playing. Records were keepsakes; broadcasts let fans get familiar with their favorites.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Fable of How Uncle Brewster Was Too Shifty for the Tempter

Guest Blogger Dept.: George Ade was a best-selling author in his day, and his legacy persists among those who honor the encomia paid the Chicago-based writer by the likes of S.J. Perelman and Jean Shepherd – and Shepherd wrote a book about him! Any idea what a “Joe Miller” is? (It also shows up in a Cole Porter lyric, which inspired me to go to a damn library in those pre-internet days and look it up.)


WHEN UNCLE BREWSTER had put on his Annual Collar and combed his Beard and was about to start to the Depot, his Wife, Aunt Mehely, looked at him through her Specs and shook her Head doubtfully.

Drawing by Clyde J. Newman
Then she spoke as follows: “You go slow there in the City. You know your Failin’s. You’re just full of the Old Harry, and when you’re Het Up you’re just like as not to Raise Ned.”

“I guess I can take keer of myse’f about as well as the Next One,” retorted Uncle Brewster. “I’ve been to the Mill an’ got my Grist, if any one should ask. I ain’t no Greeny.”

With that he started for the Train, which was due in one Hour.

As he rode toward the Great City he smoked a Baby Mine Cigar, purchased of the Butcher, and told the Brakeman a few Joe Millers just to throw out the Impression that he was Fine and Fancy.

After he had Registered at the Hotel and Swelled Up properly when addressed as “Mister” by the Clerk, he wanted to know if there was a Lively Show in Town. The Clerk told him to follow the Street until he came to all the Electric Lights, and there he would find a Ballet. Uncle Brewster found the Place, and looked in through the Hole at an Assistant Treasurer, who was Pale and wore a Red Vest.

“I want a Chair near the Band,” said Uncle Brewster. “How much does one of ‘em Fetch?”

Monday, August 06, 2018

Pointing the Way

From the Computer Vault Dept.: Again, from the pile of magazines that recently turned up, a piece I wrote in 1994 about the variety of portable pointing devices then available. (I reviewed some of these devices in a similar piece that’s here.) Some of the info here actually isn’t outmoded, but it’s amusing to look that far back in time. I also found the unedited version of the piece, which tends to have cleverer wordplay than the magazine’s editors could tolerate. So that’s what’s below.


THE GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE was a relative latecomer to portable computers, but it’s here, it’s pretty, and it requires a pointing device. The portable alternatives to the desktop mouse are varied and creative, and sometimes even successful. But that depends upon how success is judged--there are plenty of competing criteria. As portables get smaller, real estate is more and more of a problem. And many hours of usability research have yet to come up with one perfect and perfectly comfortable solution.

With the exception of some truly oddball devices like the IsoPoint roller, which was the size of a chunk of soda straw positioned near the space bar, built-in pointing devices are either some form of trackball or an isometric device like IBM’s TrackPoint II and Zenith’s J-Mouse.

From the pea-sized model on Panasonic’s notebook series to the large, centered unit on the old Apple PowerBook, portable trackballs show the greatest variety in placement and design. Although pointing accuracy is enhanced by software interpretation of your physical manipulation, you still need something physical to manipulate. Which is why the size of the ball itself is so important. A rash of tiny trackballs infected a recent wave of notebook computers, causing a backlash of user complaints. Not only was the rolling surface too small, but it also picked up oil and grime from the fingers, attracting dust and clogging the internal mechanisms. All trackballs need regular cleaning, but these needed to be cleaned only after a couple of hours of comprehensive use.