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Monday, December 28, 2020

Diner Indecision

From the Food Vault Dept.: I ended the year 2008 with a review of an Albany-area diner, the Metro 20. Two years later, it changed hands and changed name, and endures today as the Capital City Diner. I can’t tell you about its current incarnation, although re-reading the pieces below do inspire a longing for the post-Covid world when I can check out such eateries without worry. I’ll bet you’re feeling the same way!


IT’S BEEN JUST OVER A DECADE since the Metro 20 Diner put down stakes – or, as it looks at night, neon ablaze, dropped from deep space – on Western Ave. not far from Crossgates and the Northway intersection. As far as architecture is concerned, it’s about as handsome a diner as you’re likely to find north of New Jersey, and the glitter of the exterior is carried onto the inside walls, with art deco poster-style motifs.

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
That you can get breakfast items at all times the diner is open reinforces a certain otherwordliness about it. You can lose your sense of time here, as you do in a gambling casino. Although the Metro 20 closes at midnight or 1 AM, arrive after dark and it feels like four in the morning. Even daylight visits make me feel as if I’ve pulled an all-nighter, but that has more to do with my decades-long tradition of shoveling eggs and sausage into myself after staying up all night than it does with the diner itself.

I visited with my family in 1998, when that family included a one-year-old. It was, and remains, a good place to bring kids. Its spacious enough to accommodate a range of customers in a range of stations, although customers tend to be consolidated in a dining area during the slower stretches.

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Fighting Chance

AT SOME POINT during my single-digit Christmas years, I learned to impress my parents and other elders by declaring that what I really, really wanted as a holiday gift was World Peace. What I really wanted, of course, was to parlay such pearly altruism into a personal reward. Which puts me in alignment with those double- and practically triple-digit political leaders who pay lip service to notions of peace while scheming to profit off the next armed conflict.

Bending the Arc is an important book that collects 17 essays about pathways to a peaceable world, placed in the context of an annual conference that has been going in New York’s Mohawk Valley since 1998. It began as the Kateri Peace Interfaith Pilgrimages, started by U.S. Marine veteran (and president of the Albany chapter of Veterans for Peace) John Amidon as an extension of his protests against the School of the Americas – an institution he more accurately terms the “School of Assassins” because of its training of Latin American military savages who used that training to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Latin American citizens.

The first two years were pilgrimages; in 2000, Amidon turned it into a peace conference. He describes the first few years of the event in the book’s opening chapter, putting them in the context of disturbing world events, ever hoping for tangible signs of the conference’s effect. The second half of the history is continued by Maureen Baillargeon Aumand, who has co-coordinated the conference since 2004 and helped bring more activists and would-be activists to it. The theme of the event has changed from year to year: 2009's was “Harnessing the Winds of Change,” 2013 brought “The Moral Imperative of Activism,” and the 2016 call for action was titled “Confronting the Politics of Fear.” Ambitious topics, ambitious events, but Aumand ends her essay by asking, “Have we found the way forward to shared planetary sustainability where war is seen as abomination and justice and equality rule?”

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas Eve

EVEN IN THIS STAY-AT-HOME version of the Christmas season, we're bombarded with music. Music that easily can drive the sensitive human into fits of depression and despair. Let's ease into the holiday with a different kind of song: one that should be able to drive you to despair far more quickly.

Friday, December 18, 2020

An Unfinished Christmas Story

Guest Blogger Dept.: We’re hurrying O. Henry back into the fray in order to set the holiday mood for us. He did it brilliantly in his most beloved tale, “The Gift of the Magi,” but that also has overshadowed another of his contributions to the season. Enjoy for its atmosphere and tone of voice; who knows where the plot may have gone had the author finished it.


NOW, A CHRISTMAS STORY SHOULD BE ONE. For a good many years the ingenious writers have been putting forth tales for the holiday numbers that employed every subtle, evasive, indirect and strategic scheme they could invent to disguise the Christmas flavor. So far has this new practice been carried that nowadays when you read a story in a holiday magazine the only way you can tell it is a Christmas story is to look at the footnote which reads: (“The incidents in the above story happened on December 25th. – ED.”)

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
There is progress in this; but it is all very sad. There are just as many real Christmas stories as ever, if we would only dig ‘em up. Me, I am for the Scrooge and Marley Christmas story, and the Annie and Willie’s prayer poem, and the long lost son coming home on the stroke of twelve to the poorly thatched cottage with his arms full of talking dolls and popcorn balls and – Zip! you hear the second mortgage on the cottage go flying off it into the deep snow.

So, this is to warn you that there is no subterfuge about this story – and you might come upon stockings hung to the mantel and plum puddings and hark! the chimes! and wealthy misers loosening up and handing over penny whistles to lame newsboys if you read further.

Once I knocked at a door (I have so many things to tell you I keep on losing sight of the story). It was the front door of a furnished room house in West ‘Teenth Street. I was looking for a young illustrator named Paley originally and irrevocably from Terre Haute. Paley doesn’t enter even into the first serial rights of this Christmas story; I mention him simply in explaining why I came to knock at the door – some people have so much curiosity.

Monday, December 14, 2020

B-Side Yourself

IT WAS ONE OF THOSE smack-your-forehead, it’s-so-obvious ideas: collect the other sides of all the 78s that Harry Smith chose to include in his iconic Anthology of American Folk Music. A few enthusiasts pursued this idea, and thereupon pursued Lance Ledbetter, whose label Dust to Digital has produced many stellar releases of neglected music.

The project kicked off in 2013, fighting delays caused by finding the best-quality copies of these long-neglected discs, by running them through as fine a digitization process as is possible, by securing rights, where needed, to the recordings, and by putting together an attractive package with appropriate (whimsical, inventive) essays and song explanations. And by a pandemic that cam just in time to stymie the hoped-for production schedule. The set finally was released last October. It was worth the wait.

If it’s a mirror of the original Anthology, it’s a somewhat faded one. Not because of the quality of the music – this is old-time stuff at its best – but because of the unexplainable but magical quality of the programming of Smith’s original 84 sides, an array spread over three two-LP sets and categorized as “Ballads,” “Social Music,” and “Songs.” Some of it can be rough going: there are recorded sermons that seem endless and Cajun bands that sound wildly out of tune, but you hang through it all for a cumulative effect that, when you reach the final bars of Henry Thomas’s “Fishing Blues,” feels as if you’ve been through an emotionally fraught but satisfying wringer.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Executive

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome, for his first appearance on this blog, the great juggler and ventriloqist – and he had something to do with radio as well – Fred Allen. He was a great fan of newspaperman-turned-humorist H. Allen Smith (and wrote the forward to Smith’s 1941 debut book, Low Man on a Totem Pole) and enclosed the following doggerel in a letter to Smith written in November 1940 (punctuation per the original).


Fred Allen | Photo by Philippe Halsman
National Portrait Gallery |

The Executive
James Whitcomb Allen

The Executive is
A busy man
Who sits around
On his frustrated can

He presses his buzzer
He jiggles his phone
And barks his commands
In stentorian tone

His every word
Is a slogan ... a phrase
He checks ... He ties in
Buttons-up ... and okays

He mother-hens it
He thinks in the groove
He knows his competitor’s
Every move

Monday, December 07, 2020

Accent of Youth

From the Computer Vault Dept.: And then there are the seeming orphans that crouch in old computer directories, pieces that I wrote many years ago that bear no identification of their intended destinations, and don’t show up in the hard copies I managed to retain. Here’s one of them, for a long-gone software program I barely remember examining, in an era that seems more technologically remote than ever.


MOVEABLE TYPE, for all its benefits, froze the way individual letters look on the page. We who read and write English use one of the simpler languages, in terms of the characters involved, which made it all the easier for us to render the language on an instrument as inflexible as a typewriter.We take for granted a minimum of diacritical markings – and a complete absence of cedilla, hacek, and ess-tsett.

In the pre-computer era, typing in a different language was easy. Either you notated diacritics with creative overstrikes, or you found the appropriate typewriter. With graphical word processing now the norm, a program like Accent fills an important niche. Windows’ ability to display characters in any desired typeface means that those characters can represent any language. The most popular fonts, including those provided with Windows, contain the most-used foreign-language characters, but Accent adds its own set of TrueType typefaces for such character sets as Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew. Japanese and Chinese languages aren’t yet supported, but are promised for a future release.

Most importantly, what lies beneath Accent is a full-featured word processor that gives button-bar access to formatting commands, multilingual spell-checking and thesaurus, and even individual word translation among five languages. An integrated utility called KeyMaps redefines your keyboard according to the language you’ve chosen to work in, with many of the languages offering more than one keyboard layout to ease your input.

Friday, December 04, 2020

On the Money

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The internet can be as opaque as it is revealing. I dug out the below review, which I wrote 35 years ago, and set out to find conductor Stan Rubin. He is eluding me. I remember meeting him in a coffeeshop back then for an interview, and he was eager and full of energy as he described his musical ambitions. And we lost touch. An internet search is occluded by the existence of an identically named clarinetist and bandleader. Got any leads on the whereabouts of this fellow?


“LOVE OR MONEY” is a symphony orchestra that, for now, plays for love.

A concert Sunday evening at the Albany Jewish Community Center proved that the orchestra’s heart is in the right place, even if some of its technical equipment is not.

Mykola Lysenko
Founder and music director Stan Rubin conducted a program that featured a delightful performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G. Soloist Luba Lischynsky, a Schenectady native now living in New Hampshire, played with a rare understanding of Mozart's style. A sense of control is most important: the pulse must be maintained even as phrases are varied and embellished.

This kind of collaboration is good discipline for an orchestra. The Love or Money members, still developing a smooth voice, found a challenge here, particularly in the second movement, where sustained passages require precise intonation.

It is important to recognize that the group is not a professional orchestra. Not yet, anyway. Rubin took on the challenge of starting an orchestra from scratch two years ago and he acknowledges that it takes time to gain credibility – and to bring in the kind of budget that allows good players to have sufficient rehearsal time.

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Heart of the Matter

From the Theatrical Vault Dept.: Thanks to a recently acquired scanner that whisks piles of papers into PDFs – and its accompanying OCR program – I’m able to digitally store what used to take up too much file-cabinet space. And share unearthed clippings like the one below. This was a 1985 interview with Eleanor Koblenz, who was an Albany (NY)-area theater powerhouse. She reviewed shows for any number of papers, local and national, and also did marvelous work as a director. I’m distressed to see that the internet can find no photo of her; what you see below is from a photocopy of the clipping.


HUMOR IS A SENSE that seems to be uniquely human. In its more sophisticated forms it becomes the unexpected underbelly of tragedy. It’s also one of the dramatist’s most powerful weapons: get an audience laughing and you’ve got an audience that trusts you. Emotions become more accessible. This is the secret of such masterworks as Chaplin’s “City Lights,” the pathetic ending of which carries all the more punch because of the humor that has come before.

Eleanor Koblenz
In “Crimes of the Heart,” Beth Henley examines the life of a family in Mississippi (her native state) – in particular, three sisters whose lives have become complicated by a succession of tragedies. Tragedies that are given a wickedly humorous twist in this Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was a strange play,” said director Eleanor Koblenz. “It juxtaposes very serious material with a – what should I say? A quirky comic outlook.” The production, by Albany Civic Theater, opened last night (Wednesday) at that company’s playhouse. It marks Koblenz’s 10th directorial effort for ACT.

“It’s different from the kind of play I’ve been directing the past few years. and that’s what attracted me to it,” Koblenz said. “So much of the time I’m involved with plays with a strong dramatic content, or historical plays. So I saw this as being a real challenge.”

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Culinary Pearls

IT'S THE THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the lavish Thanksgiving dinners we've served here at Jollity Farm, so we weren't about to let a little thing like a devastating pandemic arrest our planned celebration. We decided to salute our first such dinner here by re-creating its menu, more or less. And I learned something valuable: Even when I'm cooking for a very intimate gathering, I still prepare too much food. The menu is below, and a retrospective look at all the menus is here.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Purple Dress

Guest Blogger Dept.: This Thanksgiving slice-o-life comes from O. Henry, who spent the dawn of thge 20th century relentlessly chronicling the swirling life of that romantic place of fiction known as New York City.


WE ARE TO CONSIDER the shade known as purple. It is a color justly in repute among the sons and daughters of man. Emperors claim it for their especial dye. Good fellows everywhere seek to bring their noses to the genial hue that follows the commingling of the red and blue. We say of princes that they are born to the purple; and no doubt they are, for the colic tinges their faces with the royal tint equally with the snub-nosed countenance of a woodchopper’s brat. All women love it – when it is the fashion.

And now purple is being worn. You notice it on the streets. Of course other colors are quite stylish as well – in fact, I saw a lovely thing the other day in olive green albatross, with a triple-lapped flounce skirt trimmed with insert squares of silk, and a draped fichu of lace opening over a shirred vest and double puff sleeves with a lace band holding two gathered frills – but you see lots of purple too. Oh, yes, you do; just take a walk down Twenty-Third Street any afternoon.

Therefore Maida – the girl with the big brown eyes and cinnamon-colored hair in the Bee-Hive Store – said to Grace – the girl with the rhinestone brooch and peppermint-pepsin flavor to her speech – “I’m going to have a purple dress – a tailor-made purple dress – for Thanksgiving.”

“Oh, are you,” said Grace, putting away some 7½ gloves into the 6¾ box. “Well, it’s me for red. You see more red on Fifth Avenue. And the men all seem to like it.”

Friday, November 20, 2020

Breezy Baroque

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Here’s another look back at where I was planting my critical butt thirty-five years ago. Performances by Capitol Chamber Artists were always welcome events, and I’m glad to be reminded of their dedication to works both old and (then) new.


BAROQUE CHAMBER MUSIC can be austere or friendly. It requires a decision from the performers to bring out the fun or to play it like pedants.

Johann Joachim Quantz
What makes a concert by Capitol Chamber Artists so enjoyable is that they’re obviously having fun and they share it. A concert yesterday at Page Hall in Albany offered music from the 18th and 20th centuries.

Genial flutist Irvin Gilman introduced a trio sonata by Johann Joachim Quantz, to whom we’re indebted for a lot of the late-Baroque flute repertory. It’s nice to have these living program notes: Who started this image of classical musicians as tight-lipped snobs anyway? At least this group is working to undo that.

A good collaboration between Gilman and violinist Mary Lou Saetta was complemented by splendid continuo work by harpsichordist Gordon Hibberd and cellist Ted Hoyle. Gilman is fond of likening this to jazz, and there certainly was more the feel of a hip combo than a Baroque quartet.

A flute concerto by Haydn closed the first half, giving us an even better look at Gilman’s skill. Here a small orchestra comprised violinist Janet Rowe, violist Angelo Frascarelli, and cellist Bettina Roulier in addition to the above-mentioned trio. Paring down the accompanying ensemble to so few makes much more of a demand upon the players, and here something was lacking. They played too much like a sextet with flute rather than a small orchestra: more dynamic drama might have helped, especially in the middle movement, an Adagio.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Eras of Eros

From the Vault Dept.: Twenty years ago, I had the pleasant job of writing liner notes for Dorian Recordings, a small company producing fantastic-sounding CDs, usually using the acoustically spectacular Troy Music Hall as the recording venue. Here are my notes to an unusual disc (for that label): A collection of French songs of the sort you’d associate with Piaf – who wrote the lyrics to one of the numbers contained therein, putting her alongside such scribes as Victor Hugo, Boris Vian, and Charles Baudelaire. I will also note that it was I who came up with the album’s subtitle, which I used as the headline.


WHEN CLAIRE GIGNAC began to put together the program of love songs that make up this recording, she wanted to encompass the many centuries during which we’ve been writing such songs. She immediately ran into a problem: “There are millions of them,” she says. “I did a lot of research and a lot of listening, trying to find the right songs and poems. I didn’t want to sing all happy love songs or all sad ones, and I wanted to find songs that give different perspectives of love.” Even with the wealth of material available, “it’s more difficult to find happy love songs. Longing is there, of course, but I found songs that are also very serene, like the beautiful poem by Victor Hugo.”

Gignac is a husky-voiced contralto and multi-instrumentalist who has worked in many areas of musical theater, most notably as a performer, stage director, and composer. Throughout the 1980s, she was with Ensemble Anonymous; since 1991 she has fronted La Nef, which also records for Dorian. She has composed and arranged songs for albums by Belgian singer Julos Beaucarne, and she co-devised and performed in “Zulu Time” with Ex Machina. “Les Chants d'Eros” grew out of her work with La Nef, when Dorian producer Brian Levine grew intrigued by Gignac’s voice and versatility. “I wanted to hear her in a setting reminiscent of the old-style cabaret singers, with a jazz feeling,” he says. “From there, a program of French love songs was a natural idea.”

Equally important was the instrumentation. “When I was musical director for Beaucarne, I hired Marc Vallée as guitarist, and we stayed close friends,” says Gignac. “When Brian suggested this album, I decided to avoid using the piano and called Marc instead.” Violinist Stéphane Allard also plays psaltery, recorder, and mandolin on this recording; bassist Norman Lachapelle (who’s also a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and composer) rounds out the trio.

Friday, November 13, 2020

A Musicall Banquet

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Who celebrates a nineteenth anniversary? That’s a date calling for a gift of bronze, which hardly applies to the occasion I’m saluting below. It’s a review of one of the first concerts I attended after the tragedy of the preceding month, and, as such, was all the more comforting. And it has another melancholy edge, as lutenist Karl-Ernst Schroeder died two years after this performance at the age of 45. The review was written for – and appeared on – the now-defunct


TWO DAYS BEFORE HIS DEBUT at Weill Recital Hall in New York, countertenor Andreas Scholl presented the same program at Union College’s acoustically superb Memorial Chapel. That’s a nice characteristic of the long-running concert series at this hall: it attracts artists who want to trial-run what they’ll do in Manhattan. Scholl’s poised, polished Schenectady performance promised a wonderful time for his downstate fans.

Andreas Scholl and Karl-Ernst Schroeder
The pairing of Scholl’s voice, justly praised for its purity of tone, with the sound of a lute gave an added intimacy to this program of 17th-century lute songs. Holborne’s “My heavy sprite” set an easy tempo that characterized most of the selections, all of which explored love as realized through heartbreak or lust. Campion’s “My Sweetest Lesbia” showed Scholl’s skill at rendering a strophic song, with each of the three stanzas given a slightly different – and appropriate – interpretive twist.

Similarly, he knows how to effectively touch a lyric sequence with portamento to underscore its sadness, or with a gentle edge of syncopation when the intent is more brazen. He even took a broadly comic approach in Campion’s “I care not for these Ladies,” juicing the recurring phrase “forsooth, let go!” with exaggerated emotion, still nicely effective.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Into the Light

THERE COMES A MOMENT in each person’s life when dance-band recordings from the 1920s are discovered. It’s hard to be unmoved by them, and, while I fear that many dismiss these discs as mere platters of quaintness, those of us who get hooked on them stay hooked – and begin a lifelong quest for more. You can chase down an amazing amount of this material these days, but you’re still listening, as it were, through a sonic haze: even the best-sounding, most carefully reproduced 78s are hampered by noise and a diminished frequency range.

Accordion and saxophone wizard Matt Tolentino not only sought recordings and performances by contemporary groups of such vintage stuff – he also added his own voice to the proceedings. More specifically, the stunning voice of an 18-member band called The Singapore Slingers that he put together in 2008 specifically to play these ear-catching charts.

Their third CD is out, and it gives us 21 songs chosen and presented in a deft variety, but all beautifully capturing the unmistakable quality of such material. Material, by the way, that was fairly workmanlike for its day – a plenitude of stock arrangements in every dance band’s book to satisfy the relentless demands of dance emporiums. But it was an era of great innovation and social change for a populace that had no idea their music would get the one-two punch of the Great Depression and the Swing Era.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Eating Ethnically

From the Food Vault Dept.: Early in my restaurant-reviewing years I spent an afternoon at the Schenectady Museum’s Festival of Nations, a food-centric collection of comestibles organized by country of origin. Started in 1975, this festival ran until I don’t know when; its history is obscured by a parallel Festival of Nations that has run annually in Albany since 1972. Its 2020 edition was held, just a few days ago, in a virtual manner that couldn’t have been as delicious as what I attended in 1986 and describe below. The people referenced therein include Drew Kinum, the photographer who captured my first few months of reviews, and Paul Grossman, who was the editor of Metroland at the time.

“YOU AND YOUR ETHNIC FOOD,” Drew grumbled as I described the proposed outing.
“Don't forget - it includes ethnic beer!”

Kielbasa and Kapusta
He brightened immediately.

You won’t be able to make a reservation for this meal – you’ll have to wait a year before it takes place again. But Schenectady’s annual Festival of Nations took place last Saturday on the grounds of the Schenectady Museum and boasted 19 booths of foods from all over the world.

The Two Guys lot was packed with cars; the throng milling the grounds of the Festival was so varied that there were conversations from as many nations as there were recipes.

Our first stop at the first booth, Scotland, got things off to a great start. My wife and I split a sausage roll (she had this idea about pacing ourselves, flying in the face of what I knew was my duty) and Drew bought a meat-filled Scotch Pie. We augmented the order with cool bottles of MacAndrew’s Scotch Ale, a dark, sweet, nutty brew that complemented the strong flavors of the meats nicely. The incredibly flaky crust of the sausage roll, it turned out, came from a distributor in New Jersey.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Put Yourself Online

From the Computer Vault Dept.: I heard you clamoring for another one of my vintage computer-magazine pieces describing an era the technology of which has been so superseded as to now seem hilarious. And here it is. In the pre-internet days, we communicated online (and found porn) using bulletin-board systems, or BBSes, typically run on a dedicated computer into which you dialed – but it’s explained below. As a footnote: the BBS I set up for this piece endured for several months, but few phoned in and I shut it down even before the internet came along to render it laughably obsolete.


MY PHONE BILLS were getting way too high. “What are these calls to Florida and Oregon and Virginia all about?” my wife would ask. Because there is no alternative, I’d tell her. “Why do you have to call these BBSes all over the country?” she asked, adding reasonably, “Why can’t they call you?”

Thanks to a recent upgrade ripple in the house, I had enough pieces left over to put together a 386-based PC clone. Once a screamer, with an 80MB hard drive and 4MB of memory, it is now the last and least of my machines.

Perfect for a dedicated bulletin board system.

In my case, it’s intended to provoke lively conversation, with an emphasis on the writer’s craft. I’ve hosted writers’ conferences on other systems; this would be a chance to bring it home. And to save on those long-distance expenses.

Your reasons for setting up a BBS can be as varied as they are creative. If you’ve sampled any of the many to be found in every city all across the country (throughout the world, in fact, if your phone bill knows no fear), you’ve seen hobbies and interests of all sorts represented. Computer-based companies offer software and utilities on their BBSes; other businesses are now joining in, offering troubleshooting tips, product ordering facilities, and even a way for employees to stay in touch with each other and the central office.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Listen Here

From the Vault Dept.: This was one of the most compelling talks I’ve ever attended, and I’m grateful to have my review of it linger as a souvenir. Libby Larsen had a distinguished reputation when I saw her in 1985; she has gone on since then to write a multimedia work based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and won a Grammy as producer of a recording featuring her setting of Sonnets from the Portuguese. She also continues to speak about music, and, in 2010, won a George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America.


ARE YOU LISTENING? According to composer Libby Larsen, we may not be as good at listening to music as we could be. She described her own experience observing an audience listening to a work of hers – she is composer-in-residence with the Minnesota Orchestra – or not listening, as seemed more evident. “It made me frustrated and angry,” she said, “so I put together this program on creative listening.

Libby Larsen | Photo: Ann Marsden
The program is a one-hour presentation that she gave at the Desmond Americana Friday morning under the auspices of the Albany Symphony Vanguard. And it was a program that every auditor of this or any other symphony orchestra should experience, because Larsen suggests many useful ways to cut through the fear and prejudice that inform so many of us who get hit over the head with the modern stuff without sufficient warning.

The talk dealt mainly with the symphonic form, although the techniques described are certainly adaptable to other musical stylings – and to sound in general. Asked to define music, Larsen, who qualifies herself also as a former physics professor, called it “any arrangement of sound over a space of time.”

“You don’t need to know much about music to listen to it,” she began. “You just need to know how to listen.” And, pointing to the ubiquity of background music, she said, “We spend most of our lives tuning it out instead of tuning it in.”

Monday, October 26, 2020

Season with Cole

From the Theater Vault Dept.: I would have loved to have seen the revue “Cole” in its original Mermaid Theatre run; I saw “Cowardy Custard” there and was bowled over. But I’ve seen “Cole” at other venues over the years, and the 1985 production I wrote of below remains one of the best. And I’m reprinting the entirety of that column, so you can see what was happening in Albany-area theater back then.


WITH JUST THE FIRST TWO SHOWS of this season, Heritage Artists at the Cohoes Music Hall already has seen attendance surpass that of all of last season. It’s an auspicious start, and there’s the promise of even more recognition if the rest of this season is as terrific as the current, just-opened offering: a musical revue entitled “Cole,” giving us a tour of the songs of Cole Porter.

Originally devised for London’s Mermaid Theatre as a follow-up to its similar tribute to Noël Coward, it’s designed for an intimate setting, which the Cohoes Music Hall provides. In fact, that hall really is the local equivalent of the Mermaid.

The talented cast of eight – four men and four women – takes us through what’s almost a nonstop songfest. A biographical sketch of Porter links the segments, but it’s minimal, which is fortunate: it’s floridly overwritten. Another wise touch was to resist presenting the songs in chronological order; the best-known ones are scattered throughout, some the centerpieces of well-staged ensemble or dance numbers.

The 48 songs are divided among eight sections, roughly corresponding to periods in Porter’s life. The highlight is the breathtaking sequence that begins the second act. Taking its title from the song “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” it is a continuous row of love songs helped tremendously by the deft characterizations the actors assume. Speaking of “Begin the Beguine” (at 108 measures, the longest POP song ever written), Alec Wilder writes in The American Popular Song: “Along about the 60th measure I find myself muttering... ‘End the Beguine.’”

Friday, October 23, 2020

Will Rogers Was No Damned Good

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome back the late H. Allen Smith, whose wonderful books, beginning with the best-selling Low Man on a Totem Pole, carried on the tradition of Mark Twain and remain essential reading. He had a very salty sense of humor which, toward the end of his life, finally began to creep more obviously into his writing. Here’s one of his last pieces.

AT THE RISK OF BEING SUSPENDED BY THE NECK from a cottonwood tree, I have in recent years been taking dead aim on the late Will Rogers and calling him somewhat of a fake and a fraud.

H. Allen Smith
This is a hazardous undertaking because Will Rogers ranks as one of the few American saints – a religion unto himself – like Abraham Lincoln and, dropping down the scale a few notches, the Reverend Billy Graham. In the last few years there has been a sharp recrudescence of interest in the Rogers mystique, owing in large part to the barnstorming tours of actor James Whitmore, who impersonates the cow-pasture chawbacon who himself was engaged in impersonating a cracker-barrel Virgil. The public has been flocking steadily to the Whitmore one-man shows, but then, as we know, the public is capable of impersonating a ass, a idiot.

My aim in this feuilleton is to tell a single anecdote that I think is amusing, with a kicker at the end, but it is needful that I first set down a few facts and a few personal opinions about the so-called Sage of Oolagah.

Was Rogers the “profound philosopher” some people called him? Horse withers! He had a much better education than I got. The great bulk of his writing and rambling stage talk was vapid and dull and had no art in it. He came up with a slight handful of gems, out of a vast output of spoken and written prose; those renowned six chimpanzees, put to work at typewriters, could have done better, given the time.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Neopolitan Niceties

From the Food Vault Dept.: I started reviewing restaurants early in 1986, successfully pitching to Metroland Magazine the notion that we could accommodate their budget-free approach to things by approaching selected restaurants and inviting them to let me dine for free and assess them at their best. We did this for a few months until a welcome self-consciousness set in and a budget was established. But this is one of those early pieces, introducing me to what would become my favorite restaurant – Albany, NY’s, still-thriving Café Capriccio – and the chef who would become one of my finest friends, Jim Rua.


“I’M NOT GOING TO DO ANYTHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY TONIGHT,” said Jim Rua, chef-owner-manager of the Café Capriccio. “What I'm going to do is choose some items off of tonight’s menu that I think are really representative of the place. Okay?" He’s got the kind of beard that, when he grins, looks like a forest in motion.

Jim Rua | Photo by Joe Schuyler
Café Capriccio is inauspiciously located on Grand Street in downtown Albany. There is a long bar in one room and a small collection of tables in another. The walls are paneled with pine; the music, Jim’s choice, features Italian opera.

Like much of the opera, the recipes Jim uses come from Northern Italy. The menu changes from night to night, but there are favorites that reappear regularly. Our first course, Antipasto Capriccio, was one of these, a feast of salami, provolone, marinated cauliflower, apple slices, red pepper strips, small slivers of quiche, fried eggplant, melon, strawberries, mushroom caps, mussels, artichoke hearts, red cabbage, olives, tuna, anchovies and romaine, with a light oil-and-vinegar dressing and lots of herbs. And I may have missed an item or two, but you stop writing and start eating when confronted with such a concoction.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Reach Out and See Someone

From the Computer Vault Dept.: We’re clearing boxes of books and magazines from a room being renovated and I discovered a bunch of old computer magazines. So I’m going to share some more vintage articles of mine, this one an amusing foretaste of what we now take for granted with Skype and Zoom and many other at-our-fingertips video-chat utilities. We’re heading back, back, back ... to 1995.


TWO OF THE GREATEST DISAPPOINTMENTS of New York’s 1964 World’s Fair were the disappearance of Picture Phones and the persistence of that wretched song “It’s a Small World.” Only in the last few years have picture phones gained even a little market presence, but they’re hampered by poor picture quality and a too–high price. It’s tough packing all the required information into the cramped space afforded by a dial-up phone line, so ASL offers a compromise. How about a digital image of the person you’re talking to? Better still, how about the ability to transmit pictures and drawings?

Now that desktop videoconferencing is here, we can forget the picture phone. With my PC and the MegaConference kit from Alpha Systems Labs, I’m able to smile and wave to a similarly equipped person on the other end. Using a camcorder or VCR, I can even play a tape of my latest vacation through the system.

All you have to do is avoid creating an image that changes too quickly. The MegaConference system uses a video-compression technique to reduce the amount of information going over the wire, and it counts on a fairly static scene to work efficiently.

The compression is essentially a lazy technique; it first sends a complete picture and then repaints only the parts of each successive screen that change. You can do anything you want in front of the camera, but the more information the system has to send, the longer it takes to update the picture. Your inspired break dance comes out as a sluggish slide show on the other end.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Slow the Food, Feed the World

THE CURRENT PANDEMIC has kept us away from restaurants but it hasn’t slaked our taste for food. It may not seem appropriate to ascribe any advantages to living in a comparatively isolated fashion during the past few months, but it at least may have forced a reassessment of our relationship to what we eat. Seeds and gardening material were hot sellers this year; growing your own food is both nutritious and therapeutic. But where are we headed?

Terra Madre – Mother Earth – is a Turin-based but world-wide festival that seeks to “unite our food, our planet and our future,” and which will present a mix of physical and digital events running from Oct. 8, 2020 through April 2021. It’s the thirteenth such festival, and in many the most important, bringing together, as it promises, food producers, consumers, thinkers, and writers from around the globe.

The conference defines the four pillars of food security as availability, access, utilization, and stability, and notes that the pandemic is as much of a food crisis as it is a health crisis. “Covid-19 represents an opportunity for us to find solutions to all the other emergencies we face: the climate and environmental crisis; the economic crisis generated by an unsustainable development model based on the impossible dream of infinite growth, a model which foments social injustice and distributes our collective wealth ever more unequally; the social exclusion of large sections of the population and denial of fundamental rights; the drama of mass migration.”

Terra Madre’s summary response is biodiversity, asking, “What can we do to reverse a development model that creates social and environmental disasters, eroding our natural capital?” Slow Food is the answer, promoting all forms of biodiversity.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Masur’s Farewell

From the Vault Dept.: The late conductor Kurt Masur was an unashamed champion of the music of his native Germany, and chose to finish his career as the NY Philharmonic’s music director with a heartfelt celebration in 2002 of three of the biggies: Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler. Here’s my review of the events.


KURT MASUR BID THE NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC FAREWELL with a pair of concerts at Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony) in Massachusetts. Weather couldn’t have been nicer, the large auditorium was nearly full, and the manicured lawn had a capacity crowd.

Kurt Masur
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The programming couldn’t have been more basic: Beethoven. Mahler. Brahms. Unlike the televised pops concert with which Masur wrapped it up in Manhattan, these were programs of length and breadth. And the music obviously was close to the Maestro’s heart: he danced his way through the works with ease and panache, crafting each with a finely-honed sense of dramatic and emotional structure.

Brahms intended his Concerto for Violin and Cello as a rift-healing gesture for his old friend Joseph Joachim, a violinist into whose failing marriage Brahms had tactlessly intruded. Joachim gave the premiere along with the cellist from Joachim’s quartet.

It’s not hard to hear the dialogue between the solo instruments as conversations between two old friends. To put a more fanciful face on it, it’s a passionate exchange in a tavern, a fiery reunion that softens into wistful melancholy before finishing in a burst of exhilaration.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Susannah v the Elders

From the Opera Vault Dept.: One of the most powerful American opera’s is Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” which resonates all the more deeply in this current era of pseudo-religious fervor exciting the armed and unloved. Here’s a look back at a 2003 production by Lake George Opera (now Opera Saratoga).


IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EASY, when I lived in an urban area, to dismiss Carlisle Floyd’s premise for his opera Susannah as being trite and out of date – but over a decade of rural living has proven to me that the judgments, the Manichean dance of good versus evil, the church-based politicking are very much a part of the fabric of American farm life.

Sheryl Woods
Photo by Frank Giraldi

My wife and I painted both of our surnames on our mailbox when we moved here, but not until I thoughtfully posted a photocopy of our marriage license on the bulletin board of the local church did the sour tongues stop wagging.

Susannah, written in 1955, takes the Apocryphal story of Susanna and the Elders as its inspiration, but it’s re-set in rural Tennessee and has a distinct flavor of the McCarthy-era witch hunts woven in.

It starts innocently enough, at a dance introduced by a melodic figure that begins like the Preludio from Bach’s Violin Partita No. 3 and ends with a square dance lick. But a dark note is sounded with the arrival of itinerant preacher Olin Blitch, who discovers that the attractive Susannah is viewed with suspicion and scorn by some of the village women.

While searching for a baptismal creek, a group of village Elders sees the young woman bathing, naked, and decide to shun her until she’s “saved.” A simple, musically powerful scene gives us her discovery of this attitude at a church picnic, and that’s the kind of scene that makes this opera such a good one and made this production so successful.

Friday, October 02, 2020

The Telltale Tintype

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome back George Ade, who has been busy grinding out more of his insanely popular “Fables in Slang.” Here’s his latest.


ONCE THERE WAS A WORRIED PARENT whose only Son could not quite make up his Mind whether to join a High School Frat or go on the Stage.

He was at the long-legged Age and walked Loose and stepped on his own Feet, and whenever he walked briskly across the Floor to ask some Tessie to dance with him, every one crowded back against the Wall to avoid getting one on the Shin.

He combed his Hair straight back, like a Sea Lion, and in Zero Weather wore a peculiar type of Low Shoe with a Hard-Boiled Egg in the Toe.

His overcoat was of Horse Blanket material with a Surcingle, and the Hat needed a Hair Cut and a Shave. When he topped off his Mardi Gras Combination with a pair of Yellow Gloves that sounded like a Cry for Help and went teetering down the Street, his Father would vent Delight
over the Fact that the Legislature had passed Game Laws.

One day at Luncheon Father got so Steamy that he had to blow off. So he opened up on Son and practically wiped him off the Map. He sure burned him Alive.

Monday, September 28, 2020

An Anti-Trusting Nature

AS YOU MAKE YOUR WAY through this well-reasoned, well-researched, densely written book, you may hear the sound of a scream, a crescendo of pain that builds from introduction to index. In my case, it turned out to be coming from the inside of my own head. We know, or have intuited, some of the issues and conclusions Teachout proposes. But we probably aren’t taking in the entirety of what’s wrong and what’s at stake. It’s massive, and our future and our children’s future demands that we do something.

You know Zephyr Teachout from her noble but unsuccessful runs for political office in New York over the past few years. She’s an attorney who is also Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University, and the author of several books and scholarly articles. Clearly, she has sought societal change through legislation, whether writing it or enacting it. But her new book, Break ‘Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, empowers all of us to be part of that change. What’s depressing is the overwhelming amount of it that she deems necessary. And she’s correct.

As she writes in the book’s introduction, we have “passively accepted corporate consolidation as a fact of life” and shown no resistence. “Although there are tens of thousands of community activist organizations dedicated to campaign finance, climate change, and gender equality, I know of no local antitrust leagues – unlike 120 years ago, when there were thousands.”

The various monopolies she goes on to describe are strikingly varied but operate in similar ways. One monopoly-controlled commodity is chicken.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Clarion Call

From the Classical Vault Dept.: When I visited Newell Jenkins at his Columbia County home in 1985 to learn about his upcoming concert series, I had no idea just how important and well-regarded he was as a musicologist and conductor. If I had, I would have made more of an effort to see the concerts he led over the next few years. But here’s an idea of what kind of music-making he was bringing to life back then.


FOR MANY YEARS, Columbia County has offered a retreat for New York City-based artists to quietly live among farms and fields; inevitably, the area has taken on a cultural identity of its own, with a very supportive concert audience being the result.

Two of the area’s favorite activities are combined in the “Leaf Peeper” concert series, which begins Saturday at the Catamount Ski Area in HilLsdale. The series was developed and is directed by musicologist Newell Jenkins, who makes his home in this little town.

The house, a contemporary design the color of which complements the fall foliage, sits atop a hill with a breathtaking view. Jenkins, whose sturdy stature and white mane suggest the classic picture of a musicologist, was anything but stuffy as he sat by his pool and described the coming four concerts.

“The first one, like most of them – like most of the concerts this year, it seems – celebrates the birthday composers. Members of the Clarion Chamber Ensemble will play music by Bach and Handel, the big piece being Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. This will be performed at the Ski Area, which may seem an unlikely place for a concert, but acoustically it’s not bad at all. And it has ample space for an audience – it will hold up to 500.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Tavern in the Valley

From the Food Vault Dept.: The Tory Tavern, alas, is no more – Ralph and Irmgard Buess retired in 2013 and put the building up for sale. As I noted in the piece below, I saw the place in 1984 when he was restoring it because he and I worked together in the kitchen of Schenectady’s (also defunct) Mohawk Club, and he would dash home between lunch and dinner shifts to work on the place.


RALPH BUESS WASN’T CRAZY ABOUT the idea of this write-up. “I like things the way they are,” he told me. “Quiet. Peaceful.” He’s a modest person who gets a little embarrassed by the acclaim, but I believe he’s sincere in his wish to keep the business on its even keel.

To say he’s a hands-on chef-owner is to put it mildly. Twenty years ago I visited the 18th-century building he was restoring and witnessed Buess at work on the building’s restoration, finishing room after room with a level of craftsmanship you’d be hard pressed to find in new construction. With walls and woodwork, furnishings and fixtures all hand-crafted, it’s no surprise to find food that gets similar attention.

George Mann lived there in the late 18th century, at a time when the Mohawk Valley became an important factor in the Revolutionary War. Initially sympathetic with the war, Mann switched sides and paid for his Tory sympathies with a jail term in Albany. Thus the restaurant’s name.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Bees in Your Backyard

THIS IS A PIVOTAL TIME OF YEAR for beekeepers large and small. As the weather starts to turn colder and less predictable, bees begin preparing for winter, but recent years have brought a succession of man-made problems that the bees can’t easily overcome. Fortunately, we’re able to help them.

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
“Fall is a tricky time, because you alternate temperatures during the day and from day to day,” Bruce Kearns explained. He’s the master beekeeper who oversees the hives at the George Landis Arboretum in the Schoharie Valley town of Esperance, NY. While the Arboretum is known for its gardens and nature trails, it also offers educational programs – and Kearns’s class offered a chance to explore specific apiary-related questions.

“Bees work to keep themselves at a constant temperature in the hive,” he explained, “and they can generate a lot of heat.” As outside temperatures drop, the bees form a cluster inside the hive, a ball of bees surrounding the queen to keep her – and the surrounding bees – at optimal temperature, which is 95 degrees Fahrenheit – although they’re lucky to get it up to 85 degrees during the coldest periods.

Bees on the inside of the cluster create heat with their wings; bees on the outside remain still (and colder), serving as an insulating layer. The cluster is in a constant rotation, so that the chillier outside bees (it can be below 50 degrees out there) move to the inside with the no doubt wing-tired inside bees taking their place.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Mumford’s the Word

From the Classical Vault Dept.: It’s always a pleasure to revisit a Musicians from Marlboro review, because it brings back so much of the whole wonderful performance. Experience, I should say, because it’s an all-encompassing sensory delight. But don’t let me try to convince you: let the twelve-years-younger me make that pitch.


ALTHOUGH INDIVIDUAL NAME RECOGNITION has long been a key force in driving classical music sales, Musicians from Marlboro is a rare example of successful branding. For over half a century, Vermont’s Marlboro College has offered a summer music training program, initially run by founders Rudolf Serkin and Adolf Busch, now under the aegis of Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida. And anyone who goes out on a Marlboro tour, although not individually known, is guaranteed to be a superb player. Individual name recognition usually follows.

Tamara Mumford
Photo by Fay Fox

More importantly, these players work together as superior ensembles of a variety of configurations. The string players of a piano trio joined two others to become a string quartet, then a quintet, each time delivering a polished performance.

The career of mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford has taken off since she made her Metropolitan Opera debut two years ago. She sang of four of Beethoven’s hundred-plus settings of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish folksongs, a series commissioned by Scottish publisher George Thomson that are among the most delightfully frothy of the great composer’s works.

What’s special about Mumford’s voice shone through “The Lovely Lass of Inverness,” a setting of a Robert Burns lament (itself inspired by a much older text) that throbbed with sweet melancholy. It sounded as effortless as it did affecting, and Mumford enjoyed a transparent rapport with pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, violinist Lily Francis and cellist Marcy Rosen.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Eliot’s Elegance

From the Classical Vault Dept.: George Walker, who died in 2018 at the age of 96, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer – the first Black composer to have nabbed that prize – and pianist, who was also the first Black soloist to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Curtis Institute’s first Black graduate. And his Pulitzer-winning piece, “Lilacs,” setting a Lincoln eulogy by Walt Whitman, should be a mandated substitute for Aaron Copland’s odiously puerile “Lincoln Portrait.” Below, we travel back to 1987 and my review of a performance by Albany’s Capitol Chamber Artists, who championed Walker’s work.


THERE SHOULD BE A LAW banning frivolous settings of T. S. Eliot’s poems. And there should be a national celebration when a thoughtful setting comes along that does justice to Eliot’s work.

George Walker
Photo by Frank Schramm

In which case composer George Walker would be hoisted upon shoulders for his brand-new setting of "The Hollow Men."

Capitol Chamber Artists premiered the work this weekend, locally at Page Hall in Albany last night. Walker’s “Poem for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra” is more than just a chamber piece, however. With its surprising theatrical touches and disquieting voice, it is a completely appropriate and thought-provoking interpretation of the text.

Scoring is for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, guitar, piano, harpsichord and percussion battery; in addition to the soprano two speakers (human, not electronic) are required.

Soprano Mary Anne Ross entered in whiteface, an old felt hat on her head, a blanket grasped round her waist. She carried a plastic bag bulging with street-life stuff.

Michael Murphy, one of the speakers, was ragged and unshaven and wore a woolen watch cap. He uttered the poem’s epigraph (from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”) as the music began.

Monday, September 07, 2020

This Brand Is Your Brand

From the Vault Dept.: When Oscar Brand died in 2016, at the age of 96, he had achieved the distinction of being the single (and singular) host of the longest-running radio program: “Folksong Festival,” which aired on WNYC for over 70 years and gave early exposure to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, and many others. Brand was a protean singer-songwriter, and the fact that he recorded an impressive number of wonderfully rude songs more than makes up his authorship of the lyrics to Doris Day’s hit “A Guy Is a Guy,” one of the most loathsome songs of the 1950s, which is saying something. Brand made several Caffe Lena appearances; here’s my review of one from 1987.


OSCAR BRAND IS NOT a larger-than-life performer.

Oscar Brand
This would be the case whether the songwriter-singer is backed by a large ensemble, as sometimes happens, or, as was true at Caffe Lena Saturday night, he performs with one other guitarist.

The reason: he’s exactly the same size as life. He accommodates it, slipping through its ironies with his own playful grin, singing of its melancholy, saluting its splendor.

He’s been doing it for more than a few years now, in the company of notables like Ledbelly and Woody Guthrie, and he’s got a repertory of songs and stories to prove it.

Brand’s two long sets at Lena’s started out to give us “an outline of the music of America,” as he announced, veering off that track a few times as particular fancies struck him.

“The version you first learn of a song is the one you like the best,” he announced, introducing a ribald saga titled “No Hips at All.” But Brand makes a specialty of presenting several versions, all shapes and sizes, of songs we think we know well. If he (and the audience) didn’t have so much fun doing so, you’d almost think you were getting an education.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Chemistry Lesson

From the Classical Vault Dept.: I tend to shy away from offering my less-than-enthusiastic reviews to the blog readers who stumble across this site. But this is what was published at the time, and it accurately reflects my impressions. Also, I’m in a cuss-ed mood right now, and it helps me to remember that things other than current events have driven me to my grumpy place.


FOUR MOZART STRING QUARTETS, performed by a foursome of excellent musicians with roots in the Marlboro festival: it’s a recipe for a sure-fire concert and an impressive season opener. It has the promise of a savory soufflé, airy and delicious. In this case, the confection fell a little flat.

The 40th season of Union College chamber music concerts began last Thursday with a performance by Sophie Shao and Friends, those friends being violinists Lily Francis and Arnaud Sussmann and violist Paul Neubauer. Cellist Shao has shepherded other such ensembles to the Memorial Chapel stage in previous seasons, always to terrific acclaim, so this should have been no different.

Like the drummer in a rock band, the cellist in a string quartet is a vital unit of propulsion – especially when the quartets being played date from Mozart’s time, when the form was busily cutting loose from its forbears of keyboard-heavy continuo. The program opened with a jaunty, youthful work, the Quartet No. 7, K. 160, written in 1772 (the composer was 16), and, while the first violin gets most of the tunes, that being the style of the time, Shao worked the bass line with terrific verve.

Sussmann played first fiddle in this one, but the second movement’s sinuous melody often paired him with Francis in two-voiced song. The final movement’s martial character brought the piece to a quick, pleasing close.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Vegging Out

From the Vault Dept.: Here’s a cookbook roundup I wrote for Albany’s Metroland Magazine seven years ago. I’m still consulting some of these book as I try to broaden my kitchen repertory.


YOU’LL EASILY FIND COOKBOOKS among this year’s crop that are exclusively vegetarian, but I’ve discovered some that have such good meatless offerings among the varied recipes that they’re worth considering for more than just recipes. They offer compelling insights into the whole world of the vegetarian meals you make.

The garden gets more important every year. The biggest luxury of just-picked fruits and vegetables is a quality of flavor that typically doesn’t survive the trip to the supermarket, but there’s a comforting presence about backyard comestibles. This attitude has resonance in whatever the farm-to-table movement might be, but it has roots in an approach to food sparked in the 1970s by two pioneering cookbook-writing restaurateurs: Mollie Katzen and Alice Waters.

Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977 and a steady seller since, showed us that vegetarian cooking could be tasty and rewarding, particularly if you added a lot of fat-rich extras.

Waters didn’t get around to writing a cookbook until 1984 (Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone), but her restaurant proved hugely influential. Any chef you’ve ever heard of who emphasizes fresh ingredients these days acknowledges one or both of them. And both have new books out this year, both offering a healthy, practical approach to working with what the garden offers.

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Lickpenny Lover

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome the debut on this blog of O. Henry, pen name of the dipsomaniacal jailbird William Sydney Porter, whose stories celebrated the bustle and irony to be found in life at the dawn of the 20th century. “Lickpenny” was a term for anyone or thing that blew through a lot of money; as for the ending, if you’re not familiar with the vacation spot in question, I refer you to Harold Lloyd’s movie “Speedy.”


THERE WERE 3,000 GIRLS IN THE BIGGEST STORE. Masie was one of them. She was eighteen and a saleslady in the gents’ gloves. Here she became versed in two varieties of human beings—the kind of gents who buy their gloves in department stores and the kind of women who buy gloves for unfortunate gents. Besides this wide knowledge of the human species, Masie had acquired other information. She had listened to the promulgated wisdom of the 2,999 other girls and had stored it in a brain that was as secretive and wary as that of a Maltese cat. Perhaps nature, foreseeing that she would lack wise counsellors, had mingled the saving ingredient of shrewdness along with her beauty, as she has endowed the silver fox of the priceless fur above the other animals with cunning.

O. Henry
For Masie was beautiful. She was a deep-tinted blonde, with the calm poise of a lady who cooks butter cakes in a window. She stood behind her counter in the Biggest Store; and as you closed your hand over the tape-line for your glove measure you thought of Hebe; and as you looked again you wondered how she had come by Minerva’s eyes.

When the floorwalker was not looking Masie chewed tutti-frutti; when he was looking she gazed up as if at the clouds and smiled wistfully.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Get Your Goat!

A CHEF WHO WAS TEACHING ME to make bread regarded my kneading practice with dismay. I was using the opportunity to inflict imaginary violent revenge on my enemies, accompanying my pulls and punches with angry mutterings. “Never put hate into your food,” the chef advised. “If you want to get love out of it, you have to put love into it.”

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
I’ve never seen this better exemplified than at Nettle Meadow Sanctuary Farm and Cheese Company, a peaceful rural complex just outside Johnsburg, NY, in the southeastern Adirondacks. A variety of buildings inhabit its 50 acres, with a variety of animals to go with them. You may come for the cheese – it’s sold in a small retail space on the property, which you’ll visit while masked and practicing proper distancing – but you’ll be tempted to stay for the animals. Because most of the non-human population comprises animals being tended because of injury or age.

This wasn’t the mission when Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan bought the place in 2005. At that time, they were making goat’s-milk cheese in California, and both were full-time lawyers. “We were living in Oakland,” says Lambiase, “where we had a third of an acre – which out there is huge – and we bought four Nigerian Dwarf goats. One of them was milking, and we were able to make tiny batches of cheese.”

Friday, August 21, 2020

Airlines Travel

FRENCH COMPOSERS HAVE CELEBRATED the flute more vividly than any others. Berlioz was a flutist himself, and never spared the instrument in his monumental works; Debussy sounded a quiet clarion for 20th-century music with his “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”

Alexander Desplat is a flutist-composer whose music is more often heard in the movie theater than the concert hall. He won Academy Awards for his scores for “The Shape of Water” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and has racked up numerous other awards for his numerous other scores.

“Airlines” is an album of Desplat’s music for both genres, all with the flute (and flutist Emmanuel Pahud) front and center. The title track, written for flute alone, is a technical exploration of the instrument disguised as a pleasant rumination that Pahud performs with nonchalant ease.

The rest of the recording adds an orchestra to the mix – the Orchestre National de France, with the composer conducting – to present music from five of his motion-picture and a concert piece. “The Shape of Water” is the kick-off piece, a three-movement suite fashioned from Desplat’s score for Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 film. Nothing suggests undulation more persuasively than the time signature 6/8, and that’s the count for the haunting opening, with the combination of flute and accordion giving it an insistent yet friendly timbre. And the flute becomes the undulator itself in the second movement, “Watching Ruth.”

Monday, August 17, 2020

What Was Brewing on the Web

From the Computer Vault Dept.: I just found another piece I wrote for the magazine Yahoo! Internet Life (they lurk in old hard drives), probably in late 1997. As with other contemporaneous website roundups, most of the recommended sites are gone. I offer this for its nostalgic value, and its slight thirst-inducing quality.


SOMETHING’S BREWING ON THE WEB. Amidst the clamor of many beer-related sites, ranging from commercial giants to elite microbreweries, the homebrew movement is developing a Web presence to gather and distribute recipes, labels, and lots of other information. Beer bubbles in the homes of over a million and a half ambitious souls who find a special pleasure in creating this important foodstuff. The experienced brewmaster will find a good range of support info; if you’re just getting started, check out these sites for the equipment and the right ale recipe for that first batch. Salud!

The Best

breWorld Home Page
  * * * *

The opening page boasts that you’ll find “everything related to the world of beer and brewing,” and as near as I can figure, they’re not kidding. It’s a brewer intensive site with well-designed pages, including a helpful tour that introduces all of its facets -- “suitable for off-line viewing.” A general index of info can be full-text searched, and we’re talking about a fantastic amount of data stored at the site. The “Can You Help” page puts brewers in touch with one another, and you’ll even find a page of job listings. BreWorld will even help you establish your own Web presence. Whatever your brewing experience, you’ll find this a fascinating site.

Friday, August 14, 2020

In Memoriam: Julian Bream

MY TWO MOST MEMORABLE concert-going experiences both were recitals by guitarist/lutenist Julian Bream. It’s difficult to describe what made them so special. The music, of course – he had impeccable taste in programming – but there also seemed to be a spell that fell over the audience as he held us in thrall to his elegant way with the pieces he chose. Bream died today at the age of 87 at his home in England. He had been retired since 2002 – he once said that he gave up performing when faced with the prospect of lugging along merchandise to sell – but performed privately until 2011. His influence on the guitar and lute, in terms both of appreciation and repertory, is inestimable, and there’s plenty of info on the internet to pursue. I’m paying tribute to his memory today by offering my review of the performance I saw at the Troy Music Hall in 1992.


TROY CHROMATICS DID IT AGAIN: they scooped the rest of the area’s presenters to give us one of the most gifted and sublime artists on the concert scene. Julian Bream hasn’t performed in the Capital District in a decade, and his return was every bit as sparkling as that earlier gig.

Julian Bream
One of the distinctions Bream brings to his concerts is a deeply-felt and (dare I say it) intellectual approach to programming. He has commissioned a number of major works for his instrument. He presents off-beat, underheard pieces. In doing so, he has enlarged the guitar’s repertory and continued the work Segovia started in ensuring its place as a vital part of the classical music world.

All of which was exemplified by last week’s concert.

A fairly chronological pair of sets spanned some four hundred years, beginning with 17th-century pieces by Frescobaldi and de Visée. Although the program booklet provided good notes on the piece, Bream broke the silly tradition of performer mumness and commented, work by work, on most of his program. It’s a nice practice when a performer can pull it off, and sure helps diminish classical music’s high snob quotient.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Making Up for a Lost SPAC Summer

From the Musical Vault Dept.: One of the most engaging artists to have emerged from the long-running Martha Argerich-hosted summer fesitvals is Gabriela Montero. She made her Saratoga Performing Arts Center debut in 2011 with a pair of concerts that – well, you can read my contemporaneous thoughts below, following an interview piece that sought to sell the events to what remains, in New York’s Capital Region, at least, a largely impassive audience.


IMPROVISATION IS A BACKBONE OF THE ARTS. Making it up as you go along is a stalwart of theater and jazz, and it had a huge place in classical music a couple of hundred years ago, when improvising performers worked their magic in well-known forms, Beethoven and Mozart among them.

Gabriela Montero
Although there are contemporary artists who have brought back the technique of making up cadenzas (pianist Robert Levin chief among them), Gabriela Montero has made improvisation an essential part of her concert appearances.

The Venezuela-born pianist will make two appearances at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the coming week. First is a recital (8 PM Tues., Aug 9) as part of the Chamber Music Festival, then she returns two nights later to play Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero.

Speaking from her home near Boston, the pianist explained that her Tuesday appearance, like her other recitals, will be in two parts. “The first half tends to be traditional repertory, while the second half is completely improvised.” And, as with theatrical improv, her creations are truly spontaneous. “I ask a member of the audience to sing theme I can use, which they then can follow in the improvisation. It’s a wonderful way to create a sense of access. Usually, I’m transforming themes that are well-loved, so it becomes very interactive and unpredictable. And very collaborative.”