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Friday, December 31, 2021

I’ve Heard That Song Before ...

WHAT DO BEETHOVEN, CHOPIN, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Haydn, Dvořák, and Grieg have in common? You’ll find their music in vintage jazz recordings by the John Kirby Sextet, an infectiously bouncy little group that also swung its own versions of melodies by such less-known classical composers as Sinding, Toselli, Donizetti, Delibes, and Massenet. These were terrific versions, too. Listen to Evan L. Young’s arrangement of Schubert’s “Serenade” (“Ständchen,” D 957 #4), and marvel at how the song’s heartbreaking quality is maintained against the band’s swinging pulse.

Kirby believed that his sextet was the ideal size to give such pieces a “tasteful treatment,” as he put it, telling downbeat in 1939, “I believe that symphonic pieces can be handled by jazz groups in such a way that serious music lovers won’t throw their hands up in despair.”

But jazz ensembles large and small have been unable to resist the lure of the longhair, and we can enjoy everything from Duke Ellington and His Orchestra playing “The Nutcracker” to Eddie Lang’s solo guitar performance of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.

That’s because music professionals don’t see rigid lines between different types of music. Strict boundaries have, however, been thrown up by others – especially those who market music to particular demographics, and thus it is that we’re inculcated with the canard that classical music is an elitist pursuit, and that those who pursue it merit scorn.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Silent Night

I'd like to share another of my video collaborations with Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, this time realizing a project she suggested to honor her late mother. With Maria Riccio Bryce's arrangement of "Silent Night" as the heart of the piece, Florin Vlad and Natalia O'Connor Vlad created a lovely dance sequence, and it was captured by the skilled videographers at Chromoscope Pictures.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Mark Twain’s Christmas Elephant

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain’s recently published autobiography runs three volumes, or two and a half if you discount the padding at the end of the third book; but it’s in that book that we read the account of the gift of an elephant that he was supposed to receive for Christmas in 1908. He hired Isabel Lyon as his secretary in 1902 as his wife grew too infirm to handle his correspondence. Ralph Ashcroft was a business associate whom Lyon married in 1909.

                                                                                    

TEN DAYS AGO Robert Collier wrote me that he had bought a baby elephant for my Christmas, and would send it as soon as he could secure a car for it and get the temporary loan of a trainer from Barnum and Bailey’s winter-quarters menagerie at Bridgeport. The cunning rascal knew the letter would never get to my hands, but would stop in Miss Lyon’s on the way and be suppressed. The letter would not have disturbed me, for I know Robert, and would have suspected a joke behind it; but it filled Miss Lyon with consternation – she taking it in earnest, just as he had expected she would. She and Ashcroft discussed the impending disaster together, and agreed that it must be kept from me at all costs. That is to say, they resolved to do the suffering and endure the insomnia and save me. They had no doubts about the elephant. They knew quite well that if Robert was inspired to do a kindness for a friend, he would not consider expense, but would buy elephants or any other costly rarity that might seem to him to meet the requirements.

Miss Lyon called up New York on the telephone and got into conversation with Robert. She timidly suggested that we had no way of taking care of an elephant here, it being used to a warm climate and –

“Oh, that’s all right, put him in the garage,” interrupted Robert cheerfully.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Touches of Sweet Harmony

ONCE I DISCOVERED classical music, I was ineluctably set on a path that would keep me free of the ties of mainstream anything, particularly its so-called culture. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a total snob. But at least three-quarters of me is suffused with a snobdom that I do try to hide when I’m out in public.

In any event, as a cash-strapped teen, my main source of music became the radio, and in the New York metropolitan area, there were three stations broadcasting fairly full schedules of the stuff I wanted to hear. WQXR AM and FM, the “radio stations of the New York Times,” as it was styled back then; WNCN-FM, which lived in its own rarefied universe; and WNYC, which was a Public Broadcasting affiliate, and thus required to add news and public affairs programs to its roster. (WRVR, WKCR, and WFUV sometimes aired classical works, as did Bridgeport’s WJZZ, so don’t complain that I’ve overlooked them.)

And there was a booming yet dulcet voice that issued from the speaker late at night over WQXR, and then on WNCN, and then on WBAI, depending on how fed up any of those stations had grown with Bill Watson. And vice-versa. He was peripatetic. He was opinionated. He was devoted to Walter Gieseking and Jussi Bjoerling, among others, and was inclined to favor their recordings, often in marathon sessions.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Caution (A Legend)

Guest Blogger Dept.: This blog is getting verse – specifically, another poem by P.G. Wodehouse. The creator of Jeeves and Lord Emsworth was also a renowned lyrist in his day, contributing the words to Jerome Kern’s tunes in a series of acclaimed pre-Gershwin musicals. But this predates even that, a tender ditty that creates its own music.

                                                                                     

[How many a doctor or architect must own that his professional life consisted of two periods – one in which he was too young to be trusted, the other in which he was too old to be efficient. – Times’s leading article]

O, read my melancholy rhyme,
Peruse my mournful ditty,
Two men there dwelt upon a time
Within a certain city.
Both were distinctly men of parts,
Well versed in their respective arts.

To fell diseases of the kind
That everyone who can shuns,
One of this pair had turned his mind,
The other’s forte was mansions.
They were, as you’d no doubt expect,
A doctor and an architect.

The latter, when but twenty-nine,
Planned a Titanic building,
A house of wonderful design,
All marble, stone, and gilding.
Said he: “My fortune’s made, I wis,
Men can’t resist a thing like this.”

Monday, December 13, 2021

Instruments of Control

From the Soapbox Dept.: I suppose it was those first few years of concert-reviewing that inspired the piece below, as I was confronted with the appalling sameness of one classical-music concert after another. Now, twenty-four years later, most of my working days are spent with music in the background. But at least it’s music I chose to semi-listen to.

                                                                                  
        

MUSIC HAS THE CAPACITY of being the least instrusive of the arts. That gives it the potential of being one of the most manipulative. Thanks to decades of proper conditioning – conditioning we’ve undergone since birth – we are no more aware of such manipulation than we are of our breathing. (Until a more obtrusive purpose is required and the political thrust of a hunk of music is made obvious. You know the sound of a protest song: it sounds stirring and is excitingly fun to sing.)

The musical identity of this country has its fussy heart in a generation-to-generation revision of values signified by the evolution of a tangled vine of musical stylings. It began at the beginning of the century, when jazz unseated the dry huffings of a boring crew of classical composers (slaves to a European tradition), and it ended with the end of the folk-song boom of 20 years ago.

Significantly, we’re once again listening to what the Europeans are saying – if we’re listening at all.

Continuity of music is found in celebration; change is fueled by rebellion. More drastic musical change was effected in the United States during this century than anywhere else in the world over any given time period, yet it’s a history so fraught with compartmentalization that a view of any appreciable scope must be sewn together from scattered ingredients.

Friday, December 10, 2021

To a Tee

From the Tech Vault Dept.: The evanescence of technology is such that nothing in the article below has any currency. The company that made those printers is gone, and you’re now able to design a T-shirt and upload the design to a company that will provide the finished product for far less than you’d invest for the products below. We’re going back twenty-five years, after all. (Photos by John Popplewell.)

                                                                                           

LIFE’S SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS are often marked with trophies and plaques and, more whimsically, clothing. Whether it’s your baseball team’s recent victory, your church choir’s tour, or simply surviving another year at work, there are celebratory messages to be worn.

The T-shirt-inscription business has flourished accordingly. Needless to say, there are folks who do very good work in this field, but you still have to relinquish control when you hire somebody else to do it for you. Thanks to your skill at the computer, though, that’s no longer the case. Anything you can render onscreen can be turned into a professional-looking tee with the help of Fargo Electronics’ PrimeraPro Color Printer and its special T-Shirt Transfer Paper. Design it, print it, iron it on. It’s that simple.

Once you make the investment in the printer, your per-shirt cost is much less than a commercial outfit charges, especially for a limited run. And the possibilities open up from there. Printed garments (let’s not forget sweatshirts) have great fund-raising potential. It’s nice and sentimental for your group to promote itself by sporting appropriately legible clothing; it’s often nicer and more profitable for your group to sell those shirts to its fans.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to make a business out of it. With a good graphics program, a creative eye, and a collection of headline typefaces, you already have the design tools. Add an entrepreneurial spirit and the PrimeraPro printer, and you’re ready to go. It’s a trade you should get into – if you’ll pardon my saying so – while the iron is hot.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Something to Believe In

From the Food Vault Dept.: After the demise of Albany’s Metroland Magazine, there was a short-lived pseudo-alt-weekly that was published for a while under the hopeful name of The Alt. It had none of the alternative-news sensibility one expects from such a paper, and it was further hampered by its editor’s very limited cultural intelligence. I wrote some pieces for the mag during its brief existence; here’s one. As of this writing, the Iron Gate continues to thrive.

                                                                                  

IT WAS AN UNLIKELY BIRTH for a restaurant. “I’ve always related to the Ramones,” Kevin Dively explains. “I bought my sister one of their albums for her birthday when she was, like, ten – because I wanted it – and it changed my life. I mean, at the time, what was the music out there? And here are the Ramones! So me and my brother and a neighbor decided that we could do this, and we started a band.”

Which meant he didn’t fit well into the nine-to-five employment paradigm. “When you’re doing the band thing, the one job you can always get is a restaurant job. So I bounced around a lot of restaurants.”

Meanwhile, his parents had bought and restored a four-story Victorian mansion in downtown Albany, the onetime School No. 10 that was owned by industrialist James Holroyd in the 1890s. The single-family structure came with a small office space attached, “but the people in there moved out because there wasn’t any parking. My dad didn’t know what he was going to do with it, so I said ‘Let’s put a little sandwich shop in there.’”

Friday, December 03, 2021

Mosaic on the Move

MOSAIC RECORDS WAS FOUNDED, nearly forty years ago, with the mission of reissuing great jazz recordings in a way that best showcases a particular artist or label. The reissues are prepared from the best source material that can be found, with skillful audio restoration to minimize noise while maintaining the music’s integrity. This is the Criterion Collection of recorded jazz. When one of the limited-edition box sets sells out, you’ll find it on eBay and elsewhere for far more than the original retail price.

Michael Cuscuna
As co-founder Michael Cuscuna wrote in 2017, “Charlie Lourie and I started Mosaic Records in 1982 and our first releases were in 1983. The company was almost an afterthought. The idea of definitive boxed sets of complete recordings by jazz masters at a crucial time in their careers was a small part of a proposal that we made to Capitol Records in 1982 to relaunch the Blue Note label. Even before Capitol turned us down, it occurred to me one night that the release of these boxed sets could be a business unto itself if we made them deluxe, hand-numbered limited editions sold directly to the public.” And so it has been, with each box set limited to a few thousand numbered copies, each boasting a booklet renowned for its scholarly essays and exhaustive discography.

Now, 271 box sets later, Mosaic is closing its offices. If you’re on the list, you got the e-mail. (If you’re not, you can sign up at mosaicrecords.com.) It sounded a little alarming, especially considering the financial perils the company has shared in the past. But Cuscuna assures us that it’s a positive step. The email also invited the record label’s fans to an open house. Not the first one that Mosaic has held, but this would be the last.

Monday, November 29, 2021

No Coincidence

From the Food Vault Dept.: It took over fifteen years to discover why there was a job opening that enabled me to get hired for my first job cooking in a professional kitchen. The piece below describes the reason. The Quackenbush house has since gone through several incarnations, including a couple of French-cuisine stints on into its current impression of an English pub.

                                                                                          

HE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN reciting poetry. Everything Maurilio said as he described his menu and his restaurant agreed perfectly with my own ideas of excellent food. To properly appreciate the broad range of restaurants in existence requires a flexible standard, but what Maurilio Gregori has done to the Quackenbush House is exactly what I’d do were I to open my own place.

The Quackenbush House, in a
more recent view.

Although Marina, my literary companion, and I came in unannounced early last week, Maurilio lavished the kind of attention on us you’d expect would be reserved for a wealthy regular. When he got down to cases, describing the evening’s specials, I was astonished. A native of northern Italy, he shuns the pasta-and-sauce emphasis of much Italian-American cooking. “You could call this continental,” he says, “but I’d hate to have it labeled.”

“It’s exactly how I was taught to cook,” I told him, describing the Italian chef who gave me my start in the kitchen and insisted on the same care and consistency. And then this shared attitude turned out to be no coincidence at all: Maurilio got his start at the same restaurant, the Elms Inn in Ridgefield, Conn., several years before I worked there. The chef who proved so influential was a brilliant, temperamental man named Mario Scala, who taught us that a sincere passion for life was the only proper context for the love of food that lures you into the business. That celebration is a hallmark of Maurilio’s restaurant.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Old Folks at Home

Our second pandemic-era Thanksgiving! How exciting! I didn’t think “frustration” was a sound culinary theme; instead, I decided to smoke a turkey but put alongside it some grilled picanha. On Thursday, the weather was vile enough that I forsook the smoker and roasted the bird instead, adding some smoked paprika to its seasonings to give it a hint of that outdoor flavor. The menu is pictured; our slide-show history of Thanksgiving menus is here.


 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Myth America

MANY, IF NOT MOST, of the stories you read here offer encouraging observations about people and places and the things they write and do that encourage or contribute to food safety. But sharing a look at André Leu’s book The Myths of Safe Pesticides is like making you watch a horrifying movie that ends badly. As has been said in many such movies, “They’re already here,” and the monstrosity of pesticides not only is all around us, it’s also within us as well.

So don’t look for an uplifting conclusion. “History will look back with amazement,” writes Leu in the book’s conclusion, “that no only did our regulatory authorities know that these substances were toxic, (but also) for decades they ignored a huge body of hundreds of credible scientific studies written by several hundred scientists that documented the multiple harmful effects they cause to humans and the environment.”

That’s it in a (probably poisonous) nutshell. He further points out that it can’t be ascribed to ignorance, as was the case with some of the lethal practices of ancient societies (drinking cups of lead, immortality pills of mercury). And he generously ponders the causes, offering “incompetence, laziness, corruption, protecting reputations ... or greed on the part of a few to generate great wealth at the expense of the many.” I’m willing to go pretty exclusively with that last one. Greed has always been the major motivator of any self-styled ruling class, and it shows itself clearly in the confusion fomented around our current pandemic.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Elizabeth’s Dream

Another collaboration I enjoyed with Musicians of Ma’alwyck offered the challenge to feature a 19th-century schoolhouse in Glenville, NY. We decided on a Civil War-era setting, and I devised a story in which a Quaker schoolteacher is confronted with something that was all-too-common on Quaker households back then.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Taking It in Stride

From the Theater Vault Dept.: During its brief tenure at the Cohoes Music Hall, Heritage Artists, under the inspired direction of Robert Tolan, turned out one fantastic production after another. If they’d been located in an area that appreciated the arts, they would have blossomed into something much bigger.

                                                                                         

THERE IS A LONG, POIGNANT moment near the end of this play when Strider, a piebald horse, recognizes his former master, Prince Serpuhofsky. Both are old and disheveled, “put out to pasture.” Possessor and possession, each now lacks the necessary other. But only the one-time possession recognizes the tragedy of the situation.

Charles Turner

The moment lasts just long enough to make us nervous even as we wrestle with mixed feelings about our own self-defining material goods and abstractions. It’s a moment we only can experience in live theater, and if that moment moves and enlightens us, then this is what live theater is all about.

“Strider” sings a song that informed much of Tolstoy’s work, and this stage adaptation has the added zip of an attractive score with a very Russian flavor. Tolstoy was concerned with the serfdom system, and the allegory moves right into the 20th century with the use of a Black actor in the title role.

Charles Turner plays the part in a black-and-white costume with a streak of clown white across one side of his face. He is the oddity in the stable, the stallion who is not allowed to breed. But he is a stallion of noble lineage who can’t accept this system of possession, passed as he is from the Count (Doug Tompos) to a groom (Lloyd K. Waiwaiole). And he can’t separate breeding from loving, an emotion stirred by the mare Viazapurika (choreographer Deborah Stern). Strider competes for her attention by racing another stallion, Darling (Tompos), and wins the race even as he loses the mare to his treacherous opponent.

Friday, November 12, 2021

I Like Spike

JORDAN YOUNG DIDN’T HAVE TO write a new book about Spike Jones. He covered the topic quite adequately when he came out with the first-ever biography of the bandleader in 1984, and he expanded that book a decade later, and again a decade after that. But the latest, recently published fourth edition of Spike Jones off the Record (BearManor Media) is larger and more lavish still, nearly 500 pages of biography, analysis, anecdote, and discography.

I was already impressed with Young’s dedication to this purpose back when the second edition came out. I compared it to the earlier book and discovered that he rewrote sections to add information, correct errors, or streamline the text. I’m even more impressed with the transition to edition four (the third edition escaped me). Compare it with its predecessors and you find that all of the earlier chapter titles reappear, but in the decades between editions, lots of new info has come to light, and Young has been diligent about gathering it, alongside more photos and other memorabilia, which are reproduced in this volume more crisply than in the earlier editions. .

The new book has gone back to the large format book of the first edition – the second was eye-strainingly smaller – but it’s easier to read than both of the others, with a slightly larger typeface and good use of a two-column format.

Monday, November 08, 2021

The Yates Sisters

Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, who founded and runs the chamber-music group Musicians of Ma’alwyck, likes to explore the history of composers, performers, and even buildings, so it’s natural that she should bring together these interests – in this case, in a video short constructed around the Yates Mansion in Glenville, NY. It’s a historic building undergoing renovation, so when we shot this piece, we had only a few feet of finished wall to work against. For me, these videos can become a family affair, as here, where my wife is working behind the scenes and that’s my daughter in blue.

Friday, November 05, 2021

A Bouquet of Ives

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Wondering what I might have been up to, culturally speaking, thirty-five years ago, I came upon this piece, written as an advance for the Schenectady Gazette, back in the day when newspapers felt a responsibility to promote classical concerts. Back when there were newspapers. I’m sorry I didn’t see the concert itself, and can’t remember why, but Drury has gone on to a significant career as a pianist and conductor who continues to champion comparatively recent works. Here’s his website.

                                                                          

“I offer a couple of kinds of ordinary programs.” says pianist Stephen Drury, “with pieces like some late Schubert sonatas and selections from Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier.’ I do a program that is half John Cage and half a collection of other American composers. But the people in Troy asked me for the all-Ives program, and I was happy to oblige.’

Stephen Drury
Drury is a rare kind of American pianist, one who eagerly supports the work of American composers. His recital at the Troy Music Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday consists of three sonatas by Charles Ives, the turn-of-the-century firebrand whose work is still only gradually being discovered and accepted by the concert-going public.

“I guess my interest in 20th-century music goes back to when I was in junior high school,” says Drury. “I happened upon a book on the subject by Peter Yates, and I started listening to records and playing the music. I was at the perfect age to discover the music, and it’s stayed with me.”

Drury’s Ives recital also features his own introductions to the pieces. “It seems always like a good idea to explain what’s going on. Even though the pieces were written 70 to 80 years ago, they’re still so unfamiliar to the lay listener that they lend themselves to some comments. If you’re not sure what to listen for with Ives it can sound pretty dissonant.”

Monday, November 01, 2021

The Fable of the Man Who Didn't Care for Storybooks

Guest Blogger Dept.: We need to hear again from George Ade, especially as we begin stockpiling books for the winter.

                                                                                      

ONCE THERE WAS A BLUE DYSPEPTIC, who attempted to Kill Time by reading Novels, until he discovered that all Books of Fiction were a Mockery.

After a prolonged Experience he came to know that every Specimen of Light Reading belonged to one of the following Divisions:

1. The Book that Promises well until you reach the Plot, and then you Remember that you read it Summer before last.

2. The book with the Author's Picture as a Frontispiece. The Author is very Cocky. He has his Overcoat thrown back, so as to reveal the Silk Lining. That Settles it!

3. The Book that runs into a Snarl of Dialect on the third Page and never gets out.

4. The delectable Yarn about a Door-Mat Thief, who truly loves the Opium Fiend. Jolly Story of the Slums.

5. The Book that begins with a twenty-page Description of Sloppy Weather: "Long swirls of riven Rain beat somberly upon the misty Panes," etc., etc.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Witch

Scenes from Childhood Dept.: Here's a  re-run which first appeared here in 2009, but was initially published in Metroland Magazine in 1986, before it went all alt-weekly.

                                                                          

A KID UNDERSTANDS the importance of tracking down the neighborhood ghouls. The kid knows (as parents don’t) that those ghouls exist. It’s just a matter of finding them.

We had a witch on our street. I don’t know if we really saw her as someone who consorted with bats and such, although the movie “The Three Lives of Thomasina” gave witches a pretty good image. But we convinced ourselves that this lady was at least gently malevolent—and she certainly added a tinge of excitement to my afternoons.

It was our after-school ritual to tramp through the woods behind the houses on my street, back in a time before my Connecticut town annexed itself to New York City and lost its woodland to developers. Next-door neighbor Kenny, my brother, and I built primitive shelters and hacked at the bark of trees.

We discovered, on a neighbor’s property, an abandoned car. It sat in a woodsy corner of an otherwise immaculate lot, a hulk with the squatty wheelbase and sloped top of a vehicle in an old gangster movie, pale blue where any paint survived. At first we just sat in the smelly old thing, imagining it to be a limo or rocket or time machine. Than we got more rambunctious. I jumped on the roof, enjoying the bouncy resilience of the metal. My brother broke the windows, delighted with the reticulation of the old safety glass. Kenny peed on the engine.

Our games got noisy and attracted the property’s owner. She came after us waving a stick, like the lady on the old Dutch Cleanser can, careening across a quarter-acre of fresh-trimmed lawn to flush us from her rotting car.

We fled, in terror and giggles. Of course she was a witch! It wasn’t our noise that had attracted her, but a sixth sense or a crystal ball. The stick she wielded was a spell-casting wand. The car was a trap . . . .

Monday, October 25, 2021

Pastoral Song

JAMES REBANKS SNEAKS UP ON YOU. His prose is colorful and decisive. He’s writing about nature, which encourages lavish description, but he’s writing about the indignities humans have imposed on nature, which encourages hand-wringing. He does neither. He is a documentarian sharing a first-person farming experience in such a way that broader truths are easily perceived, and he is hopeful enough to keep it from seeming too apocalyptic.

Pastoral Song is Rebanks’s third book, following The Shepherd’s Life and The Shepherd’s View, both of which earned him deserved praise. Pastoral Song was published last year in the U.K as English Pastoral and promptly hit the best-seller lists. That in itself is hopeful, as this book takes aim at the horrific consequences of industrial farming, something that can be reversed only if enough people understand how they can participate in that change.

The story starts on a farm in the north of England, where a very young Rebanks learns to work the fields and livestock alongside his grandfather, a man who held new farming technologies in disdain. “There was something about working the land on foot behind a horse that seemed to make him see the world differently from the way later generations would see it from a powerful tractor. My grandfather knew our fields as if they were extensions of his body.”

It’s a portrait of his grandfather’s farm, but it’s also a portrait of England as an agricultural nation, struggling to keep up with 20th-century changes. “Time seemed to slow down around my grandad,” writes Rebanks, “He believed in watching carefully and taking time with his animals.” It’s a farm populated with the cows and sheep that Rebanks’s father and grandfather are managing, but it also boasts plenty of other fauna and flora that thrive in the wild. Not all of them benevolent, of course – there’s a passage describing the struggle to take down thistles using sickle and scythe – but all existing together in a natural and important harmony.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Main Events

From the Food Vault Dept.: The restaurant visit described below took place twenty years ago. It turns out that the space we visited has seen a tumult of eateries within, going back at least to the 1970s, when it was the Capitol Restaurant. In 1997 it became Zoie’s; three years later it became Fifty-Five Main, but that lasted only two years, at which point it became Milan at 55 Main, under which aegis it had a six-year run. In 2008 it started an eleven-year run as The Hub, until Mark Meehan and Debra Morandi bought it and renamed it the Capitol, as which it still operates ... but the place is for sale. Here’s what we found there in 2001.

                                                                           

WITH THAT ARRAY of once-dark factory buildings now bustling with light and art as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), the old industrial town of North Adams, Mass., is easing back to life. It couldn’t be a more pleasant drive than now, with colorful trees accompanying your journey past Troy and through Williamstown, and the museum has so much to offer that your afternoon will be well filled.

The property at 55 Main, in a
much more recent view.

Then you’ll want something to eat.

The short stretch of Main St. is a short walk from the museum, and tucked away in the storefronts, between an excellent used book store and a small live-performance theater, is a restaurant whose name is its address, 55 Main. Ray Arsenault quit the computer business to open the place, and he bustles between the bar and the door, greeting and seating, making sure folks feel welcome and happy.

As befits a restaurant in a town newly defined by art, the place is decorated with an array of sculpture and design. Make sure you check out the kitchen area, in full view of the floor, to see the unique design elements there, protecting chef Susannah Warren.

Tables are small and undraped with linen, which works just fine – they’re handsome and fit well with the design. The menu, too, is sleek and brisk, with a good array of New American offerings.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Norwegian Rhubarb

“NORWAY BECAME OIL-RICH in the 1970s, so our view of the country is as a prosperous place on the right side of human rights,” said Darra Goldstein, introducing a talk about Norwegian culinary practices. “But before that they were seen as poor, and the Swedes and Danes looked down on them.”

We were assembled at the Lunder Center at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., at an array of tables where each place was set with a slice of rhubarb Tosca cake. Darra Goldstein is Professor of Russian, Emerita at Williams College and founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which was named the 2012 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation.

She also currently serves on the Kitchen Cabinet of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and on the Advisory Board of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. She’s been a featured speaker at the institute many times before, and this time was tasked with tying in a look at Norway’s food with the Clark’s exhibition of the art of Norwegian painter (and farmer) Nikolai Astrup.

“It’s a difficult country to farm,” Goldstein said. “Only three percent of the land is arable. Many farmers concentrate on raising cows and goats for dairy products – I’m sure you’re familiar with Jarlsberg, which is the least interesting of their cheeses – while many more make a living from the sea.”

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Immortal Story

Early in the summer of 2021, I had the pleasure of crafting a new libretto for a one-act opera titled “The Ship’s Captain.” It was originally created in around 1820 by Carl Blum, a German composer, who in this case borrowed the pastiche style of “The Beggar’s Opera” and set lyrics to what would have been well-known tunes. I kept the tunes but had to craft all-new lyrics for this delightfully silly tale of two sisters competing for the hand of a man they’ve yet to meet, even as they flirt with his supposed emissary. Here’s one of the songs, a trio exploring the lessons of mythology. The singers are soprano Yvonne Trobe, baritone Charles Eaton, and mezzo-soprano Joelle Lachance, performing with the Musicians of Ma’alwyck, recorded live at Hyde Hall in Cooperstown on Jun 25, 2021.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Franking, My Dear

From the Tech Vault Dept.: I had a brief run of tech-oriented articles in Metroland magazine, Albany’s alt-weekly for which I wrote for some three decades, and this is one such piece. Over the twenty years since it was published, the technology has changed – but not much. At least at my end. I’m still using stamps.com, still getting postage out of a Dymo printer, but it sure isn’t costing 34 cents for a first-class letter. And thanks to the reign of Louis DeJoy, a once-efficient postal service now struggles.

                                                                                 


COMPUTER CONVENIENCES have come into their own with the Internet as a driving force. Online buying made the news over the holidays, but it goes well beyond that with online research, online entertainment and such online oddities as recovering lost money, paying bills, managing group projects – even buying checks and tracking bank and credit card accounts.

And, although e-mail is fast and convenient, not everyone is online. That’s why I’m using the Internet to buy postage. Mailing a letter to any address in the United States for merely 33 cents – make that 34 cents – is still a bargain. Snail mail? Not compared to some postal services in Europe and Asia. The U.S. Post Office’s service is impressively reliable (that’s a lot of mail they’re moving) and you can pay extra for the peace of mind of express delivery and/or a return receipt.

The most economical way to purchase that postage is over the counter (or from a machine) at a post office or other stamps-friendly outlet (friendly means not slapping a surcharge on the sale). The most convenient way is with a postage meter, but they’re expensive. You have to rent the meter, buy postage, and have the meter reset at the post office.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Russian Hours

From the Classical Vault Dept.: I’m not sure if this piece ever actually ran in Metroland – CD reviews, at least from me, wafted in an editorial limbo for a while – but I’m assigning the date on which it probably would have appeared. Although the likes of Beethoven and Mozart have warranted box sets of their complete works, to collect all of Prokofiev requires diligence. The sets reviewed below are helpful components.

                                                                                          

ALTHOUGH THE RECENT Bard Summerscape Prokofiev festival offered plenty of reasons to continue to celebrate that composer’s music, I’ve never required any extra excuse. Prokofiev managed the difficult feat of writing forward-thinking, challenging works livened with appealing melodies, fascinating rhythms, instrumental combinations that are surprising and satisfying and an old-fashioned sense of architectural cohesion. In short: great stuff.

Sergei Prokofiev
His seven symphonies – eight, if you count that fact that he re-worked number four and both versions remain in the repertory – could not be more varied. His first was a jewel-like tribute to Haydn, but sporting characteristically wide-leaping themes. The second, inspired by Beethoven, is a theme and variations of such fury that it’s like being stuck in a room with someone shouting at you. By 1944, the time of his fifth symphony, he’d stayed away from the form for several years and, influenced by the war, he wrote a sweeping, unsettling work that has become the most popular of his symphonies.

The popularity of number five unfairly overshadows the equally appealing sixth, while the final symphony, composed a year before Prokofiev’s death in 1952, returns to the more simple world of the first.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Road to Glynwood

From the Fields and Forests Dept.: A few days ago I posted a review of Laura Lengnick’s book Resilient Agriculture. Here’s a follow-up piece about her recent activities.

                                                                                                  

LAURA LENGNICK IS, among many other pursuits, a soil scientist who has put in over 30 years of work as a researcher and policy maker, a teacher and, most especially, a farmer, whose focus is on sustainability in agriculture and, therefore, food systems. Research for her book Resilient Agriculture (reviewed here) took her throughout the country to see how other farmers were coping with problems of climate and economics; now she’ll be taking this experience to New York’s Hudson Valley as she becomes the Director of Agriculture at Glynwood in September.

Laura Lengnick

Glynwood, based in Cold Spring, NY, is a farm with a mission is to help small- and mid-sized farmers in the Hudson Valley and beyond by strengthening agricultural communities and regional food systems – including the re-regionalization of the U.S. food system as a whole.

Lengnick is based in Asheville, North Carolina, “so the plan is that I’ll be living and working at Glynwood for about 18 months to learn the farm and feel it through all the seasons,” she said, speaking from her home. “I’ll get to build relationships with both the staff and in the agriculture community. Then at some point I’ll head back to Asheville and do the job from there.”

Although there would seem to be a great deal of difference between the two areas, Lengnick finds a great deal of commonality where food and agriculture are concerned. “Asheville has a very active local food movement, with local farming and lots of organizations promoting healthy eating and connecting from the farm to the plate. But then in some ways they’re really different. Each of them has its own culture and landscape.”

Friday, October 01, 2021

Wintry Market Mix

From the Food Vault Dept.: What’s encouraging is that, thirteen years later, almost all of the winter farmers’ markets detailed below are still in operation.

                                                                                    

IT’S MORE THAN GOURDS AND COLLARD GREENS. Winter produce is tough-skinned stuff, those spaceship-like spears of Brussels sprouts perhaps the most emblematic. And while it’s true that these are good things to eat and you celebrate the season by eating them, you’ll find much more than cold-weather comestibles at those farmers markets that choose to run through the winter.

The phenomenon of these markets has been considerable and impressive, not only offering consumers fresh, locally grown items but also presenting the growers themselves. And bakers. And cheesemakers. And craftspeople.

Nothing beats being able to admire a loaf of bread and while you’re learning its provenance. For some, an accurate ingredients list is vital. For some, there’s a wonderful sense of community in the act of eating locally grown and/or assembled stuff.

The number of local farmers markets has exploded, giving us an unprecedented warm-weather bounty. I’m sure you’ve seen it: booth after booth of vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, honey and milk, along with artisan products like crafts, sauces, jam, clothing – anything made by hand.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Planting Your Future

NEW DEMANDS from a dynamic global economy, continued decline in the quality and availability of natural resources, and the unprecedented challenges of climate change are just beginning to take their toll on the U.S. food system. That’s the starting point of Laura Lengnick’s book Resilient Agriculture, Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate (New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, 2015), which she researched and wrote in what seem now like the halcyon days of 2013-14, when the Obama administration’s responses to the challenges of climate change had begun to build some momentum, however slow. Now, with the U.S. government taken over by the corporate interests who profit from All Things Unsustainable – to the point of completely denying the irrefutable man-made contributions to global warming – her book takes on more urgency than ever.

Ironically, it argues that we can change our farming ways without governmental assistance, an approach that seemed amusingly maverick until Jan. 20. Now it’s absolutely vital if we want to continue to eat well even as the waters rise.

Lengnick visited 25 farmers across the United States, choosing those who had been in that business for at least twenty years, noting that many of them were fourth- or fifth-generation families working the soil.

The Great Plains, for example, is a major source of feed grains and cattle, but higher temperatures and greater rainfall has challenged third-generation Kansas farmer Gail Fuller to move to a no-till approach in order to reduce erosion (and save on fuel costs). He also stopped raising livestock – it was thought that cows “were too destructive to soils and the damage they caused by trampling farm ground couldn’t be fixed without tillage,” as he explained. But his erosion continued. He blamed that on his focus on corn and soybean production, so he added cover crops, increased crop rotation, and brought back the cattle, with the goal, as Lengnick explains, of “keeping a living root in the ground at all times.”

Friday, September 24, 2021

Thoughts on Fuel Saving

Guest Blogger Dept.: Robert Benchley returns with, well, thoughts on fuel saving, which are most appropriate as we enter autumn. Mr. Benchley has been doing heroic service here imparting his wisdom about topics I’m too bashful to cover.

                                                                               
                    

CONSIDERABLE SPACE HAS BEEN GIVEN in the magazines and newspapers this winter to official and expert directions on How to Run Your Furnace and Save Coal—as if the two things were compatible. Some had accompanying diagrams of a furnace in its normal state, showing the exact position of the arteries and vitals, with arrows pointing in interesting directions, indicating the theoretical course of the heat.

I have given some time to studying these charts, and have come to the conclusion that when the authors of such articles and I speak the word “furnace,” we mean entirely different things. They are referring to some idealized, sublimated creation; perhaps the “furnace” which existed originally in the mind of Horace W. Furnace, the inventor; while, on the other hand, I am referring to the thing that is in my cellar. No wonder that I can’t understand their diagrams.

For my own satisfaction, therefore, I have drawn up a few regulations which I can understand, and have thrown them together most informally for whatever they may be worth. Any one else who has checked up the official furnace instructions with Life as it really is and has found something wrong somewhere may go as far as he likes with the results of my researches. I give them to the world.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Jardin à la Française

From the Food Vault Dept.: I ran the review below on this blog a decade ago as the sidebar to another piece from the same Metroland issue. I noted that this review visit was in the company of a stranger, someone who had won the privilege of a review meal with me at some arts auction to which I foolishly agreed to donate the event, and we had absolutely nothing to talk about during the course of the meal. So I never mentioned her in the piece. Chef-owner René Facchetti sold the business a year after this review appeared, his successors didn’t seem to get more than a couple of years out of it, and it became Capitol House and the Patroon House before getting repurposed into a business office. It also emerged since then that this was one of the kitchens where celebrity chef Damon Baehrel trained, although Baehrel’s obsessive pursuit of the image of a complete autodidact keeps him from acknowledging that debt. Here, again, is my 1987 review of Chez René:

                                                                                
                  

NERO WOLFE, the detective of literature who combined investigative genius with a passion for fine food, never permitted talk of business at table. It’s a splendid policy and one that, really, is so easy to follow when you sit down to dinner as a celebration.

It’s probably the most ritualized activity of the day and deserves whatever fanfare can be invited around it. You mad microwavers, you who are “too busy too cook”– you’re too busy to dine.

Chez René is a lovely home in Glenmont, little altered save for the large professional kitchen added onto the back. Seating is in one of many small rooms for a truly intimate feel; service is discreet and ever watchful.

On a rainy weekday evening I met a guest under the awning and entered this wonderful embassy of old-fashioned France; our hostess was costumed in the colorful garb of that country.

Chef René Facchetti has been running the restaurant for over 12 years. “I was born in Brittany,” he explains, “and I trained there and in Paris. I’ve worked on the Riviera and the Cote Basque, among other places.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

Double Your Pleasure

From the Record Shelf Dept.: The reason for this reissue is explained in the text. I’m just not certain if it truly ran in Metroland, the Albany-based alternative weekly for which I wrote for many years. I have copies of the 1999 issues in a box in my attic, but I’m not motivated at the moment to go searching. What if I don’t find the piece in any of the issues? Better to confidently speculate. If it ran, it would have been on or about the date I’ve credited below.

                                                                                            

THERE’S NO GETTING AROUND the inferior sound of very old recordings, but legendary stories describe alternatives. The Heifetz and Toscanini recording of the Beethoven violin concerto is dry and muffled, but it’s said that a warm-sounding version exists. And then there’s the problem with the 1939 Heifetz-Feuermann recording of the Brahms Double Concerto.

Back in the days of 78s, longer works needed side breaks every four minutes or so, and these were agreed upon by the engineer and performers before recording began. Thanks to a misunderstanding at the Brahms session, the first movement’s side breaks weren’t correctly engineered. Rather than re-record the movement, RCA Victor’s engineers dubbed the 78 masters before pressing copies, with a resultant deterioration in sound. Every issue since then, including vinyl and CD, includes a surfeit of noise and a lack of clarity.

But the session’s producer kept test pressings of the originals, and these were transfer engineer Mark Obert-Thorn’s source for the current release. The difference in sound is remarkable. Orchestral nuances suddenly appear, and the soloists themselves have a far nicer edge to their sound.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Copland Legacy

From the Classical Vault Dept.: I’ve been covering the Bard Summerscape series for enough years that some of the earlier programs I’ve attended are starting to fade into the memory mists. Which is why it’s nice to discover a piece like the piece below, reminding me of a visit I made there sixteen years ago.

                                                                                       

THE JOY OF BARD’S ANNUAL SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL is the concentration of music and people relating to the year’s chosen composer. This year, Aaron Copland got the much-deserved limelight, opening a window on the state of American music throughout the last century.

Aaron Copland
As in past years, the final summer concert last Sunday featured the American Symphony Orchestra in a rip-roaring program the like of which you’ll never find in a mainstream concert series. Copland’s brassy Symphony No. 3 was the centerpiece, but the rarely performed Third Symphony by Roger Sessions also was on the program, a work that practically insists that you dislike it upon first hearing.

Which may say more about we as listeners than about Sessions as a composer. True, his later music resisted the pursuit of populist approval, but it rewards the educated, open-minded listener with an experience of emotionally satisfying complexity. His four-movement Symphony No. 3, which dates from 1946, opens with a Molto agitato movement that explodes in your face with slashing gestures that soon coalesce into a remarkable soundscape, highlighted by solo violin over horn chords.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Theater of Pain

From the Theater Vault Dept.: Thirty-five years after the piece below appeared, Bread and Puppet Theater is still active, still based in Glover, Vermont. The Annual Domestic Resurrection Circus is no more, but you’ll find plenty of info about current activities on the group’s website. I’m aggrieved to note, however, that of the four contact venues listed at the end of the piece, only the first-named remains.

                                                                          
   

YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF PETER SCHUMANN? You’re not alone. He doesn’t have much truck with the news media, and has rusticated himself in a tiny Vermont town away from the attention of the various cities.

But his Bread and Puppet Theater, when it’s at home in August, fills the town with spectators every August for the Nineteenth Annual Domestic Resurrection Circus (like Jack Benny’s age, the anniversary number never changes), weekend circus of celebration. Otherwise, Schumann is touring throughout this country and Europe, an itinerary that brings him to Page Hall at the downtown SIJNYA campus Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 8 PM for a special benefit performance.

“The Hunger of the Hungry and the Hunger of the Overfed” is being presented in support of the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, a group that provides shelter and services for the homeless in Albany.

They couldn’t have found a better enthusiast than Schumann, who has been using his theatrical sensibility to kick up political fusses for many years. He was one of Manhattan’s first guerilla theater performers, working solo on the streets of the Lower East Side in the early 1960s, even as he was trying to place his avant-garde sculpture into museums. Many of his street shows were done with “crankies,” a mural wrapped like a toilet roll and unwound to a narration. He took on subjects like rent strikes and rat control.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Sit Down!

With Labor Day upon us again, let's revisit a classic song performed by Mordecai Bauman and the Manhattan Chorus.

Friday, September 03, 2021

A Scrap of Curious History

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain published surprisingly little about the abolitionist cause, which had been a heated subject in his childhood home. However, a possibly unfinished manuscript he wrote in 1894 addressed the topic square on. It was published in Harper’s shortly after Twain’s death, edited, rather drastically, by Twain’s literary executor, Albert Bigelow Paine, and reprinted in the same form in the 1917 book What is Man? And Other Essays. Here’s the piece in something closer to its original form.

                                                                           
       

MARION CITY, on the Mississippi River, in the State of Missouri—a village; time, 1845. La Bourboule-les-Bains, France—a village; time, the end of June, 1894. I was in the one village in that early time; I am in the other now. These times and places are sufficiently wide apart, yet today I have the strange sense of being thrust back into that Missourian village and of reliving certain stirring days that I lived there so long ago.

Last Saturday night the life of the President of the French Republic was taken by an Italian assassin. Last night a mob surrounded our hotel, shouting, howling, singing the “Marseillaise,” and pelting our windows with sticks and stones; for we have Italian waiters, and the mob demanded that they be turned out of the house instantly—to be drubbed, and then driven out of the village. Everybody in the hotel remained up until far into the night, and experienced the several kinds of terror which one reads about in books which tell of night attacks by Italians and by French mobs: the growing roar of the oncoming crowd; the arrival, with rain of stones and a crash of glass; the withdrawal to rearrange plans—followed by a silence ominous, threatening, and harder to bear than even the active siege and the noise. The landlord and the two village policemen stood their ground, and at last the mob was persuaded to go away and leave our Italians in peace. Today four of the ringleaders have been sentenced to heavy punishment of a public sort—and are become local heroes, by consequence.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Beethoven’s Five

From the Classical Vault Dept.: I remember this concert well. The aged audience at Memorial Chapel was usually given to odd coughs and eructations, but at some point during the first sonata, the geezer two rows back sneezed with enough velocity that I felt it on the back of my neck. Followed by more sneezes. Too self-conscious to change seats mid-piece, I waited it out but – too late! – came down with the flu a few days later. Is it any wonder I trust no-one in the age of Covid?

                                                                               

AS PIANIST WU HAN pointed out during last Sunday’s Union College concert, we’re fortunate to have a wide chronological spread of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas. The first two, written when the composer was 25, show the first stirrings of rebellion in the context of fairly well-behaved classical pieces.

David Finckel and Wu Han
The third, which is the most famous of the three, dates from the time of the fifth symphony, fourth piano concerto and the “Ghost” Trio. The last two are the work of a 45-year-old who had lost his hearing and was about to begin work on his ninth symphony.

Which meant that we were able to enjoy a program that was at once a panorama of Beethoven’s styles and an intimate exploration of the sound of cello and piano, in the able hands of David Finckel and Wu Han, whose many visits to the Union College Concert Series have made them audience favorites.

They have long ago demonstrated the degree of technical mastery that makes all effort transparent. Add to this that Finckel played the cello parts from memory, and you can understand that the music itself would not be an issue. What we were there to witness was their unique interpretive stamp.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Boot Camp Blues

From the Theater Vault Dept.: Here’s a memory-lane piece that reminds me of folks in the area theater community who became friends, and one – the immensely talented Doug de Lisle – who died far too young. As productions reawaken, here’s a reminder of who was doing what 34 years ago.

                                                                                

COMMUNITY THEATER is often more of a collaboration between audience and actors than professional productions: you find yourself rooting for your neighbors to pull off the difficult masquerade onstage without too many flubs or departures from character. In Doug de Lisle's production of “Biloxi Blues,” which opened Friday evening at the Albany Civic Theatre, there are uncommonly long stretches where no such silent cheering is needed: the worthy cast acts with bravura assurance, and the only intrusions upon your suspended disbelief come from the author.

Doug de Lisle   
Neil Simon wrote the play as the middle of an autobiographical trilogy; following its successful Broadway run it has burst upon the local scene. ACT’s is but one of many that have played or play in the area; if you plan to see just one, see this one.

We have a collection of characters in boot camp, including our simple Simon hero, Eugene Jerome, played by Robert Weidert with a very authentic Brighton Beach dialect and just the right kind of Harold Lloyd-ish innocence.

The cheerful problems of Sergeant Bilko’s day, when TV-writer Simon trained for this kind of sit-com, have been replaced with the more explicit stuff we now expect from the barracks. And it’s funnier.

Gregory Bradley, as the pushups-happy drill sergeant, is rather more youthful than we’d expect this career man to be, but he otherwise gives a splendid performance as he goes up against the half-dozen recruits bunking with Eugene.

Monday, August 23, 2021

By Any Other Name

From the Food Vault Dept.: I’m delighted to see that the Rose and Kettle is still holding strong, having weathered the pandemic (so far) in its off-the-beaten path location. Ownership has long since changed since I wrote the below review: it’s now under the aegis of chef-owner Matt Begley, who has cooked there since 2010 and bought the place two years later. Dana Spiotta and Clement Coleman now inhabit the Syracuse, NY, area; Spiotta’s novel Wayward was just published to the usual great acclaim, and Coleman, when he isn’t working as chef at that city’s Otro Cinco, creates thoughtful, original music.

                                                                                   

EVEN THE TOWN’S NAME strains credulity. Cherry Valley sounds absurdly nice or ironically Bates Motel-ish – but it’s a charming village with a Revolutionary War-era history that has welcomed the likes of Willa Cather and Allen Ginsburg. “The rumor is that there’s lithium in the water,” says Dana Spiotta, so maybe the name is appropriate.

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
Spiotta and her husband, Clement Coleman, own and operate The Rose & Kettle, maintaining a moniker used by a former owner but adding a fine-dining philosophy that centers around fresh, locally obtained ingredients.

Which is a recurring theme in these reviews of late. As it should be. As the mighty maw of Monsanto threatens to envelop all mega-farm fields, replacing heritage produce with frankenfood (even as it populated groups like the FDA with its own former employees), we have to depend on small-farm foodstuffs for purity.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Boulanger at Bard

 YOU CAN ARGUE that Stravinsky or Schoenberg was the most influential classical-music figure of the 20th century, but they vie for the limelight only because they’re men. It was a woman who cast the longest shadow, and the Bard Summerscape celebration of Nadia Boulanger paid a long-overdue tribute even as it only scratched the surface of her profound effect on the music world.

Nadia and her sister, Lili, were musical prodigies, born to a composer who won the Prix de Rome in 1836 and fathered the girls when he was in his seventies. Feeling a burden of family responsibility, Nadia entered the Paris Conservatoire when she was ten and won many prizes there by the time she was 17 – although the Prix de Rome eluded her. She soon decided to forego composition and devote herself to performing and teaching.

The younger Lili went on to win that prize at the age of 19 – the first female to do so – but intestinal tuberculosis would end her life when she was 24. Nadia then became the caretaker of her sister’s legacy even as she became the incredibly important musical pedagogue that we remember today.

The Bard Music Festival planned a Boulanger celebration for 2020, but it suffered the fate of all such events that year. The 2021 version recaptured the glory of the past such festivals, but with a slightly muted feel as we remained masked and, when possible, distanced, vaccination certificates in hand. But, as director Leon Botstein would note in a passionate speech he made towards the end of the Festival, gathering in person to share the experience of live music is a vital act of community, bridging those gaps imposed by politics and media.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Sign Language

From the Computer Vault Dept.: Not only was the piece below written 26 years ago, I also have practically no memory of writing it, so assembly-line was my process of cranking out technology pieces back then. The technology herein described is laughably ancient, but I still have the “Hands Off” coffee mug described – and its label remains firmly intact.

                                                                                 
      

THE PROBLEM: You run a small retail business, you want to post the store hours on the door, and you don’t want to hang some cheesy paper sign that will get yellow and dog-eared in a week. What do other retailers do? They hire a sign painter. Or post a supplier-sponsored sign with a garish ad. Or, worst of all, put up one of those boards whose letters are all but guaranteed to fall out over time.

You and I know better. We harness the computer, which already has better typesetting ability than any sign painter. And when you use Roland Digital Group’s Stika—a compact hybrid plotter and stencil cutter—and SignMate, the included software, those signs are made from sturdy, colorful vinyl.

The uses go way beyond “Open Daily” signs. If you already have a printing or sign-making business, this technology puts words and pictures in unusual places. Think of any situation where you can’t easily print directly onto a surface: a car door, a filing cabinet, your computer case.

Paper labels aren’t visible enough or won’t withstand the weather. Vinyl is colorful. And this gadget cuts letters up to 2 inches high.

The stuff adheres tightly. I made up some lettering for a coffee mug, and it’s been through the dishwasher a couple of times already with my “Hands Off” label intact. SignMate lets you reverse the image for use inside a window, and by using a special transfer tape, you can iron a label onto a T-shirt.

Friday, August 13, 2021

With a Songbird in My Heart

OFFENBACH’S “LA PÉRICHOLE” offers a terrific mezzo-soprano role, if you don’t mind appearing drunk and morally dubious, and Isabel Leonard shines as the title character in the pared-down version presented as part of the Glimmerglass Festival’s on-the-lawn season this summer.

William Burden and Isabel Leonard
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Reworked here into a much shorter piece, it’s moved from Peru to an equally exotic setting: New Orleans. But this is operetta, and this is from the composer who practically created the genre that starred Gilbert & Sullivan and birthed an American musical comedy cousin. So what’s most important is to have fun, and take nothing too seriously.

There’s trouble from the start (there has to be), with a penniless performing couple realizing that they’re probably not going to earn enough to eat on this particular day – even though their opening duet is marvelous. But who ever recognizes such talent in a seedy bar, even one with the improbable moniker “The Muses.”

Monday, August 09, 2021

Vest-Pocket Verdi

THE GLIMMERGLASS FESTIVAL continues its pandemic-wary season with another 90-minute version of a popular opera, in this case Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” It usually has a running time of about two and a half hours, if you don’t count intermission, so this means lopping about an hour off the piece.

Michael Mayes, Kameron Lopreore,
Gregory Kunde, Ron Dukes, & Latonia Moore
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
And it’s also a kind of hybrid performance, with the orchestra playing in the theater and the performance itself on an outdoor stage. So there’s no conductor’s entrance and no chance for an opening round of applause. And, in this opera, there’s not even an overture, so we’re launched right into the opening number, which in this case is the top of Act Two, the mighty “Anvil Chorus,” rendered without apparent onstage metalworking.

But you can’t get too fancy what with the lean casting. We have only a handful of Romani in the encampment, and those singers do double- and triple-duty as soldiers and nuns. This production focuses more on the principals than the ensemble numbers, so, staying in the second act, we start right off with Azucena’s story.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Listen to the Women

From the Classical Vault Dept.: There’s been a struggle for recognition that women in the arts have been waging for far longer than current events might suggest, and the Albany-area chamber ensemble L’Ensemble was fighting the good fight at least 35 years ago, when my review that follows was written. (And here’s another Beach-centric review.)

                                                                                        

IS IT STILL NECESSARY to highlight the work of female composers with all-women’s-work concert programming? L’Ensemble artistic director Ida Faiella still finds it difficult to secure the sheet music of some of the stuff she likes to sing and play - so, yes it is.

Amy Beach
Enlightenment usually requires something of a revolution, but the exploration of music by women requires that no shots be fired - this one can be fought with bows.

“Women’s Work” was the title of a program that opened L’Ensemble’s eighth summer season at a converted barn in Washington County. The concert yesterday afternoon had fine weather (a novelty worth reporting this week) as the artists presented the music of four significant composers.

Amy Beach, condescendingly known for years as Mrs. H. H. A., already has a reputation among the cognoscenti, and a recent recording of her Violin Sonata in A Minor has brought some deserved attention to that piece. There is no reason why this sonata should not appear on any recital as a substitute for the overplayed ones of Brahms and Franck: it is easily the match of the better-known works.

The performers, violinist Barry Finclair and pianist Sean Gallagher, achieved the partnership this piece requires. Not only is the music skillfully crafted, it also boasts a keen sense of the sound of the individual instruments.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Brunch with Bubbly

From the Food Vault Dept: Here’s one of my earliest restaurant reviews, from the days when Metroland had no budget for meals, so we asked for a freebie in exchange for the article I’d write. Fortunately, we got away from this fairly quickly. My companion on these excursions was photographer Drew Kinum, whose work unfortunately survives in my archives only as crappy photocopies of newsprint.

                                                                              
         

MY HEART GOES OUT to all who work a Sunday-brunch shift. In my salad days as a waiter, I suffered through the Saturday night to Sunday morning turnaround, when it seems there’s barely enough time to brush your teeth before you have to go on the floor again.

Photo by Drew Kinum
And, oh, how I coveted the eye-openers the patrons downed by the bucket – libations I needed much more than the wide-awake customers.

Not that, as a customer myself, I fail to seize the hair of the dog that’s traditionally offered with
brunches: When a chilly bottle of Cordorniu was brought to our table at the Parc V Café last Sunday, I was first in line for the bubbly.

Lensman Drew (“The Ballad of Lensman Drew” – sounds like a Robert W. Service poem) is very familiar with the place, having done some previous photo work for the Parc V, and had already been through much of the menu on previous visits. I haven’t seen the place since the remodeling two years ago.