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Monday, March 29, 2021

Flight of the Concord

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Here’s a piece I wrote about a youthful vocal ensemble that made its debut recording for the Dorian label in 1999. This wasn’t written as liner notes, and I can’t recall where it was intended to land, if indeed it was used anywhere. So I share it with you, along with a recommendation that you seek out and listen to this recording.


BEAUTIFUL VOICES SOUND GOOD ALMOST ANYWHERE, but place them in one of the world’s finest concert halls and the effect can transcend all expectations. As the Concord Ensemble stands in a semi-circle on the stage of the Troy Music Hall, in a once-prosperous manufacturing city near new York’s Hudson River, they sing to an auditorium of empty seats, facing a pair of microphones.

Over the course of the past few hours, the microphones had been aimed and re-aimed countless times. Now they stand near a tall stepladder a few feet from the Music Hall’s high stage. Dozens of yards of black fabric muffled the balcony and orchestra seats when the ensemble arrived to begin the recording tests; now it’s gone, removed to give a brighter sound to the ensemble.

“It’s just you and the room and my mics,” says Craig Dory, co-founder of Dorian Recordings and designer of the microphones. “But it’s still going to take us a while to decide the best setup.” He paces the stage. “Please sing out as we’re doing this – don’t mark. And don’t worry about the noises you might hear. If the hall creaks or a truck goes by, we may be able to remove that. All you have to do is sing.” He pauses and grins. “This is going to be very intensive. You will want to hate me. You will discover that I’m a big, lovable teddy bear.”

Friday, March 26, 2021

Kiss the Ground

WE’RE FEELING THE HORRIBLE EFFECTS of a global climate crisis. We’re wracked with guilt over the lousy food we consume – or we should be. There are solutions, but how do you persuade the public to change its ways?

Get celebrities to give those answers. Or so believe filmmakers Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. Their engaging documentary “Kiss the Ground” boasts a host of celebrity actors and musicians, beginning with narrator Woody Harrelson, who also has a small but significant on-screen presence. Does Patricia Arquette’s enthusiastic encomium for composting toilets prove persuasive? Does a song by Jason Mraz help make up your mind? Is a word from recent Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady enough?

If it works, great. But the true celebrities here are those who are out in the fields, farming and teaching other farmers. The message of “Kiss the Ground” is simple: We’re destroying our land with industrial farming methods, and when you destroy soil, you create an inhospitable climate.

Ray Archuleta is a Certified Professional Soil Scientist with the Soil Science Society of America. He spent over thirty years with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and then founded Understanding Ag, LLC, [] to teach strategies for soil improvement on a national scale. He also founded Soil Health Academy [] to share regenerative agriculture principles.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Mr. President: Be Seated!

IN HONOR OF PRESIDENTS DAY, surely one of the most misused moments of patriotic prejudice, here's a short film I made with Musicians of Ma'alwyck.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Gershwin à la France

From the Classical Vault Dept.: ... and what about summer concerts? Are they coming back this year? Will they be as fun-filled as the all-Gershwin program I reviewed over a decade ago at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center?


EVEN AT THIS (RELATIVELY) LATE DATE, Gershwin’s music tends to keep concert company with so-called pops stuff, itself typically lightweight American fare. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but Gershwin’s struggle to get admitted into the Classical Academy is rooted in some canards deftly disproved by last week’s all-Gershwin program at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

He’s termed a tunesmith who, when confronted with opportunities for thematic development, just throws something new at us. But the same has been said of Schubert and Dvořák, and, anyway it’s just not true, as his “Concerto in F” nicely demonstrated..

With Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the 88s, the technical requirements of the piece were brilliantly accounted for. The three-movement work, commissioned by the 1925 version of the NY Philharmonic immediately after the premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue,” is in classical form, with the seeds of most of its melodic ideas planted at the top of the first movement and, of course, a consistent harmonic language throughout.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Noises Off Greece

From the Literary Vault Dept.: Sometimes you want to indulge yourself with a no-holds-barred farce, and the prolific Michael Frayn has been happy to oblige, in plays, screenplays, and novels, like the one reviewed below.


MICHAEL FRAYN KNOWS THE ELEMENTS of a mistaken-identity farce. He summoned one of the most rip-roaring festivals of confusion to the stage in his play “Noises Off;” his novel Headlong wove a farce around the discovery of a long-lost Brueghel painting. Frayn’s intellectual prowess was brought to the stage in “Copenhagen,” a compelling drama about the scientific pursuits of Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr.

Skios, Frayn’s latest novel, has its heart the keynote address acclaimed scientist Dr. Norman Wilfred is due to deliver at an influential research center on the fictional Greek island of Skios. But a series of missteps sparked by longing and the island’s terrible taxicab system cause someone else – a ne’er-do-well opportunist pursuing one relationship while fleeing another – to almost inadvertently assume Dr. Wilfred’s guise, thus finding himself the cynosure of the research center’s posh, pretentious attendees.

It’s unimaginable, of course, that our plugged-in era could allow smartphone-clutching travelers even a moment of such disorientation, but Frayn works the mechanics of the story like a master puppeteer. His island isn’t friendly to cell phones, and even less friendly to the wrong kind of charging adapter. A language barrier persists, giving us the term phoksoliva en route, and there’s the reliable human trait of seeing in someone only what you ardently wish to see. And, in a straight steal from the movie “What’s Up, Doc?” and who knows how many earlier door-slammers, there’s the matter of supposedly unique suitcases that look too much alike.

Friday, March 12, 2021

See How You Like It

From the Theater Vault Dept.: Summer theater is being threatened all over the country now, and our local festivals are gearing up with outdoor performances and innovative repertory. To celebrate, here’s a look back at Shakespeare & Co., production from a decade ago.


A SMALL BANJOLELE emerges from the upstage curtain of the thrust stage, and the player gives the opening chords to “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” The curtain parts and the ensemble strides onto the stage, some with other instruments in hand. They’re garbed in ’20s gear, nicely put together by costume designer Arthur Oliver, and as a crooner takes to the microphone to warble the chorus, the cast breaks into the Charleston.

Kelley Curran, Jonathan Epstein, and Merritt Janson

Does it matter that the song is actually over a decade younger than the era portrayed? It does not. The success of this production – and it’s very successful – lies in a clearness of purpose, faithfulness to the clues of the text and beautifully paced energy. Director Tony Simotes leads a versatile cast through the play’s manic vicissitudes with few of the would-be improvements that can mar high-concept realizations.

There’s a joke at the heart of the play’s setting, which can be taken to be either the Ardennes region in France (where the playwright’s source material was set) or the Stratford-area Arden. Set designer Sandra Goldmark puts us in Paris at the top of the show, with miniatures of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Panthéon among the functional set pieces on an otherwise bare (but blue) stage. The forest, such as it is, is an upstage jumble of pipes and trees with a second level that will inspire impressive acrobatics from Orlando (Tony Roach) and Rosalind (Merritt Janson).

Monday, March 08, 2021

A Piece of Roast Beef

Guest Blogger Dept.: It’s Robert Benchley time again, and the estimable essayist today grants us a look at one of the dietary staples of my youth, even as I try to get my youth to eat something else every once in a while.


PERSONALLY, I CLASS ROAST BEEF with watercress and vanilla cornstarch pudding as tasty articles of diet. It undoubtedly has more than the required number of calories; it leans over backward in its eagerness to stand high among our best proteins, and, according to a vivid chart in the back of the cookbook, it is equal in food value to three dried raisins piled one on the other plus peanut-butter the size of an egg.

Drawing by Gluyas Williams
But for all that I can’t seem to feel that I am having a good time while I am eating it. It stimulates the same nerve centers in me that a lantern-slide lecture on “Palestine – the Old and the New,” does.

However, I have noticed that there are people who are not bored by it; in fact, I have seen them deliberately order it in a restaurant when they had the choice of something else; so I thought that the only fair thing I could do would be to look into the matter and see if, in this great city, there weren’t some different ways of serving roast beef to vary its monotony.

Roast beef is not the same price in all eating-places. What makes the difference? What does a diner at the Ritz get in his “roast prime ribs of beef au jus” that makes it distinctive from the “Special to-day – roast beef and mashed potatoes” of the Bowery restaurant?

Friday, March 05, 2021

Keeping It Edible

WE THINK OF FARMS as massive multi-acre enterprises, such is the pervasive image that corporate farming gives us. Ben Stein and Alicia Brown are entering their third season of providing fresh produce to a growing customer base, and their business has been growing unexpectedly well. And they’re doing it on one acre of land.

Photo by Alicia Brown
Edible Uprising Farm was born in 2019 as a passionate partnership between Ben Stein and Alicia Brown. Both of them have long pursued sustainable attitudes and practices where food and agriculture are concerned and wanted to turn that into a project that could income-sustain them as well. Although they envisioned a rural environment for their farming, they took an offer of an acre of land in the more urban Troy, NY.

“It has worked out very well here,” says Stein. “We were unsure about it – I’m from rural Vermont and always farmed in places where there’s not a big population around. We didn’t know if it would work on the edge of a large urban center. But it has been amazing. And we’ve been able to give people access to food they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.”

Monday, March 01, 2021

Cyberotica Antiqua

From the Locked Vault Dept.: We haven’t visited my onetime alter-ego, Dr. Barry Tetons, since I offered this column from an unsavory magazine for which I used to write. Here’s a piece from the January 1996 issue, so astonishingly far from us now in terms of technology that the piece below seems laughably quaint.


BASED ON A RECENT Time magazine cover story and the rantings of certain people in congress, you’d think that the Internet was a teeming electronic maelstrom of smut. Fortunately for us, it is. But the good stuff isn’t as easy to find as Time and the others would have you think.

A few columns back we looked at the specifics of getting to certain smut-rich areas. But the Internet is changing quickly, growing at an astonishing rate. It’s not for nothing that computers run on silicon chips.

Let’s tour the Internet and find out where things tend to be placed. It’s a huge club, in a way – once you find your way into one room, you’ll learn where else to go. Web sites give you addresses of more web sites; discussion groups point the way to everything. If all else fails, get over to a chat area for real-time advice.

So let’s start with the chat channels. IRC – Internet Relay Chat – originated in Finland as a way of bringing groups of like-minded people together in real-time discussion. Now it draws folks from all over the world. To keep it somewhat orderly, it's divided into channels, each of which has a name that reflects (or tries to reflect) something about its special interest. Each name is preceded by the number sign (#), so that #Big_Bitches_with_Big_Tits is one of the more alluring channel names I've seen recently.