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Monday, May 31, 2021

Impassioned Threesome

From the Classical Vault Dept.: It was a rare treat to see and hear the Golub-Kaplan-Carr trio perform in 1984. They were a top-notch group essaying the heart of the piano trip repertory, but pianist David Golub died of lung cancer in 2000 at the age of 50. Violinist Mark Kaplan teaches at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and performs as a soloist and inchamber ensembles; cellist Colin Carr is professor of cello at the Royal Academy of Music and continues pursuing a solo career. Here’s the brief, interview-free advance I wrote, followed by the review itself.


THREE YOUNG INSTRUMENTALISTS decided not long ago to interrupt their solo activities for a few weeks each year to combine their talents as the Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio, presenting the best of the repertory for the ensemble piano, violin and cello.

This trio will appear at Union College’s Memorial at 8 tonight in a program of trios by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms.

Pianist David Golub has performed with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and others here and abroad; he also has spent summers at Aspen, Marlboro and Ravinia. Violinist Isaac Stern called him one of the most gifted musicians I have met in many years of music making.”

Violinist Mark Kaplan’s list of appearances is similar to Golub’s. He also has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and others.

English cellist Cohn Carr came to the music scene in this country as a winner of the Young Concert Artists’ International Auditions. He was a first-prize winner of the Naumberg Cello Competition in 1981 and of the 1982 Piatigorsky Memorial Award. He is on the faculty of the New England Conservatory.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Dinosaur Dubbing

From the Tech Vault Dept.: Here’s another tech oldie, my how-to about compiling a videotape from your existing footage by using a 1994 software program to supervise the jockeying through individual segments that are then transferred ... it’s exhausting even to write this. And I can assure you that the result was just as primitive-looking as the process suggests.


REMEMBER THE TORMENT of sitting through yet another slide show as Dad brutalized captive guests with scenes from last summer's beach trip? Every single shot he took was jammed into that projector, no matter how poorly cropped or focused it was. With one of those awful I'm-getting-too-old epiphanies, I realized that I've been inflicting the exact same pain on my guests, but the means of torture has changed. Today, they're forced to suffer through my videotapes.

And every scrap of footage is intact. Every time I accidentally pushed the start button and filmed two minutes of floor tile. Every shaky sequence of passing scenery. Had I not been asked to write about VideoDirector, all my long-suffering friends would have had to buy it for me. I can't live without it now.

VideoDirector is an elegant product because it gives you the means to edit tapes with your computer without consuming your hard drive in the process. Since you aren't actually capturing video, the computer simply functions as a control center to aid in the editing process, miraculously compiling choice material from those teeming tapes into well-paced episodes.

I had already tried video editing with my camcorder and VCR; a good VCR can pause and resume quickly, but controlling the camcorder is much more difficult, especially when you're trying to tweeze a two-or three-second scene out of a sequence. Fortunately, some camcorders have a special jack built in that allows them to be controlled by another machine—which can be a computer.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Nominalization of Barbecue

From the Culinary Vault Dept.: Twenty years ago I was well into a barbecue craze that had me buying a succession of smokers and perfecting my dry rubs and sauces. Ironically, it also steered me away from barbecue restaurants, as I tended to enjoy my own fabrications more – but I remember Jr.’s BBQ in Burnt Hills as a particularly fine eatery. It’s long gone, replaced at that site by place selling sheds.


BARBECUE INSPIRES SUCH PASSION in its fans that what once was adjective or verb is a richly portentous noun to those in the know. The only adjective regularly allowed beside it is “good,” and “good” means nothing less than excellent.

Generic Pulled Pork Photo
More elusive than good barbecue, it seems, are good barbecue restaurants. So it was a shock to discover that Jr.’s (that’s “Junior’s”) has been in operation for nine months, in a venerable Burnt Hills location that started life as a speakeasy, became one of the first establishments to sport a liquor license post-Volstead Act, then went on to become various restaurants, most notably Silvestri’s and Felicia’s.

Now it’s owned by Tom and Kristle DiPietro and it’s a seven-day-a-week barbecue joint that also serves sandwiches, wings, great desserts and a full spectrum of slow-roasted meats.

Because that’s the whole point of barbecue. You want to turn a tough cut of meat tender with a lengthy cooking process, and you want to impart flavors of smoke and a tangy marinade. Thus there are methods of grilling and smoking and roasting to use separately or in combination, the key ingredient being time.

Tom DiPietro has put a lot of that into the restaurant business, in which he’s been employed in one capacity or another for 33 of his 46 years. And he displayed his adeptness the evening I visited with family and a friend because mid-week business was slow enough for him to work it nearly alone.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Sweet Soldierly Stuff

From the Operetta Vault Dept.: Looks like the Bard Summerscape Festival will be back on its feet this summer (2021), and I look forward to learning more about the life and work of sisters Nadia and Lili Boulanger. Meanwhile, here’s a look back at a production there of the rarely seen “Chocolate Soldier” in 2010.


IN THE BUILDING’S LARGER THEATER, the final acclaimed performance of Franz Schreker’s 1910 opera “Der ferne Klang” sent singers scurrying past, their faces grotesquely painted. But with an August too clogged to allow me to see both of this season’s operas, I succumbed to the part of me that likes froth and happy endings and sentimental tunes.

I hitherto only knew “The Chocolate Soldier” as a punchline, a payoff for a gag involving forgotten musicals if “The Red Mill” or “Naughty Marietta” won’t due. And I swear to you, during the drive home I was listening to a 1966 Jean Shepherd radio show in which he described dining at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, in a room that “featured four very proper musicians ... playing things like selections from ‘The Chocolate Soldier.’”

Bard’s Summerscape mission is to bring you the little-seen and rarely heard, and director-choreographer Will Pomerantz did another commendable job in putting this on the stage. As was the case with his production two summers ago of the Gershwin musical “Of Thee I Sing,” he was working with a property that no doubt clogged the stage with chorus and dancers; this trimmed-down version made intensive use of the hard-working chorus: it’s impressive how adaptable women can be with the mere addition of a mustache or two.

The operetta is based on Shaw’s “Arms and the Man,” although Shaw completely dissociated from the piece and insisted on no royalty payments, a decision he must have later regretted.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Are You Going to Finish That?

FIRST THERE’S A SMALL SENSE OF BETRAYAL. Mark Bittman’s cookbooks are reliable foundational items for any culinary collection, offering satisfying recipes described in a reassuring voice. His latest book, however, is almost an anti-cookbook insofar as it’s more or less an anti-food book. Animal, Vegetable, Junk looks at what have become the unhealthy dietary norms for most Americans, how they got that way, and what we can do to change it.

“Food drives history,” states Bittman, “and soil drives food.” His book-opening look at the history of agriculture is a fascinating journey through the millennia of evolutionary steps humans took to learn to localize their food production. And it sets the stage for the introduction of factory farming, which, among other nasty consequences, ruins the land beneath it.

In the mid-19th century, John Deere revolutionized plowing with a new design, better material, and a shift to retail sales, helping farmers with resistant soil break up their ground for planting. But this also was the beginning of an assembly-line attitude towards labor and production that served to increase yields (in good years, at least) even as the farmers who worked the land became less familiar with that land, thus less responsive to its needs.

“Before long, it took more land, more equipment, more chemicals, and more financing to become a successful farmer in the most prolific crops, like corn, soybeans, and wheat,” writes Bittman. “And as it developed, buying mechanized farm equipment did not guarantee prosperity, but rather debt ... ”

Friday, May 14, 2021

Slava’s Cello Show

From the Classical Vault Dept.: While poring through old pieces to post here, I play a game with myself: What did I venture out to review 20 (or 25 or 30) years ago? In this case, it’s 35 years, and it was a recital by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. I’d seen him about a decade before then, a recital at the University of Connecticut where he played the Prokofiev Cello Sonata, among other works, and it was just a dazzling as the concert I describe below.


THERE IS A QUALITY characterizing a virtuoso performer that goes beyond elements of tone and technique. It’s been likened to a kind of sorcery; it certainly inspires awe. This is the quality cellist Mstislav Rostropovich brought to Proctor’s Theatre in his Monday evening recital.

Pianist Lambert Orkis was an equal participant in the success, a partner where too often you only find an accompanist. And the program was dominated, until the very end, by the musical personality of Brahms.

Mstislav Rostropovich and Lambert Orkis
Opening with an arrangement of the adagio from an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, Rostropovich came right out of the gate with a tone control that proved his arms and fingers were conduits of a remarkable singing voice.

The piece did not call for much piano assistance but Orkis came into his own with the three pieces in folk-style by Robert Schumann. Forming a mini-sonata of contrasting mood, the first was jaunty and whimsical, the second more lyrical, the third a grandiose conclusion.

They set the stage quite romantically for Brahms’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, which concluded the first half. This is a piece that demands the attention of only the most thoughtful players and players whose personalities won’t get lost in the sweep of the work.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Scarlatti Odyssey

MY SCARLATTI ODYSSEY began with LPs of Ralph Kirkpatrick’s recordings – on the Odyssey label, in fact – after which I was lured to the piano performances by Horowitz. But I reached nirvana with the Scott Ross complete set of those solo sonatas, so varied and so fascinating that listening through all 555 of them was a delightful voyage, not a chore.

There have been many, many recordings to discover and enjoy since that time, recordings that ask me to wrench my allegiance from harpsichord to piano and back again. So it was a welcome side-trip to discover that English composer Charles Avison, who lived from 1709 to 1770, turned a number of Scarlatti’s sonatas into concerti grossi that were published in 1744, while Scarlatti was still alive.

At that point, only 30 of Scarlatti’s sonatas had been published, but they still offered a rich source of material. And Avison didn’t let himself feel constrained by the pieces he chose to include. In modern parlance, we would say he “reimagined” them, re-harmonizing and expanding them where it seemed to make sense, even adding movements (typically slower ones) to round out the form of the concerti.

There’s a new recording that showcases four of the twelve of Avison’s “Concertos in Seven Parts done from the Lessons of Domenico Scarlatti,” featuring the Spanish ensemble Tiento Nuovo, founded in 2016 by harpsichordist Ignacio Prego. The ensemble, which varies in size according to each particular project, is made up of a traditional concerto grosso ensemble, with a string quartet as concertino and a ripieno of two violins, viola, and continuo – itself made up of cello, violone (a precursor of the string bass) and organ or harpsichord.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Born to Boogie

From the Theater Vault Dept.: Given my reaction to some of the recent musicals that I’ve been sent to review – recent to me meaning post-1940s – I was surprised to warm to “Billy Elliot” as much as I did when it hit the area during its 2013 tour. Elton John’s jukebox-ish score notwithstanding.


IT’S OFTEN SURPRISING how easily sentiment can go to work on you. While I’m fairly immune to dead-mom sentiment and dad-realizes-what-a-shit-he’s been sentiment, “Billy Elliot: The Musical” got me with its coal-miners’ strike. It took place in England in 1984, giving the odious Margaret Thatcher the opportunity to begin dismantling workers’ hard-won rights throughout the nation. Most of the West Virginia side of my family are miners; I’ve been down the pit and I’ve learned firsthand about the struggles they continue to wage in order to pursue a dangerous job.

Drew Minard as "Billy Elliot"
My mother escaped via the Navy. Eleven-year-old Billy Elliot is offered a way out of a future in the mines through dance, with all of the attendant preconceptions that will color the attitudes of his father, brother and friends.

It’s a good premise for a musical, with such a firestorm of energy during the first act that you easily can tolerate Elton John’s sound-alike score – after all, his music was part of the soundtrack of the Thatcher era. But once the plot threads are tied up at the top of Act Two, that energy flags and the score’s repetitiousness is cruelly overshadowed when an excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” underscores Billy’s dream dance.

Choreographer Peter Darling and director Stephen Daldry created a breathtaking ensemble number early in the show to the song “Solidarity,” in which the striking miners, the opposing police and a classroom of ballet students interact in an otherworldly manner, using the potential of costume pieces and chairs to the fullest (chairs feature almost as individual characters throughout the show).

Monday, May 03, 2021

The Fable of Why Essie's Tall Friend Got the Fresh Air

Guest Blogger Dept.: Indiana-born George Ade sprang to fame with the publication of Fables in Slang, which first appeared serially in the Chicago Record in 1897. Soon he was publishing other books as well as writing plays and, as the movies came to life, screenplays. His style of gentle satire was enhanced by his ear for the vernacular – but don’t let me blather on. Listen to him.


THE OWNER OF A FURNISHING STORE gave employment to a Boy with Dreamy Eyes, who took good care of his Nails and used Scented Soap and carried a Pocket Looking-Glass. It was his Delight to stand in the Doorway and watch the Girls all Color Up when they caught Sight of him. He was said to be a Divine Waltzer at these Balls that cost the Gents 50 cents each and the Ladies get in free.

There was a Girl named Essie who was Hanging Around the Front of the Store about half of the Time, waiting to get a Chance to Speak to Bert. She Chewed Gum and kept her Sailor Hat pulled down to her Eyebrows and had her Name worked out in Wire and used it as a Breastpin. After she had waited an Hour or so, and he had Broken Away long enough to take her aside, she would want to know what it was that Net had said about her, or else she would ask why he had not Answered her Note. It was always just about as Momentous as that.

If Essie did not come, she sent some one with a Message, and sometimes other Floor Managers with Red Neckties and Forelocks would come in to see about the Arrangements for the next Grand Hop by the Eucalyptus Pleasure Club.