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Monday, January 31, 2022

Like a Big Pizza Pie

From the Food Vault Dept.: It’s long gone, I’m afraid. Owner Victoria Gelaj sold Pasquale's and moved south, the better to deal with some family issues, as I understand it. Which was a shame: this had become a favorite Albany hangout since my first visit to the place in 2009, described below.


YOU HAVE YOUR HALLOWE’EN INDULGENCE, I’ll have mine. As my wife and daughter plied the streets of Albany with a passel of costumed friends, a friend and I went in search of good pizza. And did we ever luck out.

The website voted Pasquale’s pies the best in its 2008 Tournament of Pizza, and the restaurant is again one of the top contenders in this year’s contest – the results of which will be announced as this issue of Metroland hits the streets.

While I can’t weigh in on Pasquale’s from a tournament-style perspective, I can anecdotally laud it for a superior product in a high-competition field. Of course, the general standards aren’t all the highest – there’s plenty of mediocre pizza out there, and even mediocre pizza can be satisfying if it’s late and you’re hungry.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Dogging the Classics

 From the Classical Vault Dept.: One memorable weekend twelve years ago, the Albany Symphony gave a pair of concerts at a spiffy new hall in Troy – or halls, I should say, because the Symphony itself was in the Concert Hall, the smaller Dogs of Desire unit in the Theater. I was impressed enough to beg for more than the usual space for this longish review.


IT’S POSSIBLE THAT A HALF-CENTURY AGO you could have seen, say, Copland, Bernstein and Schuman at a concert hall during a performance of their music. But back then it was almost unheard of for a major orchestra to put three living American composers on the same bill, never mind in the same room.

James Primosch
Not that we’ve made a whole lot of progress since then, which is why the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s dogged pursuit of new and recent works remains admirable. Friday night’s Dogs of Desire program at EMPAC’s Theater gave us composers Patrick Burke, Ted Hearne, David Mallamud and Todd Reynolds, each with a premiere. Saturday night’s concert at EMPAC’s Concert Hall featured the presence of three of the four represented composers, with a program that included two premieres. That’s an unprecedented amount of new stuff.

ASO conductor David Alan Miller encouraged composer James Primosch to consider a Hudson River theme for his Meet-the-Composer commission. Primosch’s relationship with the orchestra goes back to 1992, when they premiered his “Some Glad Mystery;” for this concert, he drew inspiration from the Hudson River School of painters (Frederic Church. Thomas Cole, et. al.) and wrote a piece titled “Luminism,” a sort of synesthesia – reversing the best-know type – in which color and light inspire music.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Fiddler on the Hoof

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The bane and glory of a performing artist is the incessant touring the job demands. But this has allowed me to see Itzhak Perlman in performance near my home turf several times during his years of travel. Here’s an account of a recital he gave in Schenectady in 2010.


IT’S HARD TO SAY that a performer is at the peak of his career until you see him start to falter, at which time the judgment becomes hindsight. So let’s just say that violinist Itzhak Perlman continues to perform as inspiringly as ever.

Itzhak Perlman and Rohan De Silva
Photo by David Bazemore
Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva last played Proctor’s in 2004, a concert I’ve reminisced about often enough to seem much more recent. And the program was similar insofar as it featured slightly lesser-known works in the violin-piano repertory.

Beginning with a sonata by Mozart (in A Major, K. 526), which is variously numbered as 14, 15, 18 or 35 depending on whether you count the youthful sonatas and throw out the fragments and/or possibly spurious works. Over the course of writing those works (between 1763 and 1788), Mozart improved the role of the violin from accompanying instrument to full-fledged partner, so by the time he got to this work, a nice balance had been achieved.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eliza's Mother

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let’s welcome back Barry Pain with the third chapter of his wonderfully droll book Eliza. Chapter one is here, two is here. I don’t wish to put you off by overstating the case, but leave it to you to decide how funny they are. You will, of course, be inclined to swoon with pleasure if you wish to remain my friend.


I GENERALLY SEND ELIZA to spend a day with her mother early in December, and try to cheer her up a little. I daresay the old lady is very lonely, and appreciates the kindly thought. The return ticket is four-and-two, and Eliza generally buys a few flowers to take with her. That does not leave much change out of five shillings when the day is over, but I don’t grudge the money. Eliza’s mother generally tries to find out, without precisely asking, what we should like for a Christmas present. Eliza does not actually tell her, or even hint it – she would not care to do anything of that sort. But she manages, in a tactful sort of way, to let her know.

"It was true I ran into the horse."
Drawing by Wallace Goldsmith

For instance, the year before last Eliza’s mother happened to say, “I wonder if you know what I am going to give you this Christmas.”

Eliza said, “I can see in your eye, mother, and you sha’n’t do it. It’s much too expensive. If other people can do without silver salt-cellars, I suppose we can.”

Well, we got them; so that was all right. But last year it was more difficult.
You see, early in last December I went over my accounts, and I could see that I was short. For one thing, Eliza had had the measles. Then I had bought a bicycle, and though I sold it again, it did not, in that broken state, bring in enough to pay the compensation to the cabman. I was much annoyed about that. It was true I ran into the horse, but it was not my fault that it bolted and went into the lamp-post. As I said, rather sharply, to the man when I paid him, if his horse had been steady the thing would never have happened. He did not know what to answer, and made some silly remark about my not being fit to ride a mangle. Both then and at the time of the accident his language was disrespectful and profane.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Behind the Lines

EDWARD SOREL’S COVER ART for his book Profusely Illustrated pictures him at a drawing board, pen poised in his right hand. In all other respects, as we learn from the narrative’s autobiographical details, he was an unapologetic lefty, committed to progressive causes, often functioning as a contemporary Hogarth or Daumier when he had the right (left) forum at hand.

At 92, Sorel is taking stock, not only of his life and work but also the society amidst which he’s been working. He notes at the outset that he sought to “save a few of my drawings from the oblivion that awaits most protest art and ... magazine illustrations,” and so we have 177 such pieces enshrined here – all the more admirably considering that, as Sorel explains later, the book was put together during a time when coronavirus shutdowns limited his access to library-stored originals, leaving his photographer-son Leo the task of photographing many of them from tearsheets. You’d never know it. The reproductions look terrific.

He also promises to “offer up an explanation for how the United States ended up with a racist thug in the White House. My belief is that it was made possible by the criminal acts committed by the twelve presidents who preceded Trump.” This promise is depressingly fulfilled as we regularly veer from his own well-told tale to incisive White House visits, beginning with Truman’s red-baiting tactics.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Orchestral Harris-ment

From the Classical Vault Dept.: It numbs me sometimes to think that a review such as the one below was crafted 34 years ago. Although my doctor insists it’s merely neuropathy. In any event, here’s a review spotlighting a Roy Harris work I’m eager to hear again.


THE MOST REPRESENTATIVE FLAVOR of 20th-century American music is in the music of Roy Harris. It may not be a majority representation – there are too many disparate paths to follow. Nor is it a popular representation – anything that could possibly be labelled classical is damned where popularity is concerned. But a merry amalgam of the many voices of this country sparkles through Harris’s work, as his 1940 (but only recently premiered) violin concerto reveals.

Roy Harris
Soloist Gregory Fulkerson did a magnificent job performing it with the Albany Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at theTroy Music Hall, proving Harris to be a quiet champion in the virtuoso tradition. There was no question that the violin was the star, but a benevolent one, happy to share the spotlight with the orchestra. Led by music director Geoffrey Simon, the ASO was a strong and effective partner.

Tinkering with the concerto tradition a little, Harris opens the single-movement work with a languorous melody on the violin, echoed by a plaintive oboe. The several changes of mood are anticipated by the soloist, urging the orchestra into ever-faster dances, until the piece sweeps to a jaunty finale in which the soloist gets to fiddle his heart out, replete with an impressive parade of technical devices that Fulkerson negotiated with ease.

Harris absorbed the folk-song traditions of this country, and, although he could tend toward the mawkish, as in his “Folkaong Symphony,” he captured, when at his his best, the sense of protest and adventure characteristic of that tradition.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Parchment Treats

NORWEGIANS DON’T WAIT for a holiday to put treats on the table. This I know, having grown up with a Norwegian grandmother. So did Isabel Burlingham, although her mormor stayed in Norway. During her many visits, Burlingham learned recipes that she now employs in the delectable offerings she bakes and sells as Parchment, a Troy-based enterprise that offers its comestibles at the ongoing Troy, Saratoga Springs, and Schenectady farmers’ markets, as well as on the shelves of the Honest Weight Food Co-op. Come May, her products will be back in many seasonal markets as well.

Isabel Burlingham in Troy
Burlingham left a career in chemistry to do this, a career that resonates with the science of baking. What drew her to chemistry in the first place? “A desire to understand how things work. I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was really little, and that inspired my love of the magic behind life and the planet. So chemistry was a natural progression for me – especially versus biology or physics. It wasn’t the science or how bodies work. It was, Why is a stone blue? Is it because there’s a mineral in it that is reflecting a blue light? Or is it like a green leaf, absorbing everything but the green color? The chemistry perspective came more naturally to me.”

She worked for over a decade in that career, first in a corporate setting, then with a Saratoga County-based startup company. “I didn’t start my career as a baker until Covid, when the startup laid everyone off so that we could collect unemployment. I’d been unhappy with corporate life, which is why I moved into the startup field. But even then, I was not satisfied.”

Friday, January 07, 2022

Musically United

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Stripling that I was at the time, I remember that there was some excitement in the music press when Ursula Oppens’s recording of “The People United.” came out in 1979, three years after the work premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1976. I bought that record and fell in love with the piece, written by Frederic Rzewski (who died last summer) on a commission from Oppens and as a political gesture as well, something that was always important to him. The piece stands alongside Bach’s Goldbergs and Beethoven’s Diabellis as one of the towering works in the keyboard literature. You can also read my account of seeing Rzewski perform the work in Troy, NY, here.


WRITTEN IN 1975 for a commission from pianist Ursula Oppens, Frederic Rzewski’s hour-long “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” is one of the most fascinating, monumental works of the 20th century. It explores the sound of the piano with sometimes bizarre results, indulges in oddball time signatures and calls upon the soloist to slam the lid and whistle along.

Yet it’s a defiantly tonal work, paying as much tribute to Bach as it does to Rzewski’s post-Cowell contemporaries. The short, tuneful theme, which shares a chord structure (“changes,” in jazz lingo) with a well-known Paganini variation subject, is followed by six sets of six variations apiece, each set exploring a different concept (rhythm, harmony and more).

But it’s more intricately constructed still, with the sixth variation of each set serving as a summary of the preceding five, and the component variations of the sixth set referring back to each ordinal correspondent.

This puts the work in a structural league with the ’70s output of such writers as John Barth and Gilbert Sorrentino and the seeming non-sequitur style of Donald Barthelme – and, like the work of those authors, Rzewski’s piece is dramatically effective even without a knowledge of its innards.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Honest to Goodness

From the Food Vault Dept.: Albany’s expansive food co-op has been in business for 45 years. Since the time I wrote the piece below, it moved to larger quarters (with easier parking), went through staff and management upheavals, successfully waged some union-busting, and has settled into a corporate-like entity still beloved by many. The pricing and selections reported below have, not surprisingly, changed, and Gustav has long since left the place.


NO MATTER WHAT ELSE I take away from this place to eat, the picture I always take away is that of Gustav Ericson, factotum of the cheese department, beguiling me – and everyone else who happens to standing nearby – with a taste of something I’ve never before sampled, something pleasingly aromatic and exciting to the palate.

Gustav Ericson, recommending
“Now try it with some of this chutney,” he says, and suddenly I’m in a spicy, more complicated flavor arena, and he knows I’m hooked and cheese and chutney both join my shopping basket.

Thus it was on a recent visit. I cruised the produce aisles, admired the bulk staples, looked longingly upon the hair and skin care products, then made my way past the deli case into the next room. “Have you had a sample yet?” asked Gustav, and who am I to say no?

Ericson has been a protean presence in the region, a pastry chef who spent time in a variety of shops and kitchens before settling in at Honest Weight. “I joined the co-op well before I started working here,” he explains. “I came in as an assistant manager, and seven years ago I became manager of the cheese department. But I have some customers who’ve been following me for about 15 years, buying their bucheron from me every week. I love the co-op, and I love the way of doing business here.”