DVD Review (The Straits Times, July 2011)

13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
EuroArts 2058168 / ****

The “surprise” in the title of this documentary on America’s most prestigious piano competition should not have been about a blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii winning 1st prize, but how the 2009 edition was dominated by Asian pianists. Four of the six finalists were from Japan, China and Korea, with the top three spots also won by Haochen Zhang (Joint 1st) and Yeol-Eum Son (2nd prize). Peter Rosen’s absorbing film starts from the preliminaries, identifying personalities out of a field of 30 talents, but the narrative thread left little doubt as to who was going to triumph. Blind from birth, Tsujii’s overcoming of adversity and ultimate artistry was nothing short of miraculous.

That the big prize was shared by the soft-spoken and unassuming Zhang was a surprise, that is until one witnessed his performance of Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka (included among the bonuses of this disc). Simply jaw-dropping stuff. Elsewhere, the drama, tension and comedy of competition – of big egos, frayed nerves and shattered dreams - is hinted at but not further developed. Van Cliburn makes a cameo of a few seconds, but the stars are the young pianists themselves, whom veteran juror Menahem Pressler rightly refers to as the “priests of music”, whose gods of Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov they humbly serve.

with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by Tsung Yeh
22 & 23 July, SCO Singapore Conference Hall, 7.30pm
Tickets available at SISTIC


The winners of the International Tchiakovsky Piano Competition 2011, held in Moscow over the past two weeks, have been named. Two Koreans featured in the top three placings, confirming South Korea as a new international force in the world of piano competitions.

The final placings were as follows:


2. YEOL-EUM SON (South Korea)

3. SEONG JIN CHO (South Korea)



Son was also awarded the Special Prize for performance of the newly commissioned work by Rodion Shchedrin and Mozart Concerto Prize. Alexander Romanovsky was awarded the Special Vladimir Krainev Award (whatever that means), while Pavel Kolesnikov and Francois-Xavier Poizat received Jury Discretionary Awards.

This must be an annus mirabilis for Trifonov, having won 1st Prize in the Arthur Rubinstein Competition last month, and 3rd prize in the Chopin International Piano Competition in 2010. Son was a Silver medallist in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, while Cho was the 1st prize winner in the 2009 Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. Well done! Hope to see you in Singapore sometime soon!

The 2 hour long (and staggeringly boring) prize-award ceremony may be viewed here:

Its attempt to simulate Hollywood's Academy Awards ceremony truly fell flat, as it started 50 minutes late, and the sheer lack of pizazz. And by the looks on the faces of the finalists, it appears that all of them had known the result before hand (Piano's 5th prize Alexei Chernov does nothing to hide his disappointment and utter contempt). No suspense whatsoever to the proceedings. There are speeches by Valery Gergiev and Van Cliburn, and most touching of all, a special tribute to Vladimir Krainev (with a speech by his widow Tatiana Tarasova). The Gala Concerts should hopefully be of greater interest.

The mysterious Central Park convent: Mount Saint Vincent

House on the hill: the stark and mysterious convent of Central Park, 1861

In tomorrow's podcast, I'll be spending a bit of time in 1861 and will be briefly mentioning Central Park. So I thought I'd give you a look at what it looked like then. Pictured above is a structure that once dominated the scenery -- the Academy of Saint Vincent -- on a hill that bore its name.

Located on the northern portion of the park, next to the charming Harlem Meer (and nearest 103rd Street), the Academy sat nestled amid a collection of hills and bluffs left over from its original topography.

A narrow passage between the hills was named McGown's Pass after Andrew McGown, owner of a popular tavern that sat alongside here called the Black Horse Tavern**.

It was through McGown's Pass that George Washington traveled on September 15, 1776. He and a portion of the Continental Army had escaped up to today's Washington Heights area; when hearing that part of his army had been stopped by the British, Washington rode down the pass and led the remaining troops back up to their fortification in the Heights. He rode back through the pass again seven years later, this time as the victor.

The British and their Hessian mercenaries built forts here to cut Manhattan off from the mainland. Later New Yorkers would seize upon this idea during the early days of the War of 1812. Not willing to become property of the British once again, Manhattan mobilized for any potential battles, building forts all over the island and throughout the harbor. It was here at McGown's Pass a couple fortifications were built, including Fort Clinton (not to be confused with the fort in Battery Park, although both were named for DeWitt Clinton) and Fort Fish, named after Major Nicholas Fish, father of the New York senator Hamilton Fish.

Nothing much remains of these two old forts, which were never used as the war thankfully never made its way to the city. There are, however, two remaining structures from the early days. A stone ledge overlooking the meer is all that remains of Nutter's Battery, named after a farmer who owned the property. And nearby stands the Block House, its stone face still fairly solid, once armed with cannons and used to hold ammunition -- that were, of course, never needed. The Block House was fairly intact when Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux included it in their plans for the new park, incorporating the existing building as a 'picturesque ruin' covered in vines.

Here's an illustration of how the Block House looked in 1860:

Before there was a park, however, there were nuns. In 1847 the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul arrived at the still-bucolic region of Manhattan and opened the Academy of St. Vincent, a school and convent. The nuns left when the area was incorportated into the park, however the building remained standing and utilized for several purposes. During the Civil War, it was briefly used as a hospital; later, it was a "restaurant and hostelry," with some certainly spectacular views for guests. The stone chapel was even refashioned as an gallery for artwork and "stuffed specimens of animals of considerable value." Unfortunately, the structures were destroyed in a fire in 1881. (This site has some great pictures of where the convent once stood.)

Below: The buildings on the hill, circa 1863. By this time, the Catholic sisters had moved onto a new location in the Bronx (from Wikimedia)

It seems, however, that the area was not through with McGown or his old tavern. Although the Black Horse Tavern had been torn down decades earlier, a two-story refreshment pavilion was constructed at this site -- "heated throughout by steam and lighted with Edison's incandescent lights" -- and later renamed McGown's Pass Tavern.

In 1895, McGown's was strangely granted its own election district as, being inside the park, it lay outside normal district boundaries. "There were four voters in this territory last year," declared the New York Times. "They are four men employed at McGown's Pass Tavern." The tavern was eventually torn down in the late 1910s.

Below: McGown's Pass Tavern (date unknown, but possibly around the early 1910s)

This is a bit tangental, but I love this story. A plaque was erected at the old site of Fort Clinton in 1906 and unveiled in a publicized community event for children. It was apparently difficult for some people to find the location and "several chivalrous lads" guided people through the park to the unveiling.

However, the Times reports an incident that might be the only real battle that ever occured at this storied historical spot:

"Among the boys interested in the tablet unveiling were several whose spirit of mischief overcame their sense of the proprieties. These made misleading arrow signs .... and caused a number of persons to go far afield and arrive at the exercises late and angry. These mischievous youngsters were caught at their annoying trick by boys who were more sober and serious. Then there was a short scrimmage, and the mischievous lads scurried away through the Park."

Finally, from a 19th century book on the War of 1812 comes this spectacular map of the various fortifications built in anticipation of battle. Its dimensions are greatly distorted of course, but it lists the forts and blockhouses that stood in this area as well as those such as Fort Gansevoort and Fort Greene (click on the image to look at it more closely):

**This story is a revision of one I wrote back in July of 2008. (Here's the original article.) Thanks to commenter sallieparker from original posting in 2008 for this tidbit! All pictures courtesy the New York Public Library except where otherwise noted

Getting Creative

The fourth of July is getting close and I am beyond excited! I will be spending the long weekend at the lake with my family and Justin. I need to catch back up on my tan! My mom has planned a great menu so I decided to work on some decorations to hang around the lake cabin! I made some paper lanterns that turned out adorable! I got the idea from Martha Stewart and had help from my sister. I also attempted to make some tissue paper fluff balls for the first time. I don't know what the official name is haha. They turned out good but I definitely need more practice! Do yall have any exciting fourth of July plans?

Bernard Herrmann, film's finest composer, a century later

As if one needed any more examples of the importance of New York's immigrant culture to the history of music, today is the centenary of the birth of Bernard Herrmann, arguably the most important film music composer in history.

Bernard was born (and prematurely at that) to immigrants from Russia. His father, Abraham Dardick, came to America via the former Castle Garden in 1880, changing his name to Herrmann to sound more German. German immigrants, after all, thrived in the city by this time; Russians were a fairly new -- and isolated -- community. His mother Ida was a salesgirl, selling women's gloves.

The young family's home was at 18th Street and Second Avenue. Bernard's first sounds would not have been orchestral music but the sound of the rattling elevated train.

As a child, Herrmann hit the local library (today, the Epiphany Library on 23rd street) and soon fell in love with music, studying opera and the violin. He eventually attended Julliard and was so ambitious that, by age 20, he had even formed his own orchestra.

Herrmann fell into film composing through connections he made as a conductor at the Columbia Broadcasting System. The most notable of those connections was probably Orson Welles, and Herrmann would compose the film music for Welles' masterpiece Citizen Kane. In the 1940s, the composer met Alfred Hitchcock and formed what would be one of the great film collaborations in Hollywood history. Herrmann scored many of Hitchcock's most famous films -- Psycho, Vertigo, North By Northwest, The Birds, to name a few.

Bernard's last film brought him back home, so to speak, composing the score to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Herrmann died December 24, 1975, on the same day he had finished recording it.

Some of the details above are from the Herrmann biography A Heart At Fire's Center: The Life And Music of Bernard Herrman by Steven C. Smith.


The Japanese pianist CHISATO KUSUNOKI is back in Singapore, performing two piano recital at the SIA-LaSalle School of the Arts on 12 and 15 July. As before, she has chosen to perform an all-Russian programme entitled "Romancing Russia", a sequel to her highly successful "From Russia With Love" recital in 2010. I was fortunate to have a few words with this Russophile, who leads a very interesting and cosmopolitan existence in London. The programme for both evenings are:

RACHMANINOV Morceaux de Fantaisie Op.3 (including that Prélude!)

RACHMANINOV Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36

LYADOV Variations on a Polish Song

MEDTNER Forgotten Melodies Op.39

Date: 12 & 15 July 2011 / Time: 7.30 pm, SIA LaSalle School / Tickets available at SISTIC.

A: You are a Japanese pianist, born in Germany, living in England, and specialising in Russian music. How did that exactly happen?

I spent my early childhood in Dusseldorf, Germany and London before returning to a small town called Yokosuka (near Yokohama) at the age of 3. We then came back to London again when I was 14 because of my father’s profession. I remember my first few years being a struggle for not being able to speak English. Interestingly it was during this period that I craved for widening my knowledge of the piano repertoire. Also I spent hours practising the piano everyday. Music thus became for me a form of escapism at that time. I frequently visited my local library which stocked a good selection of classical recordings including the rarer ones. My discovery of lesser-known Russian Romantic works began after I borrowed a CD of Nikolai Demidenko and Dmitri Alexeev playing Rachmaninov’s Suite No.2 for two pianos (on Hyperion). It so happened that Medtner’s only works for 2 pianos were also on the same disc. So that was my first introduction to the world of Nikolai Medtner.

What was it in Russian piano literature that captivated you the most? Did you have any favourites among the Russian composers? And Russian pianists?

My father always listened to Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and I was lucky to be exposed to these works from an early age. I found a cassette tape of Sviatoslav Richter (left) playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto at home. His performance of the Rachmaninov and the music struck me so overwhelmingly, and since then I have been exploring much Russian music. I think it is the Slavic temperament which moves me from bottom of my heart; the warmth, depth of emotions and its narrative quality are so rich, as in most Russian arts. I also enjoy the challenge of the complex and pianistic writing of the late 19th to early 20th century piano music.

I have always loved Rachmaninov as a pianist and composer, and increasingly find myself programming his works in recitals. I would like very much to learn his Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22 and First Sonata in the future. I am constantly drawing inspirations from Russian pianists of the past and present, such as Medtner, Richter, Heinrich and Stanislav Neuhaus, Emil Gilels, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Shura Cherkassky, Maria Grinberg, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Mikhail Pletnev, Alexei Sultanov, Arcadi Volodos and Grigori Sokolov.

The piano music of Nikolai Medtner (left) appears in your recital programme. Some misguided people refer to him as a “poor man’s Rachmaninov”. What does one overcome such stereotypes and actually make his music popular?

I am often put off by this misconception, especially when I programme his music. To me Medtner’s music is as magnetic as that of Rachmaninov’s. And the depth and quality of his music seem to increase by repeated listening. Medtner’s musical language comes from his understanding of German music as well as his natural Slavic temperament. His mastery of counterpoint combined with dazzling virtuosic writing (he was a real composer-pianist) means that the textures can become both dense and highly complex. My former teacher Hamish Milne, who has dedicated himself to the study of Medtner, often said that it is the pianist’s challenge to bring clarity in such intricate writing. Also the narrative quality should be clearly brought out in the most expressive singing manner.

Are there other Russian composers that you think audiences should be more exposed to?

There are many composers that I have special affinity to and I hope to be able to introduce their works to wider audiences. I am especially fond of Myaskovsky’s piano sonatas and cello sonatas. His orchestral works are also extremely appealing. There are indeed many other composers to list: Anatol Lyadov ( his orchestral works were much loved by Rachmaninoff and he conducted many of them), Catoire, Lyapunov, Balakirev, Konstantin Eiges, Oleg Eiges, Georges Conus, Alexander Alexandrov and Samuil Feinberg.

Another composer you have championed is the Scotsman Ronald Stevenson (left). How did that come about?

I was lucky to have studied the piano with Nicholas Austin who introduced me to all sorts of unusual piano repertoire and Ronald Stevenson’s music was among them. Ronald Stevenson has been an important friend and mentor, and he has taught me most valuable lessons. He is also one of the last remaining members in the great tradition of Romantic composer-pianists, a the tradition that embraced Paderewski and Busoni, two figures with whom he feels a particular closeness.

What does Chisato enjoy outside of the world of music?

My interests are rather eclectic. I love animals, wildlife, dress making, many forms of arts and crafts, baking Central European cakes, yoga and literature. Amongst my favourite writers are Pushkin, Chekhov, Pasternak (incidentally he was also a composer!), Turgenev, Proust, Hardy, Zweig, Kundera, Mann and Kafka.

JASPER GOH Flute Recital / Review

JASPER GOH Flute Recital
Artists Academy, One Commonwealth
Monday (27 June 2011)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 29 June 2011 with the title "A poignant farewell".

The Singapore National Youth Orchestra has nurtured so many of Singapore’s talented young musicians over the decades that its place in our cultural life is irreplaceable. There however comes a time when a young musician has to leave its ranks to answer a higher calling, such as overseas studies or national service in the case of 18-year-old men.

Flautist Jasper Goh’s farewell recital before his enlistment to arms provided some poignant but treasurable moments. Having thrilled with Lowell Liebermann’s ebullient Piccolo Concerto almost a year ago, his hour-long and well-balanced programme provided more of the same glitter.

Opening with Telemann’s brief unaccompanied Fantasia No.2, his sweet and smooth tone soothed while comfortably negotiated the alternating slow and fast movements for an appetising palate tickler. Then came the recital’s big work, Prokofiev Flute Sonata in D major (Op.94).

Well known it its violin version, this engaging but tricky masterpiece revels in its bittersweet lyrical melodies, ambushed by unsuspecting rhythmic shifts. Goh coped with the complexities admirably, while making the music sing with sinuous charm. Partner to the endeavour was sensitive pianist Loh Wan Shan, who ensured that her exuberant piano part never overwhelmed in this little cosy venue.

Cecile Chaminade’s popular Concertino was another showpiece, where Goh’s winning way with cantabile was topped with his immaculate technique on many flashy scales. A dazzlingly delivered cadenza was the icing before a spirited conclusion.

Goh was later joined by fellow flautist Teo Shaoming in Friedrich Kuhlau’s delightful Duet No.3 in G minor. Here both players were nigh inseparable, each providing the other with delicious harmony, steady accompaniment and delicate counterpoint. Give and take was the name of the game.

Pianist Loh returned for Franz Doppler’s Rigoletto Fantasy, based on themes from Verdi’s opera. There were to be no academic pretentions in this out and out crowd-pleaser, which saw both flautists attempt to outdo each other in floridly dressing up familiar melodies like La donna e mobile, the Quartet and Caro nome. With tongue firmly in cheek, the duo delighted in variations on the latter aria as it morphed into an outrageous waltz to close.

It is hoped that a flourishing talent like this will continue to grow, and stay true to his art during his two years as a soldier.


This weekend turned out to be just fantastic for Justin and I! I decided to suprise him Friday night by having everything set up for us to make fajitas when he arrived. I have never made them before and was shocked with how simple it really was! I had bean dip and guacamole dip set up when he got here as well as all the tomatoes/onions chopped and cheese grated. I had already prepared the chicken so all that left was cooking the steak and hearing up tortilla shells. I had spent most of the day in the kitchen (with my so sad loaf bread fail) and preparing for this so I sat down with a glass of wine and let him finish it up!

Saturday we decided to head to Greensboro to walk around downtown and checkout all the local shops and memorials. The weather was nice and downtown was very pretty. We stopped for lunch at Natty Greens, a local pub that brews their own beer. We got to sit in outdoor seating overlooking the downtown area. Justin and I both tried some of their local beer and I had a crab cake that was pretty good. One beer led to another beer which led to calling friends I have from UNCG and proceeding to a college bar.. and then another one. It was an unexpected day but fun none the less!

Sunday was spent with church and relaxing and Monday, beginning to make some July 4th decorations that I will post about soon! I hope you all had a nice weekend as well!

MARCO POLO: THE CATHAY YEARS / The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds / Esplanade Concert Hall / Sunday (26 June 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 June 2011 with the title "Oriental touch for Spanish trilogy".

The title of this concert refers to the second part of an on-going wind orchestra trilogy by Spanish composer Luis Serrano Alarcon (below). Commissioned by The Philharmonic Winds, the 20-minute work received its World Premiere conducted by America-based Singaporean conductor Leonard Tan. Written in the form of a four-movement symphony, it was more like a huge concerto grosso graced by a sextet of Chinese instruments from the Ding Yi Music Company as soloists.

The Oriental feel in the music was immediately palpable, skilfully enacted by a master colourist and orchestrator. This was achieved without quoting actual Chinese melodies, but by the deft use of the pentatonic scale and modes, much like the atmospheric scenes created in Turandot by Puccini. The exoticism, ceremonial rites and visions of the Far East came through so winningly that one almost forgot that Marco Polo and the composer were in fact Mediterranean in origin.

Make belief is as much part of the equation, as the sheer quality of the delivery, confident and always responsive, belied the fact that most of the young players were non-professional. Such was the thread running through the whole concert, which will be repeated in the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) conference in Taiwan next month.

Equally trenchant was the razor-sharp accompaniment provided by a chamber sized ensemble for Japanese trombonist Ko-ichiro Yamamoto in John Mackey’s Harvest. The three-movement concerto brought out an arsenal of trombone tricks in a quasi-jazzy idiom that shifted ever so naturally from quiet whisper to irrepressible Dionysian revelry.

Three other works in the showcase were performed recently by the ensemble, but it was good to make their re-acquaintance, in particular Singaporean Wong Kah Chun’s Krakatoa, a tone poem of seismic proportions that moved from gamelan sounds to an outright riot of volcanic energy. Here is a striking young talent who will go far. Percy Grainger’s Marching Song of Democracy opened the concert on a burnished high.

The Philharmonic Winds also proved its mettle in music of a more austere nature, and that does not come more spikily than Adam Gorb’s Farewell, which pitted two ensembles of opposing instrumental colours before closing in a clarinet and oboe duel-duet. Led with authority by renowned wind band maestro Timothy Reynish (left), who premiered the work in 2008, it was ample proof that wind performance had come of age in Singapore.

The Bowery Boys Go To War!

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast celebrates its FOURTH ANNIVERSARY this week! And we're using the occasion to debut a trilogy of summer podcasts, starting July 1st, featuring New York City's involvement during the Civil War as a dramatic backdrop.

The secession of Southern states starting in February 1861 brought out the best in New Yorkers -- and the very worst. The city boldly fueled the early war effort with volunteers and money. But leaders and businessmen with strong Southern ties also attempted to hinder Union momentum. What kind of encouragement is it when the mayor himself threatens to pull out of the Union?

It all came to a head during the summer of 1863 during the Draft Riots, but even that devastating chaos -- certainly New York's most despicable moment -- was not the final word. Even as the South began to falter, New York found itself a target of financial conspiracies and shocking acts of terrorism.

The first part of the trilogy will be available this Friday, July 1, so check back here for details. Or visit iTunes and subscribe to our show there so you don't miss out!

Picture courtesy NYPL digital images

Finalists of International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition 2011 announced

The five finalists of the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition 2011 have been named. Over the next 4 evenings (27-30 June 2011), they will perform 2 concertos each, one of which must be by Tchaikovsky. No surprises, all of them have elected to perform the First Piano Concerto in B flat minor (Op.23) over the much-maligned (and more difficult to pull off) Second Piano Concerto in G major (Op.44). The finalists include two Russians, one Ukrainian and two Koreans. They will be performing in this sequence:

ALEXANDER ROMANOVSKY (Ukraine): Tchaik 1 / Rachmaninov 3

SEONG JIN CHO (Korea): Rachmaninov 3 / Tchaik 1

DANIIL TRIFONOV (Russia): Tchaik 1 / Chopin 1

YEOL EUM SON (Korea): Rachmaninov 3 / Tchaik 1

ALEXEI CHERNOV (Russia): Tchaik 1 / Brahms 1

The concerts may be caught on-line at: http://pitch.paraclassics.com/#/live/piano

Peach Inspiration

I hope you are all having a wonderful Saturday! Justin is in town and I am so excited to spend the day with him! We are going to go downtown Greensboro to do a little shopping and check out some things. Yesterday's "peach post" got me thinking how pretty the color peach really is. (peach, peachy pink, peachy orange) Here is some eye candy of peach colored items I would love to add to my closet!

She's A Real Peach

I don't know about you but I know when I think of a summer fruit I think peaches in June and Watermelon in July! Growing up my family and I would always go visit my mothers side of the family in Alabama. Driving there we drove through Gaffney, SC where there is a gigantic peach shaped water tower. This juicy fruit is definitely a summer staple! The newest Southern Living is featuring peaches with tons of recipes. I have had the best time flipping through the pages and getting ideas. I finally decided I wanted to make the Spiced Peach-Carrot Bread. The magazine said this recipe won first place in the side-dish category in South Carolina's 2009 Annual Peach-Off contest.

Spiced Peach-Carrot Bread Recipe from Southern Living

3/4 cup chopped pecans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped fresh, ripe peaches
3/4 cup freshly grated carrots
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350. Bake pecans in a single layer in shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool 15 minutes.

2. Stir together flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl; add peaches, next 4 ingredients, and toasted pecans, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into a lightly greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

3. Bake at 350 for 1 hr and 5 mins to 1 hr and 10 mins or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour)

Everything was going good until I got to the remove from pan and place on wire rack part. -FAIL FAIL FAIL. The entire loaf FELL apart.. I wanted to cry. Seriously, tears in eyes! Lesson learned- ignore the 5 minute cool time listed and wait about 20 instead!

I'm now trying to salvage it however I can. It is so disappointing to get to the very end and mess up!! I did taste it however and it is amazing! I recommend trying it, but-- make sure to let it cool so you can avoid it breaking apart! Has this ever happened to yall? Part of the fun isn't even pictured-- I love going to our local farmers market to get fresh fruit and veggies. It's so nice to talk to people and know where your food is being grown. My peaches came from a local produce stand and are oh so yummy!

Time Capsule: Gay Hippies vs the Nudists in Central Park!

Above: From a great photo stream of images from the 1971 parade by Me In San Fran/Flickr (check them out here)

I happened across some rather extraordinary archival videos on YouTube posted by Randolfe Wicker, recorded in 1971 at New York's second Gay Pride festivities ever, initially called the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day. In those days, the march headed north (almost all New York parades head downtown), terminating in a rally at Central Park.

Mr. Wicker's video features interviews with parade participants and focuses on a controversy involving a 'nude-in' that spontaneously erupts at the rally. Hey, it's 1971 after all! (The nudists in the third video are blurred by the condition of the footage, so this is probably SFW).

Many of these interviews are hilarious, a few quite engaging, others rather awkward. This event took place two years after the Stonewall riots and just one year after the very first activists courageously took to the streets in New York's first true gay pride parade. So this footage is very valuable indeed, for members of the LGBT community, and for New York history lovers in general.

Wicker also has some videos relating to a gay marriage battle -- from forty years ago! Watch them here.

If you want a bit more context to the videos above, check out our podcast on the history of the Stonewall Riots, recorded back in 2008, which you can download directly from here.

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2011)

Virgin Classics 64202204 / *****

It seems just typical for the maverick French-Polish pianist to serve up a disc of Robert Schumann’s most obscure piano music. Perhaps the least unfamiliar is his Humoreske (Op.20), a rambling half-hour long work in six conjoint movements, much like the better known Kreisleriana. Imagine a song cycle sans vocal contribution, and one gets the essence of Schumann’s lyricism. Its sequences of melting cantabile, turbulent upheavals and whimsical asides make for congenial company, touched by Anderszewski’s ravishing piano sound.

Six Canonic Studies for Pedal Piano (Op.56), usually heard on four hands, make for a hardly appetising title. Anderszewski’s transcription for two hands, goes for aural beauty rather than contrapuntal prowess. Finally, Gesänge der Frühe (Morning Songs, Op.133) was Schumann’s last piano work before being committed to an insane asylum. Its five brief sections work their way from solace to agitation, and closing with quiet resignation. Never has a swansong, and more poignantly an ode to death, sounded this persuasive.

RODRIGO Concierto de Aranjuez / GOSS The Albeniz Concerto
XUEFEI YANG, Guitar / Barcelona Symphony / Eiji Oue
EMI Classics 6983612 / ****1/2

The Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999), composed in 1939, is by a long stretch the world’s most popular and hence over-recorded guitar concerto. Xuefei Yang, the first internationally renowned Chinese guitarist, enters a crowded field but gives an excellent account. One fully attuned to its rhythmic intricacies and sultry mood disposition, her finery of articulation is well matched by the Catalonian orchestra’s alert partnership that does not stint on the details.

The new work on show is Stephen Goss’s Albeniz Concerto, completed in 2009. It is however not an original work but an adaptation and orchestration of piano pieces by Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909). Piano-fanciers will recognise movements like El Albaicin and Evocacion from Iberia, and dances from Suite Espanola. The four pieces with cadenza however dovetails nicely as a whole, with substantial and grateful writing for the guitar, contrasted and well backed with colourful orchestral textures. Yang’s own transcriptions of Albeniz’s 6-movement Espana Op.165, including the famous Tango, completes a largely enjoyable musical tour of sunny Spain.

All about food

Saying my family loves to eat is possibly an understatement. I'm talking my family really loves to eat, ha. But with mom, dad and myself all agreeing for the most part about what to cook/ where to eat we always have one little issue.. my sister Ginny

Now, Ginny is just precious and I consider her my best friend. With that being said she is the PICKIEST eater ever! It's not that she doesn't like a lot of foods, it's that she is on a major health kick and refuses to eat a lot of foods. I have been at home this past week and have not been having much luck on finding food in the fridge for lunch. All of Ginny's organic ish has taken over. Well, I never really gave any of her health food a try, before I made up my mind I didn't want anything to do with it. (I mean Soy milk and egg whites? -no thanks) Today she convinced me to give in if I didn't want to go hungry. I owe it to her to finally admit that after trying some of her healthy food for breakfast and lunch, ..it really isn't bad. It was actually pretty good! Not to mention it made me feel energized all day. I thought I would share with you what I had incase you want to try it out too!

Breakfast: I had an egg sandwich on a 100 calorie sandwich thin. We used only egg whites for the egg part and I added a slice of organic cheese. We also added a pinch of garlic salt to the egg whites to give them some flavor-- delicious!

Lunch: I had a veggie burger on another whole wheat 100 calorie sandwich thin. I added fresh tomato and decided to leave off the cheese this time but add light mayo. -delicious again! I was very surprised how much I enjoyed the veggie burger! I was still a little hungry so I sliced the tomato and ate that raw with a little salt.

As you can see the sandwich thins were a staple with both meals. I took to these myself about a year ago. They taste great and can be used for burgers and any type of sandwich you can think of! My favorite is the honey wheat. Ginny- I guess I owe you an apology, I will be eating healthier from now on!

A chemical company in Union Square sells a kingly elixir

One hundred years ago today (June 23), the big news was the coronation of England's King George at Westminster Abbey. Judging from the New York papers, American fascination with this event makes the recent royal nuptials of William and Kate seem like a forgettable folly. The June 23, 1911, issue of the New York Tribune is filled with illustrations of queens, crowns and processions.

What grabbed my attention, however, was the king-themed advertisement that ran big and bold on the second page. Here are two sections of it (the original is here):

Sanatogen was a kind of vitamin water, "a concentrated scientific food that constructively gives strength and vitality." According to this advertisement, most of the crowded heads of Europe swear by it!

What caught my interest, however, was the location of its American distributor -- the Bauer Chemical Co. in Union Square. A chemical company in one of New York's most bustling public spaces?

Bauer was located in the Everett Building*, at the northeast corner of the park, right across the street from the Germania Life Insurance Company Building and, back in 1911, catty-corner from the headquarters of Tammany Hall. The Everett, with its simple and rigid face, was designed by Starret & Van Vleck, famous for their department-store designs. Indeed, the uptown flagships of Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's look like more elegant versions of the Everett.

Bauer moved in sometime after the Everett's opening in 1908. They were the exclusive distributor of Sanatogen in the United States and seem to have done quite well by it. "Nerves have a Hunger of their Own," said one ominous 1916 advertisement. "Sanatogen helps satisfy it." It also cures "Neurasthenia" and "Cholera Infantum." Remarkable!

The reason anybody really knows The Bauer Chemical Company is that it was a party in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Bauer & Cie. v. O'Donnell, a case involving the sale of Sanatogen, essentially affirming that selling the product below the suggested price to customers, as one druggist O'Donnell attempted, did not violate the terms of license.

After the trial, it appears the company moved a block over to Irving Place by the mid 1910s. I'm not sure what happened to them after that. However, although King George is long gone, you can still buy Sanatogen in the U.K.! And their products seem to be labeled to accurately describe their recommended usage.

*The Everett Building is named for the Everett House, a luxury accommodation that once sat at this very corner. In its day, the Everett played host to many a Democratic bigwig -- Tammany was across the street after all -- and, since we're on a British royal kick, once housed the Prince of Wales in 1860.

Southern Summers

I have a love for everything that represents the south and everything that deals with summer. What I love even more are the little things that put me in a southern summer state of mind! Growing up I can remember countless nights spent outside watching the lightning bugs and trying to catch them as it was beginning to get dark outside. We also put them in a mason jar with holes punched out on the top. I think Mom would let them go when I went to bed but it was always a good time. When the lightning bugs appear I know summer is here, despite the official start of summer date. Even now I love sitting on the porch and watching them light up! Other than lightning bugs I always look forward to summer for the BLT's! If you know me personally you know I LOVE tomato's! I could eat them all day, everyday! Tomatoes on any type of sandwich, plain with a little salt or added to pizza and pasta. But the best way to eat them is in between two slices of bread with a little salt, a little mayo, bacon and lettuce. Yum! Now I'm starting to think that if I had a BLT sandwich I could eat while sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair watching the fireflies I would be in Heaven. haha, oh Southern Summers are the best! I'm so glad we still have the next two months to enjoy!