Monday, August 05, 1996


Have Radio, Will Travel - The Catskills

LOOKING AHEAD by Wally Dobelis

First about the travel, which was to visit friends in their new summer home. To go to the Catskills, we crossed the mighty Hudson River at Kingston and followed Route 199 into Route 28, marked as a picturesque drive by the AAA up to Boiceville. This is what I'd call the Middle Road to the Catskills, in Ulster County, a wide easy highway in the valley with mountain views on both sides, leading through the tourist country of the Game Farm, Catskills Railroad and the ubiquitous Esopus River with its rafting attractions. (The Lower Road is the Borscht Circuit Route 17, in Sullivan County, to Liberty, to the former Grossingers, Concord and the famous Roscoe Diner; the Upper is Route 23B over the Greene mountaintops to Oneonta in Otsego County, where in 1986 my 1977 Ford Maverick blew its head gasket and never recovered. Oneonta is a college town with brick sidewalks and geranium pots hanging from streetlights on Main Street, just like Oxford.) Route 28 becomes narrow, crooked and immensely picturesque in the poverty-struck farming country of Delavare County, above Fleischmans, Margaretville and particularly after the exit to New Kingston. Here the views are truly momentous and cows abound on vertical pastures.

Our Brooklyn Heights friends Tom and Julie, both amateur gourmet chefs, had recently acquired a 37 acre property with a cabin and a stream, cornfields and wildflower meadows, with retirement in mind, for the price of a studio apartment in a Manhattan coop. (You too can have equal pleasures if you don't mind up to four hours on on the road each way, much of it twisting.) Their forever winding dirt driveway is kept accessible by a local contractor for $500 a year, and a carpenter last Fall jacked up the house and strengthened the supporting cinderblocks and the basement walls, just in time for the spring floods. The renovation closed the exits for the field mice who seek refuge indoors during the harsh months. Julie fed the rapidly multiplying basement dwellers birdseed every weekend until the spring, when she trapped them in a Have-A-Heart trap, as many as seven at a time, and released them behind the stream. That's a true New Yorker Liberal, a much maligned breed. New Yorkers will feed the needy and the homeless, but we do not condone m

As for the radio part: we too are country folk, on this side of the mighty Hudson, in Columbia County. This is the time of the year when we start looking for the Tanglewood Music Festival schedule in all seriousness. Lenox is only 40 miles away, and the concert season is upon us.

Over the past 16 years we have attended many open rehearsals of the Boston Philharmonic on Saturday mornings, and listened to the live Tanglewood concert broadcasts over WAMC, the Northwest corridor FM Public Radio network. (Their station identification takes a minute and two deep breaths of the announcer's lungs to detail. All of the stations invoke visions; flagship WAMC Albany, originally the Albany Medical College station; Kingston, an ex-IBM town, suffering the layoffs; Middletown - Rt 17 to the Catskills, Roscoe Diner; Canajoharie, near Syracuse - the gorge; Ticonderoga - North Country history, fort, Lake Champlain; Great Barrington, Mass., our ski mountain where the station is located. Now a deep breath - Oneonta, pretty town, 50 c beers; Plattsburgh; Newburgh and Rensellaer-Troy, much sad poverty.)

The live Tanglewood concerts were announced, for years, by the slowest-speaking thoughtful musicologist with the deepest voice in radioland, and a name that's impossible to get right - Robert Gelertzman? Anyway, we knew him as Deep Throat (upon inquiry, it turns out that he is Robert J. Lurtzema, of WGBH in Boston.) Nowadays, Deep Throat has a 7 to 12 AM Morning Pro Musica program on WAMC, Sat/Sun, and, while traveling to the Catskills, we caught a most delightful program centering on J.S. Bach's transpositions. I'm a sucker for the divine Chaconne, a movement in Bach's Partita No. 2 in A minor, one in a series of six sonatas and partitas, BWV 1001/6 (the acronym is for the Bach's Werke Verzeichnis by Schmiege, like the Kocher Register of Mozart), solo pieces for an unaccompanied violin. We heard a memorable performance of it around 1985, in Carnegie Hall, by Nathan Milstein, who waddled out like a smiling penguin in a tails suit - and then he played, like an angel with a violin. There was never anything nobler in my musical experience. Of our several recordings of the Partita none match Millstein's cool remote passion.

Anyway, Deep Throat teased us along by playing the Chaconne's near relative, the Fugue from the Sonata No.1 in G minor, and its transcriptions for organ, Prelude and Fugue (539 BWV), and for lute (123 BWV), both Bach's own. There was a Nicholas Garousis guitar version too, and we heard it. All this was getting me excited, in anticipation, and Deep Throat worked the audience. Before he played the Chaconne, recorded by violinist Arthur Grumio, Deep Throat teased us with arcana dragged out forever, explaining how a Chaconne is like a Passacaglia, utilizing harmonic variations, except that it uses a continuo and the Passacaglia uses an ostinato. But then he played it, followed by the Firrucio Busone piano transcript from 1887, popular but ordinary, and broke out the Brahms' earlier, 1878 Study for piano, left hand only, played by - you guessed right - Leon Fleischer. Fleischer, the musical director of Tanglewood, lost the use of his right hand twenty years ago. Now we know of it as carpal tunnel syndrome. Glen Gould had it too, but Fleischer pulled out, an in the 1995 Tanglewood season he was the surprise guest, playing the piano with both hands, at the Seiji Ozawa -Itzhak Perlman - Yo-Yo Ma birthday performance. The Brahms was the more sensitive transcription, despite the Busoni's popularity. I have also heard an Andres Segovia guitar version, which did not get mentioned.

Getting back to the Public Radio networks - while within the WAMC area, one finds the true range of Prof. Allen Chartock of SUNY New Paltz, whom New Yorkers remember of from the entertaining weekly dialogue program with then Governor Mario Cuomo. When cornered, Mario gave as much as he got, accusing Allen, a Massachusettsian, of having no business to talk New York politics. It was a good act, and the sensible interviews with Carl McCall and such do not replace the fun. Allen is the WAMC network power, seemingly in charge of the Environment and Govenment programming, a daily political commentary and God knows what else. But even Chartock is not infallible - during the pre- 4th of July period he chortled that the threat of missed vacations (recess is end June to January, except for committee chairs and an occasional recall of legislature by the Gov) would be the only thing that would force the New York lawmakers to complete the budget. But he was wrong - the legislators took the holiday, left the staff memners to dicker on the remaining details, and came back in July to pass the law, 102 days late, well above the prior record of 69 days. This grandstanding really hurt school districts, they had to borrow money for expenses, and my local school board in Columbia County, in sheer frustration, voted to bill the Gov $8,000, the interest they had to pay. These now routine delays also cost us, the taxpayers, in higher interest rates, as bond ratings are affected. Isn't it about time we forced the issue, progressively reducing and suspending the pay of the entire Albany clique as the delays stretch on and on?

Recently heard from John C. Angle, one of the three founding chairman of the 14 Street BID and retired CEO of Guardian Life. He is writing an obituary of Eugene Dorfman, actuary and longtime resident of East 20th Street, and was checking some details. John is hiding out from the Nebraska summer heat in the mountains of Colorado, and sends greetings to his friends and colleagues.

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