Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mexican Winery Opens Eyes with Shockingly Good Wines

LA Cetto 2011 Private Reserve Chardonnay


    It may come as a surprise to some that Mexico produces wine - and wine from the vinifera grape at that. Chardonnay or Cabernet from Baja California may not be as familiar to wine lovers as Chardonnay or Cab from Napa or France, but I’m glad to say that it exists
     In my long lasting love affair with wine, I must say that I might have sampled perhaps as few as only four or five Mexican wines, but each time I came away feeling that I’d enjoyed what I tasted.
    With a  little research, I discovered that Mexico was making wine longer than the rest of the New World with one winery in the state of Coahuila’s Parras Valley founded in 1597 claiming to be the oldest in America. From here, the craft (or art) of wine making spread north and south to California, Chile and Argentina.
    As to Mexico, the wine industry soon discovered that Baja, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and  the Gulf of Mexico, had the most favorable climate and grape growing conditions.
    Today, a full 90 percent of Mexican wine comes from Baja, with the Guadalupe Valley, a few miles north east of Ensenada, playing a major role. One of the players with the most clout, the L. A. Cetto Winery, got its start in 1928 when Don Angelo Cetto emigrated from his native Italy with the notion of making wine in the New World. Modernization and the latest oenological practices were initiated by the second generation winemakers, who explored the relationship of wine varieties to the area’s terroir.
    At the moment, Luis Alberto Cetto heads the third generation of wine makers  and  expanded the winery’s market to 27 different nations including the United States.
     Recently, I uncorked a bottle of the 2011 Private Reserve Chardonnay and found that, for a Chard that hovers around a $10 price tag, it is exceptionally good with a fruity bouquet, a pale saffron color and a rich taste profile that includes tropical fruits like pineapple and guava balanced with temperate zone apples and especially pear. With a nice balance of sugar and acid and a pleasant aftertaste, the Chardonnay is smoothly textured, comes with a 13.5% alcohol and can be drunk by itself or with foods like seafood, grilled vegetables, chicken, some cheeses, omelets, quiches and cream pastas. For the price, it beats out many other Chardonnays selling for twice as much.

L.A Cetto 2009 Private Reserve Nebbiolo

The 2009 L. A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo couldn’t be more different. Meant to be drunk with food, this dark and earthy red wine is austerely dry with hints of leather, tobacco, pepper and coffee, immersed in a matrix of blackberry, plum and black cherry. I’d love to try this barrel aged Nebbiolo with a broiled rack of lamb, and charred Ribeye, duck in Port wine sauce, some Camembert or a piece of dark chocolate volcano cake. The alcohol is again 13.5% and the price is $20.
    To tout some of its stature in the wine world, L.A. Cetto wines have been selected for the James Beard Foundation, the Wine Spectator 2013 Grand Tour and a White House State Dinner and has been featured at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Preakness Derby.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pick of the Week - Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem in “American Spiritual.”

Rani Arbo and daisy meyhem 

    This week's entertainment Pick of the Week goes to the Olin Fine Arts Center at Washington and Jefferson College with a scheduled performance by Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem titled "American Spiritual."
This roots band debuts a new program culled from the deepest roots of the spirit. From a lush setting of Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar to old American shape note hymns, prison work songs, blues, gospel and original compositions, American Spiritual draws from 200 years of roots music to find songs that uplift and connect.

With infectious camaraderie, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem easily coax audiences to join their spine-tingling, rafter-shaking harmonies, clap to roaring fiddle tunes and open their hearts to songs of love and loss. This is American Spiritual - in which big questions are asked, few are answered, much harmony is sung, and an ecstatic string band is let loose to dispense its good medicine.
For more than a decade, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem have been brewing their own blend of American roots music. Their shows sparkle with songs and stories that celebrate and tackle the human condition. From an early 1900’s farmers’ lament to a swing tune penned for Arbo’s elderly neighbor, the band’s repertoire is crafted to build bridges between musicians and listeners and between performance and life. The quartet’s energy and warmth pull audiences in, enthrall them, and return them home with opened hearts.

On the day of the performance Rani Arbo will conduct a free workshop in the Olin Auditorium at 1 p.m. that will include a reflective performance and discussion.
 A breast cancer survivor, she is also a trained hospice volunteer and an experienced presenter in medical settings. As a solo performer (vocal, fiddle, guitar), she visits cancer survivor groups, nursing homes, pediatric clinics, infusion centers and hospice programs, and plays at bedside for patients of all ages and conditions.
Rani has completed Arts in Medicine residencies at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn IL, California State University in Chico, and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cal U Theatre Department - a Stellar Entertainment Venue

Steele Auditorium - Exterior

Those who haven’t attended a theater production at California University of Pennsylvania in quite a while are in for quite a surprise!
In 2007, Steele Hall, where the Department of Theatre and Dance stages its productions, underwent an $11 million renovation that increased the size of the auditorium by 50 percent. A new 140-seat, black box space now known as the Blaney Theatre was added along with new seats, new sound and light system, a new scene and costume shop, new makeup rooms, a tech lab and a green room with two star dressing rooms.
The result is one of the finest, most comfortable, most technology-advanced theater venues between Morgantown, Uniontown and Pittsburgh.
Depending on the season, patrons can find everything from farce, comedy and drama to musicals and contemporary plays on the program.
      "Each year, we try to give our acting and tech students an opportunity to do different things," said Dr. Michele Pagen, department chair. "But in addition to tending to the needs of our students, we also try to offer the community quality entertainment."
Each year, the department schedules at least one musical, and two of every three years it also mounts a musical in the spring. In those years when a spring musical isn’t offered, the department schedules a dance concert that showcases its dance students.
The 2014 season will kick off on October 2-4 with a series of One Act plays  directed by department students and will follow up with Ken Ludwig’s "Midsummer/Jersey," a high-octane production featuring the first year students. (Oct. 30-Nov. 1)
"We always have a first year student production every year to give our newcomers an introduction to the theater and campus," Dr. Pagen said.
The fall season will close with a Christmas season production of "A Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical,"  in the 600-seat Mainstage Theatre with a cast of 70 that will be a mix of community actors and university students, staff and alumni. (Dec. 4-7).
"The youngest in the production is five with the oldest coming in in their 40s," Dr. Pagen said.
For more information on the 2014-15 season, a season brochure and ticket information, phone 724-938-5943.

A Scene from "A Miracle on 34th Street"

California University’s Bachelor of Arts in Theatre program is one of just 178 programs to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. NAST
establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials.
Currently, the department is made up of four full time and three part-time professors with a student enrollment of approximately 50 majors and 30 minors.

Blaney Black Box Theatre - Interior

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unique Duo to Perform in Pittsburgh

Maciej and Jolanta Ziemski as Duo Klavitarre

    Music lovers in the Pittsburgh area might want to take note of a fascinating ensemble coming to town this October.

    Not only do Jolanta and Maciej Ziemski perform as husband and wife, they also pair up on an unusual combination of instruments (piano and guitar) under the title Duo Klavitarre.  The melodious name is a combination of the words for klavichord (piano) and guitar (guitarre). The couple, who met while studying at the Music Academy in Lodz, Poland, arranges their own music from a repertoire that spans the Baroque, Classic, Romantic and Modern eras.
    At 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 26, the duo will present a special concert sponsored by the Polish Cultural Council at the Trimont Building on Mt. Washington.  Tickets are $25, and a meet the artists wine reception follows immediately after the concert.  Seating is limited, so phone 412-871-3347 to reserve seats at your earliest convenience.
    To get better acquainted with their Pittsburgh audience, Maciej Ziemski consented to respond to a Q and A about their upcoming appearance in the thrilling setting atop Mt. Washington. IIf you'd like to sample their music online, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Odzb9FTGOI

Q: Your website claims that you’ve been playing together for eight years. How do you manage to keep everything fresh when you’re together so much of the time?

A:  We have some pieces of music in our repertoire that we’ve performed for several years. Naturally we like to add new compositions, which we weave into our programming. This keeps things fresh and alive, but playing together also gives us a lot of joy and satisfaction. As to interpretation, over time, it always improves parallel to growth in our spiritual lives. Because of this, even practicing the pieces of music we’ve played for years lets us renew our attitude and keep it vital

Q: Is your appearance here in Pittsburgh part of a nationwide tour? If so how long is the tour and where else will you visit?

A: This is the 6th time we’re performing in the USA. Our previous concerts took place mostly on the West Coast, but this time we’re going to play in New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale

Q: Is this your first time in Pittsburgh? If you’ve been here before, what do you think of the city?

A: This will be our first time in Pittsburgh.  I must add that I have a sentimental attraction to the city because one of my ancestors emigrated from Poland to Pittsburgh more than a century ago.

Q: What will be on the program for your performance at the Trimont?

A: Our program will include a lot of Latin-American composers like Astor Piazzola and Polish music, but we’ll also play other composers like Debussy and Boccherini.

Q: I see that you do your own arranging. Is one of you better at this than the other? What is your methodology for coming up with an arrangement? Do you work separately or in tandem?

A: The arrangements have been made by Jolanta.  Naturally, she consults with me on  some of the issues relating to the specificity of the guitar. There is only small amount of original compositions for this kind of instrumental pairing. Contrary to how it may first appear, guitar and piano are similar to each other: you can play on both melody and accompaniment. However, to arrange a piece as a duo  is often not easy, particularly if the piece was originally composed as a piano or guitar solo.

Q: What composers, if any, best lend themselves to your particular instrumentation?

A:. When arranging our music, Jolanta always has to keep in mind that the guitar has only six strings and that not everything is possible to be played on this instrument. In the future, though, we would like to make arrangements of music by composers such as Rachmaninov, Beethoven and Bach.

Q: Since the concert is presented by the Polish Cultural Council of Pittsburgh, will your concert be weighted with Polish composers? Which ones will be on the bill?

A: As I said previously, our repertoire includes Polish music which is an important part of our performance. In particular, Chopin pieces.  Besides Chopin we also play the music of Szymanowski, Moszkowski and others.

Q: Where in Poland are you from originally and where do you live now?

A: Jolanta was born in Rzeszow, I was born in Przemysl, but. since 2004, we’ve lived in Bremen, Germany.

Q: What is the current classical music scene like in Poland? What is the interest level? Would you say that classical music is thriving or merely just getting by?

A: Although we’ve lived in Germany for ten years, we still have contact with the Polish music scene. Like many other places around the world, Pop music is very popular there, but classical music also has many followers.

Q: What are some of the music festivals you’d recommend to tourists in Poland? Any outstanding orchestras, ensembles or opera houses?

A: That would make a very long list, indeed. If we think about guitar, in almost every bigger town we can find some kind of music festival, especially in Olsztyn and Tychy. For piano, I’d say Duszniki, Krakow, Warszawa and others.

Q: I see you both also perform separately from each other. Tell us a little about that. How much of your performance schedule is devoted to Duo Klavitarre? About half or what percentage?

A: Recently we’ve almost always come to play together. Our duo is an exceptional kind of ensemble, and we could say, there are only a few similar in the world. Of course, we also play solo. But because of the huge amount of musicians playing solo, we primarily want to focus on playing together.

Q: Do you have a favorite pianist and a favorite guitarist?

A: On guitar, I particularly appreciate John Williams and Manuel Barrueco and on piano -  Arcadi Volodos, Rafal  Blechacz, Evgeny Kissin and others.