Greenwich Gossip

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kissel House Sells for $2.3M

Ah, the wonders of the wide world of blogging! Today's headline scoops the Local Rag, aka the Yellowwich Time, by almost a full day. Remember, dear reader, you heard it here first!

On an otherwise uneventful Saturday morning your scribe betook himself to 43 Burning Tree Road to attend the foreclosure sale of Andrew Kissel's last remaining house in Greenwich. Actually, it's not so much a house as a forest of sticks, having been framed but not much else. The lumber has weathered and warped, and is probably only good for firewood these days.

Kissel began the house almost two years ago, in the summer of 2005, back when he still had some cash flow from his various financial shenanigans. But the project stalled almost immediately, and has been a neighborhood eyesore ever since.

In fact, it was a nearby neighbor who bought it, tired of looking at it every day. He is also a builder himself, so although he does not plan to live on the property, he has some ideas as to what to do with it.

The bidding was fairly competitive, opening at just over $1.8 million with a book bid from the Hudson Valley Bank, an earlier mortgage holder on the property. Only three bidders participated from there on, topping each other in $25,000 increments. Then one of the three dropped out, leaving two obviously interested parties going head to head with each other - an auctioneer's dream.

The auctioneer, Art Morin, handled the sale very well. He put no pressure on the bidders, and gave them plenty of time to consider what their next bid might be. At the end he allowed that the sale had gone better than expected (the appraised value of the property was $2.2 million), and your scribe thinks Mr. Morin can take full credit for that fact.

The winning bidder had never met Kissel - in fact, no one there, including many curious neighbors, appeared to have met the man, even though he was a nominal member of the nearby Burning Tree Club. Your scribe did learn that his former wife, Hayley, is sometimes seen there, and is still a member. Needless to say, she did not attend the foreclosure sale.

Pictures of the house - er, sticks - and the signing of the contract will follow, once developed. You will see, dear reader, that the building is as hollow as the man himself apparently was. The new owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, will be tearing down most or all of what's left, if only to improve the view out his front windows. And thus will end the saga of the Fall of the House of Kissel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Crime in Greenwich (Cont'd)

Today's Local Rag, aka the Yellowwich Time, has a story about the latest Federal grand jury indictment of a local resident. Seems as though this is becoming almost a weekly occurrence in these parts, which given the long-standing tradition of corruption and malfeasance in Town should surprise no one. Boss Tweed was one of the more notorious malfeasors, but hey - he came here for a reason, right? He knew he would fit right in, and so he did.

One doubts, however, that David Stockman came here to fit into that tradition. Au contraire, your scribe remembers well how when he and Jennifer came to Town they were quite certain that they would quickly become the social lions of the area. After all, they were used to the Washington, DC scene, where all kinds of carpetbaggers and rapscallions are listed in the Green Book simply by virtue of holding an elected or appointed office. And then they all hold self-congratulatory parties for each other, basking in their mutual admiration of their social prowess.

Well, had he been asked, your scribe could have told David and Jennifer that the Green Book cuts no mustard around here. Instead, we generally refer to "The Book", also known as The New York Social Register. When someone asks, "Are you in the book?", they're not asking if you have a listed telephone number. But it is a fact that people who are in "The Book" do tend to use it as a telephone directory, since many if not most of them have otherwise-unlisted numbers.

Some readers may recall the "Social Register Bandit", who made a comfortable income out of casing and robbing the homes of Greenwich residents listed therein. This chap showed commendable initiative, preferring to target only the upper-crust abodes, leaving the arrivistes and middle classes to others. Your scribe is not entirely positive, but he seems to recall that this enterprising gentleman (which he surely must have been, since he knew how to interpret the arcane rubrics of "The Book") was never caught, unlike his hapless counterpart, the "Dinnertime Bandit". The latter used to help himself to the upstairs goodies while the family were seated downstairs at the dinner table; he was finally caught last December - not, of course, by the feckless Greenwich Gestapo, but by the cops in Antwerp, Belgium.

But we have wandered from our theme, which was the inability of David and Jennifer Stockman to get onto the "A" lists of Greenwich. At first surprised, their astonishment soon turned to chagrin. But they kept at it, and worked at the problem in the usual Greenwich way: they threw money at it.

For many, this only made the Stockmans even more non-U. But after enough political and charitable contributions, they managed to make it into "B" list territory. Comes now the word that David is the latest resident to come out on the wrong end of a grand jury indictment. He has been charged - and let us all remember that it is only an allegation, unless and until proven otherwise - with "lies, tricks, and fraud" while acting as CEO of now-bankrupt Collins & Aikman Corporation. Four other erstwhile company employees have already entered guilty pleas; Stockman himself is free on bail of a million dollars.

Well, Stockman has been in hot water before. Many readers no doubt remember the famous "trip to the woodshed", when President Reagan castigated him for disloyalty while serving as budget director. Just to prove Reagan right, he wrote a tell-all book about the administration once he was no longer part of it.

And then he moved to Greenwich...once again validating your scribe's observation that this is the safest place to commit murder or other assorted felonies in the whole country. Not that we will know for sure whether he has or not for some time to come, nor should we deny him the presumption of innocence, but the astute reader will note that as usual it was the Feds, not the locals, who uncovered the mess. And so it goes....

Monday, March 26, 2007


Yesterday saw the annual Greenwich St. Patrick's Day parade, which took place a week later than usual owing to the fierce competition for Irish bagpipe marching bands at this time of year. The delay turned out to be much for the best, as this year's parade was bigger, longer, and better than has been the case for many a year.

The parade followed the "new" route for wimps, starting at Town Hall and proceeding up Field Point Road to the library, then eastwards on the Post Road and finally down Greeenwich Avenue. The old route, as walked by your scribe when he was an Honorary Grand Marshal, used to start at the Island Beach parking lot, proceed up Mason Street, and then across and down per the above. It was a longer and more challenging route, given the acclivity and length of Mason Street; your calves ached at the end, and it was definitely not a trek for sissies. Ah, the days of yore....

Some years the weather has been cold, even with snow flurries, but this year the sun was out and the temperature moderate. However, the crowd was sparser than usual, perhaps because it was the last day of the private schools' vacation, and people were still winging their way back from Vail or Park City or Florida or the Caribbean. Most years the curbs are lined two to three deep; this year there was no difficulty in finding your own curbside spot.

In the vanguard of the parade rode the Governor's Horse Guard, with the faithful pooper-scoopers following close behind. The usual clutch of politicians was there, including Skippy Snickerson and "The Doll" in the lightweight contingent, and local resident Attorney General Dick Blumenthal to restore some gravitas to the group. Skippy, true to his name, skipped around from side to side of the parade route shaking hands, but had the good sense to avoid your scribe's particular piece of curbside turf.

There were many local youth groups, of the scouting and Boys & Girls Club ilk, some of whom tossed candy to the children as they passed. Needless to say, they were highly popular among the younger set.

There were lots of bands, from the Greenwich High School band and its local area counterparts to a goodly number of kilted and bewhiskered Irish bagpiper and drummer bands. But the most noticeable feature of the parade was the plethora of fire trucks, of every make, model, and vintage, not to mention color (no, Virginia, not all fire trucks are red - at least one in this parade was green, and it did NOT come from Greenwich). It seemed that every fire department within a twenty-mile radius had sent a truck or two, and their sirens, horns, and klaxons made a lucious cacophony as they rumbled down the Avenue.

It took well over an hour for the whole thing to pass, with the comic Shriners in their mini-cars bringing up the rear, as always. Your scribe walked away feeling quite content at having his parade fix so amply gratified this year, and thinking that it was far from a bad day for the Irish. Erin go bragh!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

And Yet More Musical Magic...

Last night saw the return of James Kennerley (who actually never left, since he's the full-time organist) to Christ Church's organ bench in the fifth of the Lenten recital series. Once again, Joanne and Neil Bouknight brought us the live video action from the console; Joanne, in fact, was the camera operator, and did a great job for her first time in that important position.

And, of course, James did a great job as well - one might even say fabulous. Where this 22-year-old Britisher thinks he gets off, coming here to our shores and playing circles around the best of us, your scribe cannot say; but he is very glad of this particular British invasion. The all-Bach concert featured both organ masterworks and meditative chorale preludes; James was assisted by the Christ Church Consort, a small group of talented teenagers which includes more than a few of the mainstays of the Greenwich High School choral program so ably led by Patrick Taylor. If you wonder where the musical leaders of the next generation are coming from, dear reader, you need look no further than the Town of Greenwich. We probably have more and better musical opportunities for young people here than any other town in America, bar none. And, God be praised, the student talent to match.

But back to James and Johann. James opened with the massive "Aus Tiefer Not" from the Clavieruebung, Part III, a dense six-voice setting which includes two of them played by the feet. Thanks to Joanne's camera work, we could all see the magic shoes at work in this all-but-unique composition (most organ works are in four-part harmony - three played by the hands, and one by the feet). One could hear the thunder of God's wrath in the "Suend' und Unrecht" passage, as though the Almighty were ready to strike down the sinful and ungodly with the hammer of Bach's music.

Then the Consort sang the chorale while Joanne put a sweatshirt in front of the camera, so that we could focus our attention on them and not the organ. The sweatshirt came down again while James played a second, more pensive keyboard version of the hymn. Next came the great Passion chorale, "Herzlich Thut Mich Verlangen," first sung by the Consort and then harmonized by Bach in one of his simplest yet most unforgettable settings, full of melancholy and longing. James did a superb job on the baroque ornamentation that is a feature of so many of Bach's best chorale settings.

At this point in the program your scribe almost freaked out, as the promised "Little G Minor" fugue was supposed to be next up for performance. Even the Consort was surprised when James motioned to them to stand up to sing instead. How does one get one's money back when one hasn't paid any? How does one get one's "Little G Minor" fix when it ain't there? It's like walking down a flight of stairs and almost falling over when you think there's one more step to come, and there isn't. Very unsettling, to say the least.

Up, down, up, down - the Consort and the sweatshirt moved in concert, as it were. But James was adamant, and the singers stood to perform the chorale, "Schmuecke Dich" - "Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness". James followed up with Bach's gorgeous "Schuebler" setting, one of the loveliest of all works ever written for the organ. And again, the difficult but oh-so-beautiful ornamentation was played flawlessly by James, who made it all look and sound so deceptively easy.

Now it was time for another masterwork, the mighty "Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor." As he did throughout the evening, James made excellent use of the gallery organ, and treated us to some wonderful stereophonic effects as the theme was tossed back and forth from one end of the church to the other. At the thunderous close of the fugue, virtually every stop in the organ was pulled out, including the 32-foot bombarde. The floor of the church shook, dear reader - I kid you not.

The Consort sang Luther's "Dies Sind die Heil'gen Zehn Gebot'", and James played Bach's two-part canon version. Once again, the notes James wrote (as well as the ones he played) were excellent, suggesting that the canon represented the faithful people of God first hearing His laws, and then following them. Bach loved to use symbolism in his religious music, often using notes to make word-pictures (more on that later).

But first, the faithful reader will be glad to know that James had only been toying with your Scribe's expectations, seeming to dash them in order to meet and then exceed them. For the next piece was indeed the promised "Little G Minor", played on the gallery organ. It was a simple, straighforward performance, exhibiting none of the drama and hype of the Leopold Stokowski orchestral version. I think James played it pretty much the same way Johann used to.

The last chorale was "O Mensch, Bewein' Dein' Suende Gross", first sung by the Consort and then played by James - the Orgelbuechlein version. Once again the baroque ornamentation was exquisite, although to your Scribe's ears James gave the great B-flat climax too short shrift - another millisecond or two wouldn't have killed you, would it, James? At the tortured end of the chorale, Bach resorts to one of his favorite musical images, using a half-step downwards sequence to musically delineate Christ's cross. All very moving.

The final piece on the program was the great Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Once again, James followed the lead of Bach rather than Stokowski, as Bach's version is about as dramatic as any piece needs to get. Just to be sure we knew he was firmly grounded in the baroque, not the romantic era, James added an extra mordant to the opening theme, making it five notes instead of three. A nice touch, and one your scribe does not recall hearing before. Or did he add two mordants, making it seven notes?...whichever, it was a fresh twist (as it were) on an old warhorse of the organ repertory.

The virtuoso passages echoed back and forth between the chancel and gallery organs, and James's fingers flew from keyboard to keyboard with nary a nanosecond between the phrases. Plucky Alice Bloomer, who had volunteered (or had been volunteered) to turn pages for James, could barely keep out of the way as his hands leapt like lightning to each of the four manuals in turn. The final bars of the fugue were played on the topmost manual, with both the gallery and chancel organs roaring at full volume. Wow!

Then it was time for the wine and cheese and cherry foccacia reception, the latter, of course, being Joanne's signature dish. Your scribe was somewhat chagrined to hear that almost everyone who tried it for the first time thought that the fruit was grapes, as Joanne has contended all along, but it still tasted like cherries to him. Well, grapes or cherries, they certainly were not sour grapes, so your scribe decided to keep his mouth shut except to pop in another piece or two.

James brought his magic shoes to show the assemblage, poking his fingers into the holes. I told him I thought he'd had them since he was 15, which turned out to be exactly right. Rumor has it that Joanne has taken a picture of them which is circulating on the Internet; if your scribe manages to obtain a copy, he will post it here for you, dear reader. Now if only he could put the soundtrack of the whole recital up on Blogspot...what do you think, Neil, is that possible?

All in all, we here in Greenwich owe another great debt of gratitude to James Kennerley for sharing his artistry with us. To think, dear reader, that he left his job at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where he has played for the Queen, to come here to Christ Church, and play for us. Is this a great country, or what? Apparently James thinks so, for which we can all thank our lucky stars. And, of course, James himself, whenever we see him out and about in our fair Town.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Your scribe's email inbox has been a busy place recently. Perhaps his earlier hopes/predictions of detente between Town Hall and the RTM were misplaced. A move to override two RTM votes and to cut the body's size has been made by the First Selectman, and there is widespread anger around Town.

The latest expression of this anger is a draft petition of a "Sense of the Meeting Resolution" to "symbolically impeach the First Selectman, and the entire Board of Selectman [sic]." Oh, my, dear reader, is open warfare about to break out? As most people in Town know, a sense of the meeting resolution has no force or effect whatsoever, but it does express the opinion of the members of the body. The "I-word" has been used, even if only symbolically - the first time in Town history, to the best of your scribe's knowledge, that it has ever been invoked.

Leaving aside the question of how one is to construe a "symbolic" impeachment (will there be a hanging in effigy on the Town green?), it will be interesting to see if this draft petition goes anywhere. All it takes to place a matter like this on the next RTM Call (i. e., agenda) is a piece of paper with the signatures of 20 registered voters. Since the membership of the RTM is at present some 230 elected citizens, that could presumably happen in less than five minutes.

Well, methinks a new bumper sticker will soon be making the rounds to replace the "FLASH" ovals that were popular a few months ago among members of the police department. Your scribe does not think that "ILASH" works very well, so he hereby suggests a suitably artistic rendition of an eyelash instead. Should prove to be quite a conversation piece around Town.

There will be more to come on this matter, no doubt. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Nothing Became Him So Much...."

Your scribe has not always been kind to First Selectman James A. Lash in these posts. In the recent tensions between him and the Representative Town Meeting, your scribe has sided with the latter (being a member thereof, and all that). But even as spring-like weather is arriving in Greenwich today, a thaw in Town Hall-Town Meeting relations may be expected in the months ahead.

Your faithful reporter was present in the First Selectman's office this morning for the long-awaited announcement as to whether Mr. Lash would seek a third term in that self-same office. Present were the Local Rag and the two weeklies, as well as the radio station and Channel 12 television. Surprisingly, there were no other RTM members in evidence, so your scribe took it upon himself to indirectly represent that body by his presence and participation in the proceedings.

Said proceedings began with a prepared statement which Mr. Lash handed out and then read aloud. Being both curious and a quick reader, your scribe allowed his eyes to race through the page, where they alighted on the following words:

"...I will not seek another term as your First Selectman."

What followed was a question-and-answer period, mostly by the press, with the occasional assist from yours truly. After the first few questions I raised my hand, and Mr. Lash nodded at me, so I asked if he thought Peter Tesei might run as his replacement, and if so, whether he would endorse Peter. The response was a gracious suggestion that there were many good potential candidates to succeed him, including at least two in the room - the other two Selectmen. But Peter Crumbine reiterated that he was only running to remain in his Selectman post, and Penny Monahan allowed as how she had as yet made no decision on whether to run as the Democratic candidate for the top seat. So the field, it seems, is wide open at this point.

In response to another press question, Mr. Lash noted that he had made his decision while on vacation last summer, thinking that perhaps time off was not such a bad thing. He further noted that he has been in key Town government posts for eight years (BET budget chairman and top dog), and felt it was time for new people to take over. While not espousing term limits, he noted that he believes turnover on the various Town boards is a good thing, including on the Board of Selectmen.

Someone asked what qualities his successor might need, and your scribe helpfully suggested "thick skin", which brought a smile. Someone else asked what he thought his accomplishments in office had been, and it was clear that he was proud of having addressed issues of deferred maintenance and long-range planning. He further noted the fact that the level of discussion and debate had risen during his tenure; as he said in his prepared statement:

"If we do not talk about the important issues, they will not be addressed. If the important issues are not addressed, they will not be resolved. If they are not resolved, Greenwich will suffer."

Good point. He has certainly raised a lot of issues, and for that he is to be thanked.

As the press conference was drawing to a close, your scribe mentioned one other accomplishment that should not be overlooked, as it is one that will certainly outlast us all: the purchase of the Pomerance property on Orchard Street. This process began while Mr. Lash was on the BET, and he played a significant role in the acquisition. He gave us the welcome news that the Aquarion property may well be added to the Town's open space before his term ends in December.

The meeting ended with a round of applause for Mr. Lash, who, be it said, seemed to be in a relaxed frame of mind now that his decision not to run again had been made public. Yes, dear reader, whatever your feelings about our First Selectman may be, nothing in his two terms in office so became him as the manner of his announcing his decision to leave the position. Your scribe predicts that while the issues raised by Mr. Lash in recent months will not just disappear - nor should they - the manner in which they are discussed in the months ahead will be considerably more cordial.

And, to peer further into the crystal ball, your scribe forsees a standing ovation for Mr. Lash at the October meeting of the RTM, the last such meeting he will attend in his capacity of First Selectman. Remember, dear reader, you heard it here first.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Yes, folks, they're out! Although one cannot say for sure that spring is here, the yellow crocuses on the hillside below the Civil War monument are poking their heads out at last. They are the hardiest, it seems, and thus the earliest; their white and purple siblings should be joining them in a day or two.

But as not infrequently happens, we may yet have another snowstorm even while they are blooming. The white ones disappear against the background, of course, but the yellow and purple ones make a very pretty sight in the snow. And given the weird weather we've had so far this winter, I wouldn't be astonished to learn that Mother Nature had another surprise or two up her sleeve.

This year's appearance is on the late side. With all the frigid spells we've had recently, the flowers wisely did not take any chances and appear prematurely. How do they know, one wonders? If they were human, we might say that they feel it in their bones, but they're not, and they don't have any. Maybe it has something to do with the hardness of the ground, at a guess.

Sometimes they come out in late February; more often in the first week of March. This being the second week of March, they are definitely on the tardy side. But their presence is welcome nonetheless, as they portend more color and blooms ahead.

And, thanks to the wisdom of Congress, we now have an extra hour of daylight to enjoy them. One of the few intelligent moves that have been made in Washington of late. Now if they could just do something about fixing the Iraq situation....

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Why the Town's Legal Bills Are So High...

Last night your scribe was treated to a full disclosure of the reasons that the RTM has to approve some $450,000 in additional spending for the Law Department during the current fiscal year, and he thought he might pass along some of the information to you, dear taxpayer.

Apparently there are three cases that keep pushing the meter up. One is that of Paul Kempner, the elderly cyclist from Stamford who refused to pay an entry fee at Tod's Point. The Greenwich Gestapo arrested him, issuing him a summons to pay $97, but when the case reached the court, State's Attorney Steve Weiss (who grew up in Greenwich) called it "silly" and the charges were dropped. The Town then presented Kempner with a bill for his "visits" at $10 a pop; he paid $27, the price of a beach card, and ignored the rest. The Town was considering taking legal action against him when some anonymous residents chipped in to pay the rest of his "bill".

But now he has taken legal action against the Town for violating his rights and for violating the intent of the 2002 State Supreme Court decision, and so far it has cost us some $135,000 and counting. As Town Counsel Wayne Fox explained it, the Town hires outside counsel with expertise in certain areas; this was, of course, true in the original beach lawsuit brought by Brendan Leydon, and continues to be so today. Why the Town continues to waste money on what appears to be a non-problem - we have emphatically not been inundated by furriners since the State Supreme Court ordered us to open the beaches to all comers - is a puzzlement for your scribe, but apparently some major principle is at stake here, and so the money spigot has been turned on. The fact that Kempner, like all other senior citizens, is now entitled to use the beach for free would seem to make the whole thing moot; however, the RTM will vote to approve funds for this expenditure next Monday.

Next we have the case brought by several members of the Greenwich Gestapo alleging racial discrimination within the department. Having been rather viciously maltreated by some of the black members of the GG, your scribe is prepared to believe that if there is racial prejudice in the cop shop, it seems to go both ways. Total taxpayer costs to date for outside counsel: $350,000.

And then there's the bundle of joy dropped by the Department of Justice on the Town in the form of a subpoena for all information and documents about the Town's purchasing practices. Oh, my, dear reader, do you think there might be corruption in Town Hall? I am shocked, shocked, I tell you!

This one could be a doozy. Wayne mentioned possible "white collar crime" and indictments of as yet unnamed individuals (your scribe could take a pretty good guess at a few of the names, at least). Never let it be said, dear reader, that karma does not prevail in the end. It seems likely that the ungodly in Town Hall will get theirs, but not before you and I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in defending them. Aren't we the lucky taxpayers?

For it seems to be a Greenwich habit to spend our dollars defending the law-breakers on the Town's payroll. Your scribe has had numerous personal experiences of observing this phenomenon; people who in some other municipality would have been fired outright are defended tooth and nail. This knee-jerk reaction of "circling the wagons" is a long-standing part of the Greenwich mentality, and it shows no signs of going away anytime soon.

Wayne shared some other recent expenditures as well. The Honulik case, which complains of favoritism by Jimmy Wawa in the GG promotion process (can you believe such a thing might be possible, dear reader? Are you not also shocked, shocked to hear of this allegation?), has already cost us $66,000, and will be going to trial - at considerable additional expense - this spring. Why Jimbo Lash didn't just fire Jimmy Wawa, as 97% of the GG obviously wanted him to do, remains a mystery. Think of all the money and headaches we could have saved!

Costs in the Peterson case are some $90,000. Wayne stated that there were "mistakes by the police," that "they said things they shouldn't have," and "did not do the job they should have done." Oh, my! More shock! The mind reels in disbelief. Whoever would have thunk that the GG was incompetent? Or, more to the point, that their incompetence would have cost us so much?

Other cases that continue to bleed the Town purse are the Romig case (the dead body in the Prospect Street fire that the firemen didn't discover until the next day), and the Little case involving a fireman injured when an allegedly impaired (by too many beers) fire chief made a bad call at the Davis Avenue fire. Why the Town doesn't just admit that "mistakes" were made instead of pouring more money down the drain defending the indefensible remains a mystery, to this observer, at least.

Well, that's an overview of Item 16 on the agenda for Monday's Town meeting. Needless to say, your scribe does not intend to vote in favor of this item, but he may be the only one who doesn't. Even the RTM, alas, is not immune from the Greenwich mentality.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

More Musical Magic

Last night was the second in Christ Church's series of Lenten organ meditations, and your scribe is happy to report that it brought the art of the organ recital in Greenwich to new heights. Brilliant young organist James Kennerley (he's only 23, but plays like a seasoned virtuoso) and slightly older computer whizzes Joanne and Neil Bouknight teamed up to provide a mixture of music and art the likes of which has never been seen or heard before in our town. The total effect was both visually and aurally stunning.

The same projector and screen were there that Neil used last week, and young Matt did another fine job of manning the console-side camera for the video feed. But this time, Joanne added in some gorgeous color slides of Renaissance portrayals of the Passion and Crucifixion, which took both the art and the music into new dimensions, fusing eye and ear into a single sensory organ that was a brand-new experience, for this listener, at least.

The program began with Reger's bravura Introduction and Passacaglia in D Minor, a showpiece of the Romantic organ repertory. Excellent program notes provided by James (who can write notes as well as play them, it seems) told us that the piece was written in 1899 to raise money for a new organ in Kronburg, Germany, and was thus designed to display the range of dynamic and expressive possibilities of a great organ. Who knew? Suffice it to say that James used Reger's piece to demonstrate the wonders of Christ Church's organ, as well as his own consummate skill and artistry.

Then Joanne put up the first of the art masterworks, Giotto's "Last Supper", as James played the supremely elegiac Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. More great art followed as the piece developed, culminating in Rembrandt's stark black-and-white etching of "The Three Crosses". A more moving exposition of the Passion story can scarcely be imagined.

Next came Mozart's Fantasia in F Minor, which was originally written for a mechanical organ, a late-18th century version of the player piano. Again, the piece is a staple of the concert organist's repertory, for the obvious reason that it shows off the player's skill as well as Mozart's genuis. 'Nough said.

The heart of the program was a lengthly improvisation by James on various scenes from the Passion story. When, dear reader, was the last time you heard an organist "make up music on the spot," to use James's phrase? (Well, if you get over to the First Presbyterian Church, you will hear another great improvisor, Kevin Estes; can you believe we're lucky enough to have two such talents in the Town of Greenwich?) Again, Joanne put up the artwork, covering the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ's betrayal by Judas and His arrest, His trial, the scourging, and the Via Dolorosa. Only gradually did one become aware that James was using a well-known German chorale tune, "Valet will ich dir geben", which was also frequently used by Bach in his cantatas and passions. We know it as "O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded", and the Christ Church choir sings it in different versions during the annual Three Hours service on Good Friday.

Then James interrupted his improvisation to play the chorale itself, as harmonised by Bach, so that everyone could hear the theme he was using. A second setting restarted the improvisation, full of mystical harmonies, and James was off again, sounding for all the world like one of the great French organ improvisors of the late 19th or early 20th centuries. At times one heard Widor at work, at other times Messaien; but it was really all James Kennerley. Your scribe's program notes, taken in the dim subdued light of the church, reveal the following words, underscored: "Consummate artistry." Yes, I think that says it all.

The natural segue from James's Via Dolorosa was to Dupre's "Crucifixion" from his "Symphonie-Passion". Again, we learn from the program notes things hitherto unsuspected: that Dupre outlined this four-movement symphony while improvising on the department store organ in Wanamaker's in Philadelphia. And again, who knew? The piece concludes with an ostinato two-beat phrase, repeated over and over (in case you don't know what "ostinato" means, dear reader), which to this listener vividly evoked the heartbeat of Christ in His last few moments on the cross...and then it stops, as though His heart had finally stopped beating. Soft strings frame the ending as Dupre gives us a chance to catch our own breath.

Finally, James concluded his recital with another staple of the concert repertory, Reubke's great Introduction and Fugue from the "Sonata on the 94th Psalm". "Lord God, to Whom vengeance belongeth, arise, show Thyself...the Lord is my refuge, and my God is the strength of my confidence" - these were the texts the young Reubke used for his inspiration. Dead of tuberculosis at 24, he nonetheless raised the level of Romantic organ music to new heights; as James put it in his program notes, "the work transcends all that had gone before with its sheer virtuosity, particularly with regard to the use of the pedals." And sure enough, Matt focused the camera on James's feet flying over the pedals, sure-footedly finding their mark in true virtuoso fashion...a fitting close to a magnificent display of talent.

There followed the usual wine and cheese reception. Joanne's cherry foccacia was a big hit (she claims she made it with grapes, but everyone who tried it knew they were really cherries), and the audience, which thankfully was about twice the size of last week's, had a chance to greet and talk with James. As he headed out, your scribe noticed a pair of worn and scruffy shoes on a chair by the doorway; one shoe was missing its insole, and the other had a noticeable hole in its side. From his close observation of the video feed, your scribe knew that these shoes were the ones that had just been raising the roof of the church by depressing the pedals of the organ, and he was tempted to feel them to see if they were still warm. Clearly these shoes, outward appearances to the contrary, were full of magic, and had played an important role in the magical experiences your scribe had just seen and heard. Barely suppressing a grin, he patted the shoes and headed out into the night.

Friday, March 02, 2007

...And if the Crick Don't Rise...

You need a topographical map to get around Greenwich today. Your scribe was coming down Put's Hill on the Post Road today, and discovered a lake at the bottom where Hillside Drive comes in. So he performed a uie, and went over to Bruce Park instead.

The park itself was underwater, but the long way around was passable. Many of the local streets in Cos Cob are flooded, and as I write this from the Cos Cob Library, the librarians are lined up at the window watching the roiling floodwaters of Strickland's Brook race over rather than under the bridge. And still the rain comes down....

The last time we had such a water event, back in December of 1992, the cops were all over blocking off the flooded roads and redirecting traffic. Today, the GG is nowhere to be seen, and the Hummers and SUVs race through the lakes with barely a tap on the brakes. Let's hope they don't meet their evil twins coming in the other direction with equally wet brakes, pleasantly karmic though the thought may be. The roads are bad enough today without tangled megatons of mangled steel to compound the problems.

OK, that's it for now...your scribe is heading off on another tour of inspection. Remember to keep to the high ground, dear reader, in everything you do - including your driving.