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Hobnobbing with the Rich and Quasi-Famous

Saturday, February 5, 2011, 15:35 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

I love finding inexpensive forms of good entertainment. With that goal, Sandy and I hit Boston last Saturday for an afternoon and evening of debauchery. OK, we actually went for Chinese food and a classical music concert, which is as close as I come these days to debauchery. But the food was cheap, the concert tickets were discounted, and fun enough to blog about, even a full week later.

We started in Chinatown for a late afternoon dinner. Less than a week before Chinese New Year, the neighborhood was rocking. Everything was open (in contrast, I’m told, to the few days when the New Year festivities take place and the businesses close) and street vendors sold special seasonal decorations and trinkets. We decided to sup at one of Sandy’s favorite restaurants at which I also once ate, Hong Kong Eatery, a little hole in the wall that has terrific roasted duck. I was willing to try something different on this visit and tried a bean curd and vegetables dish with rice, preceded by a spring roll appetizer. Sandy had Cantonese wonton soup and duck, which she had them add to the soup. I had no idea there were different kinds of wontons, but I was assured that these wontons were different from the Shanghainese wontons Sandy makes. Such are the things you learn hanging around Chinatown with a Chinese immigrant.

Having enjoyed the complimentary tea with our delicious meal, we paid $10 each, which included almost a 30% tip. Talk about getting your money’s worth.

On our way back to the subway, we checked out a few bakeries, all of which were loaded with special holiday sweets. Ever willing to try something different, tried some sort of dense rice pastry ball filled with red bean paste and covered in sesame seeds (similar to this except without chocolate oozing out). It was only slightly sweet—in my experience, Asian desserts aren’t nearly as sweet as what Americans or Europeans make—but very satisfying. I also picked up a few other items to try at home. Sandy got plenty of pastries for her New Year’s dinner.

As good as our culinary jaunt through Chinatown was, it was a concert that brought us into the city, and we went there after eating. We had discounted tickets for a taping of a National Public Radio program called From the Top, which features teenaged classical musicians. The program is part concert, part talk show. While many of the shows are taped on the road, this one back home at beautiful Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory, just a block or so from the famous Symphony Hall. Among the featured musicians was pianist Mackenzie Melemed, a high schooler who lives a couple of towns away next town over and attends a prestigious private school in Worcester. Mackenzie began playing piano as a child, being able to reproduce what he heard but not learning to read music until a local woman became his patron and arranged for his formal study. Other musicians included another clarinetist, another pianist, a cellist, a violinist, a hornist, a bassoonist, an oboist, and an operatic mezzo-soprano.

Sandy and Eran

Sandy with Eran Egozy, clarinetist and co-founder of Harmonix

Besides the delightfully talented teens and the show’s host, concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, was a special guest: local product Eran Egozy. If the name isn’t familiar to you, his claim to fame will be. Eran (pronounced er-RAHN) is one of two co-founders of Harmonix Music Systems, the company that developed the wildly popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games. He is also an outstanding clarinetist who still performs on the side, which is what brought him to From the Top. He talked about his decision to forgo a music degree from a conservatory in favor of studying engineering and computer science at M.I.T., and about his decision to start a company with his friend upon graduation so he didn’t have to “get a real job.” The games developed by Harmonix (including Guitar Hero’s much less successful predecessors) combine music and gaming, and Eran said that the latest version of Rock Band includes more realistic instruments and an opportunity to actually learn a little about playing.

Eran and me

Eran Egozy and the Den Mother

We attended a post-taping reception with the show’s performers, including Eran, and got a couple of pictures just to prove we were there. Sandy talked him up quite a bit because of her connection to his company—her son-in-law works for Harmonix. All I could offer to the conversation was a description of the one time I played Guitar Hero at my brother’s house and sucked at it. I’d like to say that the blurriness of my picture is due to Sandy’s drunkenness, but all she drank all afternoon and evening were tea and coffee. You’ll just have to take my word that the people in the blurry photo are, in fact, Eran and yours truly.

To find out when From the Top airs near you, check out the broadcast schedule. The program I attended will air the week of February 21.

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