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Charred Meat, Pot Stills and (oh Yeah) Classical Music

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Burgers, Bourbon and Beethoven opens the summer festival season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Charred Meat, Pot Stills and (oh yeah) Classical Music

Outdoor hors d'oeuvre: a string trio plays Mozart in Green-Wood Cemetery.

The summer classical music season got off to its official start this weekend in the most unlikely of locations. On Saturday night, The Death of Classical, an organization dedicated to performing great music works in the realms of the dead, launched the second season of its Angel's Share series in Green-Wood Cemetery. That sprawling Brooklyn necropolis was the site for Burgers, Bourbon and Beethoven: part cookout, part whisky tasting and part concert. The event was the three-headed brainchild of Andrew Ousley, concert promoter, music publicist and man about town. (He also founded The Death of Classical which puts on The Crypt Sessions in Harlem as well as The Angel's Share.)
It was a good idea, introducing lovers of fine, sensually grilled meat patties and craft whiskey to the music of Beethoven and Schubert, as played by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn. The cemetery gates opened at seven, and arrivals climbed up the long driveway to the Gothic western gate, itself a New York landmark. On the far side of the gate stood a large concert tent, a temporary Brooklyn answer to the Tanglewood Shed. To its left and right stood the grilling stations, manned by personnel from Harlem Public and Madcap Café. Their goal: win the Golden Spatula, decided by vote from the meat-loving masses.

Charred Meat, Pot Stills and (oh yeah) Classical Music

On the trail of the Golden Spatula: the hard workers of Harlem Public.
Photo by Kevin Condon for The Death of Classical.

First, the food. Grill the first (Madcap) featured a small yet well-formed patty melt on an oversized bun. While rich in bunly goodness, the meat itself was able to make its own statement, charred yet tasty and perfectly done. Grill the second was Harlem Public and they went all-out with a burger topped with peanut butter and bacon cured with whisky from Widow Jane. (There was a non-recreational version available for those with a food allergy.) Served in halfsies for hungry customers who kept coming back for more, this was the clear winner, and they took home the spatula.
The first bourbon stand was here, a prime location for Red Hook's own Widow Jane Distillery. With short measures of bourbon for inspiration, we set off on the steep paths of Green-wood in search of bourbon and rye, poured in little tasting thimbles for our enjoyment. Additional refreshment was provided with stations featuring pita chips from nearby Aladdin Bakery (owners of Baked in Brooklyn) and bottled water to clear the palate, though it would have been nice to sample some of these potables over ice. Ahh well, one must make do.

Charred Meat, Pot Stills and (oh yeah) Classical Music

On line for whiskey that has been forced to listen to Metallica. We all do it growing up.
Photo by Kevin Condon for the Death of Classical.

Up a steep driveway and to the right one found the stand of Blackened American Whisky, the new venture from California-based bards Metallica. This is advertised as a blended whiskey with elements of rye, finished in blackened brandy casks. The whiskey is then exposed to playlists of "dark-wave" Metallica tunes. Each set of songs was chosen on a rotating basis by one of the four band members. All this detail was supplied by their representative, who poured a liberal helping of the pale, sharp liquid with a slight hint of cherries, a success because of (or despite) its unique manufacturing process. (Author's note: The playlists are available on the whiskey's official website. There are no cover tunes, one song from St. Anger so far, nothing from the much-loathed Lou Reed collaboration Lulu.)
 Beyond the whiskey tables, musicians lurked, playing soft reminders of the reason we were really here on this gorgeous spring day. Overlooking the memorial to DeWitt Clinton, three string players sawed through Haydn and Mozart chamber pieces, accompanying the tasting of whiskies from Vermont's Whistlepig (sweet and excellent) and upstate New York's Five&20 Rye. But the clear champ was the Van Brunt Stillhouse, also from Red Hook, buttery and mellow with a taste that blossomed on the palate. More please. They obliged. (I had a second Metalliwhiskey too--whaddya want I'm a fan.)

Charred Meat, Pot Stills and (oh yeah) Classical Music

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn plays Beethoven under the tent. Photo by Kevin Condon for the Death of Classical.

Oh yeah. The concert. The musicians assembled under the big tent in front of the audience, which seemed to treat Schubert's immortal Unfinished and Beethoven's Fifth as a sort of curiosity. That said, these performances by this young orchestra under the baton of Eli Spindel had a certain raw enthusiasm and passion: particularly in the anguished development of the Schubert and the bold minor-to-major transition that begins the final movement of the Fifth. The latter was bold, imprecise and passionate, music from the heart. Or it could have been the whiskey.
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