Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Pigskins and Pianos
(Above: Pappy Below: Audrey)
When Larry Blake's restaurant closed its doors last February, after 70 years as THE hangout for Cal students and alumni, many Old Blues wondered where they could go now.
Fear not: A new eatery is about to open on that site, and it's going to be called Pappy's Grill, which shows the new owners know a thing or two about tradition.
It's going to be blue and gold from top to bottom, from the oversized Cal banner flying in the courtyard to the framed football program covers from the Wonder Team and Thunder Team years on the walls.
The men's basketball team will broadcast its post-game radio show from the restaurant, and Pappy's Boys - the guys who played during the Pappy Waldorf era - are donating memorabilia.
But Pappy's is going to be about more than the Waldorf era, or even Cal football. The giant TV screen will feature videos of The Play that broke Stanford's heart in 1982 (but not, thankfully, Roy Riegels' wrong-way run that lost the Rose Bowl in 1929).
But it will also show the Cal Marching Band doing its signature spell-out at the Big Game, Cecilia Bartoli in a Cal Performances concert at Zellerbach Hall, some of Cal's 22 Nobel Prize winners giving lectures, even Mario Savio speaking on Sproul steps.
"We want to honor the whole spectrum of Cal/Berkeley/Telegraph Avenue history," says owner Alex Popov.
He hopes to have the place open by the end of the month; but you know how pokey the permitting process can be, so it might take another week or two.
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Meanwhile, here's an update on 16-year-old piano sensation Audrey Vardanega, the Oakland girl who has been wowing critics, audiences and seasoned musical pros ever since she made her debut with the Midsummer Mozart Festival at age 13.
At the time, I asked Maestro George Cleve, the festival's artistic director, how good Audrey is for someone her age.
"Her age has nothing to do with it," he said. "You're lucky to find that kind of ability at any age. She has an endless capacity to move me musically. It's a privilege to work with her."
Then I heard her play, and I understood what he was talking about. Beyond her flawless technique and profound understanding of the music, she has the rare ability to bring the audience into the experience. When she plays Mozart, it's an intimate three-way conversation between her, Mozart and you.
And the best part is that none of this has gone to her head. She's still a normal teenager who is eagerly looking forward to attending a Katy Perry concert next month.
On Dec. 2 the Piedmont Piano Company's prestigious concert series will showcase her playing works by Chopin, Mozart, Liszt and Debussy.
And for the occasion, owner Jim Callahan - a big fan of Audrey's - is lending her one of his Fazioli pianos, the Rolls Royce of the piano world.
Faziolis are handmade from the finest materials on the planet. The wood for the soundboards comes from the same forest that Antonio Stradivari used to make his violins. Only 50 are made each year.
The Piedmont Piano Company is located at 18th and San Pablo in downtown Oakland. Suggested donation is $15. Visit www.piedmontpiano.com for more information.