Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through Feb. 2009


Robert Dowd — Pop Art Money — See Jan.17 listing


Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>

Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>

Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>

Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>

Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>

Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Oct. 25-31: Jerusalem Symphony, Der Golem, Das Jazz, El Vote


A German expressionist film miraculously melds a Halloween mood with a talmudic rabbi and the Prague ghetto. “Der Golem: Wie Er in die Welt Kam” (“The Golem: How He Came Into the World”) tells the legend of a clay figurine created by a rabbi to save the Jewish people of the Prague ghetto, who suffered from the ” target=”_blank”>

Jewish violinist Ilia Korol will make his debut as guest concertmaster at the opening of the new season for “Musica Angelica,” California’s premier baroque ensemble. Internationally acclaimed music director Martin Haselblock will lead the orchestra through performances of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and the U.S. premiere of Graun’s “Double Concerto.” Recording virtuoso Marion Verbruggen and gambist Vittorio Ghielmi will round out the lineup of outstanding soloists. Audience members are also invited to attend a pre-concert lecture, which begins 40 minutes prior to the first performance. Sat. 8 p.m. $39-$55 (general); $15 (students). Zipper Concert Hall, Colburn School of Performing Arts, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Also, Sun., Oct. 26, 4 p.m. Same prices. Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 458-4504. ” target=”_blank”>


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As part of a special tribute dedicated to musicians affected by the Holocaust, Da Camera Society is bringing the Berlin-based Jacques Thibaud Trio to Los Angeles to play the rarely heard works of Jewish composers: Paul Ben Haim, Erwin Schulhoff, Gideon Klein and Leon Levitch. The New York Times has hailed the trio ” target=”_blank”>

Get ready for some relief from the seriousness of the political debates. The Capitol Steps — the comedy troupe made up of former congressional staffers — are back by popular demand, skewering the politicians who once employed them. Republican? Democrat? It doesn’t matter. No one is safe from their caustic yet hilarious barbs. Sun. 4 p.m. $45. American Jewish University, Brandeis-Bardin Campus, 1101 Peppertree Lane, Brandeis. (310) 440-1246. ” target=”_blank”>

Friends of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl are in the midst of an annual three-week concert tour. Pearl, who was also a musician, believed in the power of music to bring people together. “FODfest” aims to ensure Pearl’s vision lives on by inviting people from all walks of life to partake in the free concert series. Angelenos get their chance to participate when the peace-spreading duo SONiA & disappear fear, singer-songwriter Todd Mack, indie star Lauren Adams, Mexican artist Judith de los Santos and many others hit the stage. Sun. 8 p.m. Free. Hotel Cafe, 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 461-2040. ” target=”_blank”>

UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies is pondering Sephardic life in the Balkans. In conjunction with an exhibit containing first-hand accounts of Balkan Sephardim (thanks to the work of, an oral history project combining pictures and stories), “Images of a Lost World” features a symposium discussing this unique historic experience, followed by the opening reception of the multimedia exhibit. Sun. 2-4 p.m. (symposium). Free. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall. 5-7 p.m. (exhibit opening). Free. UCLA Hillel, Rose and David Dortort Gallery, 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 825-5387. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>meant to explore the American Jewish Diaspora. They will perform Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” suite, along with Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 and Copland’s Symphony No. 3. Violin soloist Robert McDuffie has made a name for himself and earned a Grammy nomination along the way. Tue. 8 p.m. $34-$90. UCLA Live, Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-4401. ” target=”_blank”> Refugee camp open Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, Santa Monica Pier, Parking Lot 1 North. (800) 490-0773. ” target=”_blank”>


It’s a scary thought, but it’s true: there are more than 3 million active “swingers” living in the United States (and by swingers, we don’t mean Vince Vaughn). These are ordinary Americans, living everywhere from Mahwah, N.J., to Pleasanton, Calif., and they like to expand their sexual horizons by swapping partners now and then. Naomi Harris, a photojournalist who has published work in ” target=”_blank”>



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” target=”_self”>Rabbi David Wolpe as part of the grand finale to this year’s San Diego Jewish Book Fair. The authors of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “Why Faith Matters” (respectively) will no doubt have plenty to say to one another, but there is much, much more at this year’s fest that is not to be missed: NBC News’ Tel Aviv bureau chief Martin Fletcher, award-winning ” target=”_blank”>


We think you should be completely politicked out by Nov. 4, and so do leading Democrat and Republican activists in Los Angeles., evidenced by their citywide “Jewish Vote Forums” taking place almost every other night at a different synagogue. McCain-Obama, Larry Greenfield-Andrew Lachman. Can’t we all just get along? Maybe that’s the point. Here are three options worth a hiatus from CNN: Shaarey Zedek Synagogue is hosting the two aforementioned gentlemen with Paul Kujawsky moderating. Sun., Oct. 26. 7 p.m. Free. 12800 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 763-0560.; and Valley Beth Shalom is hosting Greenfield and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) with Journal editor-in-chief Rob Eshman serving as moderator. Thu., Oct. 30. 7:30 p.m. Free. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-0752.

‘Mission’ accomplished for hybrid composer Lalo Schifrin — with new book and CD

As a recent Sunday afternoon interview wound down, composer Lalo Schifrin got up from the couch in his Beverly Hills studio and went over to a baby grand. Launching into Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales,” then into two jazz standards, “Cherokee” and “Israel,” he effortlessly illustrated how seamlessly harmonic ideas in classical and jazz music intersect.

Bridging the perceived gap between, say, Beethoven and Ellington has been one of his lifelong goals, ever since he first discovered jazz as a 16-year-old living in Buenos Aires.

“You see in ‘Cherokee’ how the Ravel chords are used as a bridge?” Schifrin asked. Suddenly the 76-year-old composer, conductor and pianist, who will be honored on Sept. 21 with a lifetime achievement award at the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, seemed like a teenager.

“It’s the harmonies of Ravel and Debussy that attract jazz musicians,” he said. “I once showed Dizzy Gillespie Ravel’s ‘Histoires naturelles’ for voice and piano. He heard one passage and said, ‘Oh, this will go well with Monk’s ‘Round Midnight.’ From then on we had to play it with the Ravel chords.”

Schifrin played in the trumpet virtuoso’s jazz group from 1958 to 1963, when he came to Hollywood and started composing for television and film. His most famous work is probably the Latin-flavored theme from “Mission: Impossible.” But he’s also written classic scores for “Bullitt” and three Academy Award-nominated films, “The Fox,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Voyage of the Damned.” Schifrin also scored four of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” films. Schifrin explained that sometimes the best film music is none at all.

About one of his most celebrated film scores, Schifrin said, “Everybody tells me I wrote a fantastic car chase sequence in ‘Bullitt,’ but I didn’t. I wrote tension and suspense up to the moment where Steve McQueen puts his Mustang into gear.”

Schifrin seems most proud of his “Jazz Meets the Symphony,” a musical encounter that he hopes will be a “celebration of walls and fences coming down” and the “merging of two cultural heritages.” He was scheduled to play and conduct the piece in Paris on Sept. 13.

Schifrin’s autobiography, “Mission Impossible: My Life in Music” (edited by Richard Palmer, Scarecrow Press, $35, includes CD), which just hit bookstores, looks at his early years living under the fascist Peron regime in Argentina, his subsequent studies with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory and his evolution into one of Hollywood’s elite composers.

Schifrin left Argentina in 1952, returning four years later. By the early ’60s, however, he was solidly planted in Hollywood. The many military dictatorships that followed Peron’s made it impossible for him to attend his father’s funeral in Buenos Aires in 1979. By that time, Schifrin was under a death threat.

Schifrin’s father was concertmaster of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, and his uncle was principal cellist. His father thought young Boris — Schifrin legally changed it to “Lalo,” which is a nickname for Claudio, his middle name — might be better off as a classical musician. He studied with pianist Daniel Barenboim’s father, Enrique, who used to whack his fingers with a sharp pencil whenever he made a mistake. “That was the way musical education was at that time,” he said.

Although he later rebelled, Schifrin now seems grateful for the European musical education instilled in him by his father. When he was 9, he played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” at the Teatro Colon with Erich Kleiber conducting. By then, Schifrin had already seen and absorbed operas, ballets and symphonies.

Looking back, Schifrin says his father did finally accept his unusual hybrid career, which fuses jazz with the European tradition of classical music. No doubt he would be proud of his son’s four Grammy awards and six Oscar nominations — and that past honorees for the Temecula Festival lifetime achievement award have included Ray Charles, Karl Malden, Robert Wise and Etta James.

The composer said his father thought the tango was “vulgar,” but his natural feel for that sultry urban dance may have saved him from a night in jail. He was coming home late one night in Buenos Aires when two policemen spotted him.

“I had a case of LPs,” he recalled. “A whole case made for LPs was new in Argentina, and the police thought I looked suspicious, especially when they saw English labels and the word ‘jazz’ on many of them. They wanted to take me to the station. There was a cafe across the street with a piano, and I asked them to go there. I opened the piano lid and played a tango. They smiled and let me go.”

It was a close call, but other incidents, such as seeing Argentine soldiers goose-stepping in German uniforms, made it clear that the time had come to leave his beloved city. At the Special Section for Anti-Argentine Activities, his interrogator asked him why he wanted to leave Argentina to attend the Paris music conservatory. Schifrin answered: “Do you realize the honor it represents to have an Argentinean admitted to one of the most prestigious music schools in the world? I respectfully submit to you that this should be a cause for pride to our country!” His passport was signed and stamped.

Schifrin grew up in a religiously mixed family where Jews and Catholics intermarried. His father would take him to temple, and on Sunday mornings he would go to mass.

As he notes in his book, “All this was confusing to me since I was observing different rituals for the same God.”

His mother’s side was half-Jewish and half-Catholic but, he said, she “became Jewish.” There was a note of slight offense in his voice when he recalled how an aunt and uncle on his mother’s side once tried to convert him to Catholicism. Yet Schifrin has “great respect for people who believe sincerely in a religion and a God.”

Art, and particularly the art of music, forms a large part of Schifrin’s identity, but when asked whether he feels Jewish, he told a story.

“Well, I have to tell you when I went to Israel for the first time I felt something when I saw that the police had the Star of David on their uniforms. I mean, this did something to me.”

The Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival runs Sept. 17-21, 2008 at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. For more information on the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, visit or call (951) 699-5514.

Rick Schultz writes about music for the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through November 2008


Fri., Sept. 12
“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” Angelenos can explore the legacy of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved popes in a new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition. Through artifacts, photographs and audiovisual recordings that first appeared at Cincinnati’s Xavier University only weeks after the pope’s death in 2005, visitors can explore the life of Pope John Paul II and the historical and personal circumstances that led him to aggressively reach out to Jews worldwide. Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, recognize the State of Israel and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of the Jewish people. The Skirball will also offer several public programs related to the exhibition: an adult-education course on “Jesus and Judaism” and film adaptations of biblical epics, among others. Through Jan. 4. $10 (general admission), free to all on Thursdays. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 13
“Speech & Debate.” The town is Salem, Ore., and, as in countless other American cities, teenagers are on the prowl for like-minded adolescents via the Internet. However, the three teenagers who find one another in “Speech & Debate” don’t just bond over music, books and movies, but are linked through a sex scandal that has rocked their community. The three adolescent misfits do what anyone else would to get to the bottom of the scandal: form their school’s first speech and debate team. Check out the West Coast premiere of the play, which critics are calling “flat-out funny.” 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Through Oct. 26. $22-$28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-9827. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 13
Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival. Camarillo is offering visitors a one-day extravaganza filled with music, artists and gourmet food, all culminating in an evening concert under the stars. The 2008 Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival will include gospel and bluegrass music, a farmers’ market and more than 50 artists showcasing their work. By evening, retro-band Royal Crown Revue will warm the stage for a secret, Grammy-nominated headliner. 8 a.m. (farmers’ market), 10 a.m. (music and art walk). $20-$60. 2400 Ventura Blvd., Old Town Camarillo. (805) 484-4383. ” target=”_blank”>

Fri., Sept. 19
“Back Back Back” at The Old Globe. There’s nothing poignant about professional athletes using steroids. Or is there? Old Globe playwright-in-residence Itamar Moses delves into the controversial topic and takes the audience beyond the newspaper headlines and congressional hearings to the sanctuary of sports — the locker room. With humor and insight, Moses unfolds the stories of three major league baseball players who struggle to compete in the unforgiving world of professional sports, as well as balance their personal lives and professional images. The up-and-coming playwright has “clearly demonstrated tremendous talent along with a willingness to tackle complex ideas in his plays,” said The Globe’s Executive Producer Lou Spisto. Moses’ other works include “The Four of Us,” which won the San Diego Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award last year and “Bach at Leipzig.” 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Oct. 26. $42-$59. Old Globe Arena Theatre, James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 234-5623. ” target=”_blank”>

Sun., Sept. 21
KCRW’S World Festival. A remarkable, eclectic lineup marks the last week of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Ozomatli toured the world, engaging audiences with its blend of Latin-, rock- and hip-hop-infused music, as well as its anti-war and human rights advocacy. The multiethnic group headlines this special night at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Michael Franti, a former member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his latest band Spearhead. Mexican singer Lila Downs as well as Tijuana’s premiere electronic band, Nortec Collective and its members Bostich and Fussible, will make it impossible for anyone not to get something out of the mix. If you haven’t had the chance to catch this spectacular summer concert series, don’t miss this last opportunity. 7 p.m. $10-$96. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. ” target=”_blank”>

Wed., Sept. 24
Brad Meltzer signs “Book of Lies.” The New York Times best-selling mystery writer is back with a riveting new thriller that links the Cain and Abel story with the creation of Superman. Young Jerry Siegel dreamed up a bulletproof super man in 1932 when his father was shot to death. It may sound like a strange plotline, but trust Meltzer, who has written six other acclaimed page-turners as well as comic books and television shows, to produce a great read. The novel is already receiving major buzz and you can get in on the action in a variety of ways: By watching the trailer on Brad Meltzer’s Web site (yes, the book has a movie trailer), listening to the book’s soundtrack (yes, the book has a soundtrack) and by coming to a reading and book signing by the author. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 380-1636. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
“Skinny Bitch: A Bun in the Oven.” If there is one thing that doesn’t ever get old, it’s mocking our own culture. Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin do just that in their newly released “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” a sequel of sorts to their best-selling cookbook “Skinny Bitch.” The book is a guaranteed laugh riot and today’s in-store reading and signing could offer a sassy twist as the two authors show up in the flesh to dish about expecting mothers. And don’t be fooled, just because the subjects of this book are in a more fragile state of mind, Freedman and Barnouin refuse to make any exceptions to their insightful and illuminating critiques. 2 p.m. $14.95 (book price). Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
“Jack’s Third Show.” Long hair, dramatic eye shadow and electric guitars return for an ’80s afternoon. Billed as a benefit for autism education, radio station JACK-FM stages an edgy blend of retro and new wave rockers. Billy Idol joins Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs and Devo for a musical bash that will have you dancing all day long. 2 p.m. $29-$89. Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. (213) 480-3232. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
Museum Day. Art and cultural institutions are hoping to attract folks from all walks of life by making them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free admission to museums across Southern California. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, this event gives art lovers and art novices alike the opportunity to visit venues from the Getty Center to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, free of charge. Natural history and science museums, like the California Science Center are also participating in the event. Regular parking fees do apply and advance reservations are recommended for some exhibitions. For a complete list of participating museums, visit ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Season Opening Gala. L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director, Sir Neville Marriner, will conduct its current director, Jeffrey Kahane, in a piano solo to celebrate its 40th year. A symbolic bridge between the orchestra’s past and its future, expect to hear classical masters Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction for patrons. 6 p.m. $35-$125 (concert only), $750 (full package). The Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. Saint John Ave., Pasadena. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.

The ‘Chronicles’ of the musical rabbi

In his mid-50s, after nearly three decades teaching in his native Baltimore at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University — part of that time as head of the music composition department — composer-pianist Moshe Cotel decided to become a rabbi.

He thought he was giving up classical music — one of his first loves — but his curiosity and daring were such that he found a way to take life lessons from the Torah into the recital hall. By combining rabbinical monologues and great music by Gershwin, Scriabin, Schoenberg and The Beatles, among others, Cotel, who is now 65, has won over both Jewish and Christian congregations.

Cotel’s “Chronicles I: A Religious Life at the Classical Piano” comes to Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica on June 14, and “Chronicles II” arrives a day earlier at University Synagogue in Irvine (he performed the first one there last year).

Additional upcoming recitals in Atlanta and Seattle bring the number of times Cotel has performed both sets of “Chronicles” to 82. And the invitations from various religious organizations continue to grow. This, while maintaining his full-time job as rabbi of a Conservative congregation in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dubbed the “Maestro-Rabbi” by the Los Angeles Times, Cotel is as surprised as anyone by how his dual career has taken off.

“It’s a blessing within a blessing,” Cotel said via phone from New York. “Being able to blend the two loves of my life — Judaism and music — is thrilling.”

According to Cotel, he “started late,” arriving at the Peabody Conservatory Prep School at age 9. Later, Cotel wrote a full-length 200-page symphony. He was 13. At 23, he won the prestigious American Academy in Rome Prize for music composition, studying in Italy for two years before being asked to join the faculty at Peabody.

Raised in an Orthodox family, Cotel says that early on “music became my religion. I lived my own private inner life,” he says. “Even as a boy, I went my own way and let the adults talk. I grew up in a deeply dysfunctional family and was deeply unhappy. Music was my secret world, and I disappeared into it. It saved my life.”

When he was old enough to leave home, Cotel recalls boarding a Greyhound bus for an audition in New York.

“I never looked back,” he says. “Fearlessness grows out of despair, and also out of faith.”

The decision to move from composer and esteemed teacher to rabbi came with some apparent sacrifice.

“I thought my music career was over,” he says. “It wasn’t in my game plan, but I knew I had to become a rabbi.” When he told his wife, Aliya, who has since become his agent, road manager and publicist, he recalls her listening in silence, then saying, “Moshe, if that’s what you need to do, then I’m with you 100 percent.”

He explains what prompted his sudden career change. Looking to brush up on his German before conducting performances of his opera, “Dreyfus” — based on the notorious case of institutionalized French anti-Semitism — Cotel took lessons from an elderly German widow who lived nearby. Some months later, he heard a voice on the street addressing him — in Hebrew. It was the elderly widow, who had decided to take lessons with a rabbi.

“I didn’t even know she was Jewish,” he recalls. She was raised as a Catholic after her parents were forced to flee Germany during the Holocaust. She was left in the care of “good Catholic sisters,” living her life as a Catholic. But now, in her old age, as she told Cotel, “she was coming back to Judaism, because of you.”

“Kabbalah says there’s no such thing as a coincidence,” Cotel says, recalling that he “changed her life without knowing it.” He quotes a biblical text: “I will send my angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.”

“The angel’s not a winged creature as in Renaissance paintings,” he adds. “The literal translation is, send my ‘messenger’ before you. It could be a little old German lady.”

Cotel’s recitals are imbued with a sense of fun. He admits a serious approach doesn’t suit him. In one selection from “Chronicles II,” “The Beatles Meet Kabbalah,” Cotel offers a rabbinical commentary on, and then performs, his own transcription of a Beatles song. Hint: Love may not be all you need.

“The deepest spirituality doesn’t need heaviness,” he says. “Religion should buoy you up; it shouldn’t weigh you down. It’s a way of discovering who you are in the limited time we have on this earth.”

Cotel expresses surprise at how the demand for recitals has grown in the last few years.

“It grew by itself, almost as if I had nothing to do with it,” he says.

After he was ordained in 2003, invitations to perform “Chronicles” came in from as far away as Hawaii. He’s doing 25 recitals this year and says, with some regret, but no doubts, “I’m a pulpit rabbi. I can’t squeeze in any more.”

Perhaps even more unexpected for Cotel was the number of requests to perform “Chronicles” that came from the Christian clergy.

“It never occurred to me at the beginning I’d be playing for Christians,” Cotel says. He adds that this interfaith project has taken him across America, and it also “works well by involving congregants in the church down the street” in Brooklyn.

Even with such a crowded schedule, Cotel says sometimes a rabbinic idea just pops into his head. He asks, “What piece can I use to illustrate a point? What’s Jewish about this?” He’s thinking about a “Chronicles III: A Rabbi Looks at Chopin” but realizes he’s already booked for the next two years.

“My house shall be a house of prayer for all people,” Cotel quotes. “The Torah is the greatest vehicle of hope in human history, saying you are a human being first,” he adds. “J.S. Bach was a devout Protestant, but he reaches all people because he went into his roots deeply. I firmly believe that’s the way to go. I can only achieve self-overcoming by going straight into my Judaism with all my heart, soul, and might. If you do that, you’re bound to touch other people.”

Rick Schultz writes about music for the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Classical Musicians’ Volume Decreases

The conductor raises his baton. On cue, 73 young musicians launch into a heartfelt rendition of “Sabbath Fantasies,” a piece that weaves together snatches of Jewish liturgy and folk tunes.

This is the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra (LAYO), a 6-year-old ensemble sponsored by Stephen S. Wise Temple to encourage the next generation of music lovers. The players, all between the ages of 8 and 18, represent a wide range of cultures and ethnicities.

But because the orchestra rehearses on Sundays on the temple’s grounds, it especially attracts young musicians from Jewish homes. The LAYO is one route through which Jewish community leaders are trying to keep alive the noble tradition that links Jews with classical music.

Russell Steinberg, who conducts the LAYO and composed “Sabbath Fantasies,” is at the forefront of this effort. As founder and director of the Stephen Wise Music Academy, he also works to provide music education for all students at Stephen Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.

Another pioneer is Bryna Vener, who for 28 years has led Sinai Akiba Academy’s popular after-school orchestral program. But many other Jewish day schools that offer elective music programs are struggling to keep them afloat.

Perhaps it’s a matter of scheduling. Students today face mounting academic obligations that leave many feeling hard-pressed to take on an instrument.

Still, Steinberg suspects also that many Jewish parents view classical music as an outmoded form of entertainment. Because they themselves prefer the likes of Pink Floyd to Prokofiev, they are less inclined to push traditional music lessons on reluctant offspring.

There was a time when Jews dominated the ranks of American orchestras, and superstars like Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern were musical ambassadors to the world. The fact that today’s master Jewish musicians tend to have proteges with names like Yo Yo Ma, Kyung-Wha Chung and Lang Lang is one hint that for many Jews, classical music is no longer a top priority. This gives Steinberg an important goal: “I’m trying to build a parent culture that values music.”

Why in recent years have so many American Jews sidestepped classical music?

One answer is that most 21st century American Jews are far removed from the immigrant experience of their forebearers. The Jews who came from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as those who arrived as refugees after World War II, brought with them a passion for music.

Nostalgic for the culture they left behind, they flocked to concerts and regarded soloists as heroes. Their love of good music dovetailed with eagerness for success in their new homeland, making them hugely ambitious for their American-born children.

Sylvia Kunin Eben, 91, was raised in a Jewish enclave in South Central Los Angeles, where “everybody we knew had a piano. Even if you couldn’t afford lessons, you had a piano.”

Eben’s Russian-immigrant father somehow scraped together 90 cents for her weekly piano lesson. In return, she was expected to be a prodigy. Although stage fright derailed her performing career, she went on to create award-winning music programs for television.

A generation later, immigrant Jewish parents were still avidly steering their children toward classical music. Music educator Neal Brostoff is the American-born son of a couple who left England for Los Angeles in 1936. He began concertizing at a early age, often rubbing shoulders with such soon-to-be-famous young Angelenos as violinists Glenn and Maurice Dicterow, cellist Nathaniel Rosen, pianists Mona and Renee Golabek and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. All had parents who were staunch supporters of their youngsters’ careers, and all had strong European roots.

Today, times have changed. Aaron Mendelsohn, whose Maestro Foundation lends musical instruments to talented but impoverished young players, notes that many of the Asian-born musicians he helps are “clawing their way out of poverty, just the way the Jews did.”

Young Jews, for the most part, now tend to be firmly ensconced in the American middle class. All professions are open to them, and they’ve long-ago cast off the immigrant tradition of letting their parents determine their future path.

Jewish mothers and fathers, who in earlier eras might have overseen their children’s lessons, monitored their practice sessions and carted them to musical auditions, are now much more likely to emphasize academics, sports and, in Los Angeles, acting auditions.

UCLA music professor David Lefkowitz provides a telling example. His 9-year-old son has been playing the violin since age 3. A promising musician, he practices an hour a day but also plays soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring.

A colleague’s daughter, exactly the same age, started the violin at the same time. She practices two hours daily, and Lefkowitz doesn’t doubt that by 12 she’ll have moved far beyond his son, for whom music is one of several boyhood interests. It’s probably no coincidence that the girl’s mother is a fairly recent immigrant.

If Jewish parents are less driven now to turn their children into stars of the concert stage, they’re also well aware that music as a profession has become less promising. With the number of quality orchestras diminishing, 200 applicants vie for each open seat.

Some record labels have done away with their classical divisions. Hollywood studios that once employed a full complement of musicians often make do now with synthesized music and the licensing of pop tunes. Alan Chapman, composer, music educator and KUSC radio host, stressed, “The value of being a classical musician to society at large is not what it used to be.”

In a materialistic age, it’s no surprise that young Jews have learned to be pragmatic about their career choices. When Steinberg introduced his students to a professional conductor, their first question was, “How much money do you make?”

But sometimes pragmatism can be idealism by another name. Adam Mendelsohn, a recent UCLA graduate, for years played violin in the American Youth Symphony. Unlike most members of that highly motivated group, he gave up any thought of a formal music career to enter a doctoral program in biomedical engineering.

His father’s Maestro Foundation has shown him firsthand the hardships faced by music professionals. As a scientist, he can treat music as a serious hobby and “play the music I want to play when I want to play it.”

The dearth of rising young Jewish musicians does not extend to Israel, where ongoing political tensions may be part of what makes the arts an appealing outlet. In addition, Israel’s subsidies for artists, as well as its numerous institutes for promising students and its European-based tradition of respect for classical music, also play a significant role.

When Israeli composer Ariel Blumenthal attended a concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall, he was amazed to find an auditorium full of graying heads. At home, the Israeli Philharmonic had always attracted a younger crowd, including uniformed soldiers who get in for free.

One source of Israel’s eagerness to produce the next Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman lies in its thousands of music-loving emigres from the former Soviet Union. The Russian musical legacy also shows itself in the U.S. Sixteen-year-old Simona Shapiro, whose Russian grandmother was a concert pianist, admits that her own budding piano career is fulfilling the dreams of several generations: “My entire family is basically living this through me.”

But most American Jews have to force themselves to be philosophical when their children opt to make music professionally. Partly because they’re short on recent role models, they don’t see how their youngsters can make a living in the classical field.

But many American Jews feel, at best, philosophical when their children opt to make music professionally. Partly because they’re short on recent role models, they don’t see how their talented youngsters can make a living in the music field. One organization trying to help is the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity (

This small but ambitious nonprofit based in Los Angeles and Jerusalem has, for the past 16 years, worked to promote Jewish identity through support for the arts. Proceeds from the center’s ongoing $3 million fundraising campaign go toward such projects as international arts festivals, subsidized residencies at an Israeli arts colony, and multidisciplinary events at major universities.

More than 400 Jewish artists from many nations and in many fields have been named center affiliates. On behalf of Jewish classical musicians, the center underwrites the L.A.-based Synergy Chamber Ensemble as well as an Israeli group, Metar. It also sponsors recordings, awards prizes, and has commissioned works from such rising Jewish composers as Ofer Ben Amots, Sharon Farber, David Lefkowitz and Yale Strom. The center’s founders, led by board president John Rauch, recognize that from the time of King David forward, music has played an integral role in Jewish life.

They hope their support will smooth the way for the talented Jews of tomorrow.


Spectator – Musical Mystery of Letters

While Madonna and other celebrities have made it fashionable in recent years to pursue Kabbalah, guitarist and composer Adam Del Monte has the musical sophistication and spiritual depth to explore Jewish mysticism beyond the trendy or superficial. In his new piece, “Kabbalistic Intonation From the Hebrew Alphabet,” Del Monte delves deeply into the meditative and musical aspects of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Del Monte will perform his new composition on numerology as one of two world premieres at the Jan. 8 concert of Synergy, a chamber ensemble of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity. The performance will take place at the Emanuel Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.

Of Kabbalah, Del Monte says, “There is a high-level of consciousness, bringing down energy from the spheres in a way that affects our physical life.” To do that, “you need to be a pure vessel,” which is why some scholars have suggested that no one truly study Kabbalah until reaching at least the age of 40.

The Israeli-born Del Monte, though a year shy of 40, brings much life experience to his new work, which incorporates elements of his Sephardic, classical and flamenco expertise. He traveled for years in Spain, learning flamenco in the caves of Granada with gypsies. He discovered that flamenco derives from Sephardic roots. His present surname, given to him by gypsies, comes from a major thoroughfare in Granada.

Regarded as a virtuoso classical guitarist, Del Monte believes that there is sacredness to a name.

“Every sound, every letter, every shape of letter gives birth to a specific frequency of vibration, and, when combined with other letters, incarnates specific energies and characters,” he says.

Del Monte “makes a connection between each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in musical pitch,” says Neal Brostoff, the music coordinator of Synergy.

The January concert, dubbed “Nefesh — Music From the Soul,” will also include the world premiere of “Arba-a Bavot Niggun D’Alte Rebbe,” which Brostoff terms a “Chasidic jazz fusion,” composed by pianist Sha-rone Kushnir — as well as works by Betty Olivero and Andrew Bleckner.

Synergy’s “Nefesh — Music From the Soul,” concert will be held Sunday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m., at the Emanuel Arts Theater, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. To R.S.V.P., call (323) 658-5824 or e-mail

Evolution of Reform Judaism Progressing

At Temple Congregation Ohabei Shalom in Nashville, Tenn., congregants newly trained in the ancient skill of shofar blowing sounded the ceremonial ram’s horn for the first time this past Rosh Hashanah. It was the first time a lay member of the 150-year-old synagogue had blown the shofar.

“It was quite a pivotal moment” for the 800-family congregation, said its rabbi, Mark Schiftan.

Deeply rooted in classical Reform Judaism, the temple’s services until recently were marked by choirs and English-only prayer. This Reform movement charter synagogue is undergoing upheaval, and it is not alone.

A journey toward religious tradition, accompanied by musical innovation, is reshaping many of the more than 920 member synagogues of the Reform movement. The change is not new, but it marks a continuing evolution for the movement, which just officially changed its name to the Union for Reform Judaism, shedding its old name, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC).

The name change was one of several changes at the group’s 67th biennial convention in Minneapolis last week. Many of those changes have come from on high.

The union’s president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie (see sidebar), signaled a historic shift in North America’s largest liberal Jewish denomination at its 1999 biennial, with a worship initiative urging synagogues to use more Hebrew in prayer and reassess communal worship. His call came after a statement of principles by the movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, which had met in Pittsburgh earlier that year and sought “renewed attention” to Jewish commandments or mitzvot.

Last week, Yoffie tried to nudge the movement even further, calling for Reform Jews to log online daily to a “Ten Minutes of Torah” Internet program. The Torah, he said during his Shabbat morning speech at the biennial, “is the engine that drives Jewish life.”

“Such a commitment would enable us to meet our Jewish obligation to make Jewish study a fixed occurrence,” Yoffie said. “And if the answer is, ‘I can’t find 10 minutes,’ let me suggest that we need to take a good look at our priorities.”

Yoffie is the first to admit that many of North America’s estimated 1.5 million Reform Jews may find the idea foreign. Since his initial calls four years ago, Reform Jewry has embraced more intensive religious study “conceptually” but not in practice, Yoffie said in an interview at the conference.

“There is a core, committed elite that is studying,” he said. “On the ground, results are strong in some areas, less strong in others.”

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, a professor of liturgy at the movement’s seminary in New York, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), said that when it comes to congregational worship, “Reform is all over the map.”

Hoffman spoke at a conference panel called, “Beyond the Worship Wars: Worship Change Four Years Later,” which examined how Reform congregations are responding to Yoffie’s 1999 calls. Change “is a process; everybody knows it takes seven to 10 years,” Hoffman said.

Exhortation to change has become a movement fixture. After World War II, the UAHC’s then-president, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, began moving Reform away from its classical roots. His successors, first Rabbi Alexander Schindler, then Yoffie, who took the helm in 1996, followed the path, with each one raising the bar further.

For many of the 4,500 movement leaders and activists who gathered in Minneapolis, change remains an article of faith. Daily and evening prayer sessions throughout the week echoed to crowds of dozens, with those praying donning yarmulkes and prayer shawls. The event also saw its first all-Hebrew prayer session.

The workshops on religious themes were crowded, too, including those on delivering a d’var Torah, or text-based teaching; learning to chant from the Torah; creating High Holiday liturgy; and experiencing a yoga minyan.

Some were not surprised by Yoffie’s renewed call for commitment, if only because it signaled another step in the movement’s evolution.

“Certainly the bar has been raised,” said Rabbi Joe Black of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, N.M. “One of the things Rabbi Yoffie has done throughout his tenure is place Torah at the center of the Reform movement.”

However, Black said he and his 700-household congregation “haven’t necessarily responded to the call for more tradition — the call was a reflection of what was happening for many years.”

In his eight years at the 107-year-old synagogue, Black said he has seen a boom in adult education, with classes in Hebrew, prayer and Jewish history. Twice a month, the synagogue offers Shabbat Torah study, which alternates with two meditation sessions.

Many Reform rabbis and cantors in the movement lead services with a guitar — several even held a biennial workshop on music and prayer.

Black has produced several compact disks. He leads an informal, musical Shabbat service, which relies on a prayer book the congregation designed that transliterates the Hebrew and includes gender-neutral references to God. In addition, there is a monthly Friday night family Shabbat service, featuring a puppet show for children.

While 60 percent of the synagogue’s liturgy is now in Hebrew, he said, it also often runs a more formal service, with a choir and a sermon following the initial prayers, for those who prefer the old style.

A similar mix flavors the rituals at Nashville’s Temple Congregation Ohabei Shalom. Once a month, approximately 200 people typically gather there for “Blue Jean Shabbat,” featuring a five-piece band playing music by the likes of the renowned Debbie Friedman. The cantor, Bernard Gutcheon, strums guitar.

While about 40 percent of Ohabei Shalom’s services now contain Hebrew — using the “Gates of Prayer” book, which was published in 1975 and offers alternative Shabbat prayers — older members still attend more classical Reform services using the “Union Prayer Book,” first published in 1895.

The Albuquerque and Nashville temples are among those which have experimented with the movement’s new prayer book, “Mishkan Tefilah,” which is due to be published in 2005 for wider dissemination. The new prayer book includes prayers in Hebrew, with translations and transliterations, commentary on the prayers and source references, with music and songs throughout.

Beth Haverim, a 280-family congregation in Mahwah, N.J., is also experimenting with the new book. Beth Haverim’s Rabbi Joel Mosbacher said that while he believes the new prayer book’s inclusion of transliterated Hebrew prayers is a crutch, allowing people to avoid learning Hebrew, he found that prayer participation among his congregants has skyrocketed since its introduction.

“Even as we shift to the right, you have to acknowledge that people aren’t there yet with their knowledge base,” he said.

Like other congregations, Beth Haverim is trying to fill that gap, using about 60 percent Hebrew in its services, but offering adult education, such as Hebrew instruction, Friday night book reviews and an introduction to Judaism course that is popular in many Reform congregations. The course doubles as a refresher for Jews and a primer for non-Jewish members.

At the same time, Beth Haverim Cantor Barbra Lieberstein has created such services as a pop-infused rock Shabbat and has brought in a classically and jazz-trained pianist for the High Holidays.

Hoffman of HUC-JIR joked that in Reform worship, “the three most important things are music, music and music.”

In Reform spiritual life, Black said, “we’re moving from an emphasis on pediatric Judaism, where you drop your kids off at school, to lifelong learning.”

Despite all the signs of fervor at the biennial, Yoffie said he does not delude himself about what’s happening at the grass-roots level, because such summits largely draw the movement’s leadership.

At the same time, he said, “if you walk into the average Reform synagogue now as opposed to 10 years ago, you will see that worship is appreciably different. It’s more participatory, there’s more Hebrew.”

“Have we seen change?” he asked. “Yes. Are we done? We’re never done.”