Yehuda Gilad teaches the importance of strong minds, muscles and funny bones


Ever since Mozart discovered the clarinet’s versatility and tonal beauty in the 1760s, the instrument has grown in stature, relying on distinguished teachers to keep its wide range of joyous, jazzy, autumnal and rapturous moods thriving. And there’s no better caretaker of the instrument’s legacy than Yehuda Gilad, whose studio at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles is a go-to venue for aspiring professional clarinetists everywhere.

Gilad, who took up the clarinet late (he was already 16) on a kibbutz near Caesarea, Israel, a town midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, discovered he owned an extraordinary gift, or as he put it recently during an interview from the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest 2015 in Madrid, “I was a little bit talented, and very quickly began to do good things.”

Gilad’s comments about his thriving conducting career are equally understated. “I got into conducting by chance,” he said, adding he saw the job as an opportunity to become the “total musician.” 

Gilad will conduct the Colburn Orchestra, the conservatory’s flagship ensemble, at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Sept. 27 in a program including Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, “Emperor,” with new Colburn faculty member Fabio Bidini as soloist, and Brahms’ sweetly melancholic Symphony No. 2 in D major. 

Before that, on Sept. 12, Gilad will lead the first Colburn Chamber Music Society concert at the school’s Zipper Hall, featuring Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 for winds in B-flat major, “Gran Partita.” Listeners may recall the adagio from this score in the acclaimed 1984 film “Amadeus,” in which rival Salieri rhapsodized how Mozart’s use of a clarinet filled him with delight and “such longing, such unfulfillable longing.”

Gilad’s musical life began with a recorder. “It was all we could afford,” he said. His father escaped pogroms in Russia in 1925 and his mother fled Germany in 1936; they met on the kibbutz. “They were pioneers who had three kids. I’m the youngest.” 

Gilad said he was virtually penniless after his army service, but that didn’t deter him from moving on. “When you’re at zero,” Gilad explained, “everything you get or achieve is a plus.”

After moving to London and then, in 1975, to Los Angeles, Gilad met the composer, conductor and arts activist Herbert Zipper, whom he called “my teacher, my rabbi, my mentor.” Zipper encouraged Gilad’s conducting career, which began with a six-year stint as music director of the Santa Monica Symphony. Later, as conductor of the Colonial Symphony of New Jersey, Gilad combined conducting and teaching, winning awards for innovative school programs that made music more accessible to students.

Gilad also said he learned from attending classes by conducting masters such as Sergiu Celibidache. “He was a difficult personality,” Gilad said, “but an unbelievable musician. He taught the long line, the inner lines of music that keep the ship moving.”

As music director of the conservatory’s Colburn Orchestra since its inception in 2003, Gilad said he sees between 30 and 50 new faces every September. “This is a big challenge for any conductor, when almost one-half of the orchestra graduates each year,” Gilad said. “Suddenly we have 17-year-olds performing with 23-year-olds. You have to find ways to make them singing musicians, professional musicians.”

Although Gilad still occasionally performs, his work and reputation as a clarinet teacher have taken center stage, with some 100 of his pupils at USC’s Thornton School of Music and the Colburn Conservatory over the years earning positions in major international orchestras. 

For Gilad, the recipe for making a good musician includes three things. The first is physical. “To be a great musician, you must train and educate your muscles and fingers, bones and body,” Gilad said. “You have to take care of your machine.”

The second component is developing a philosophy of music and the world, without which, he said, a musician would just be a shell. “This is the depth of my teaching,” Gilad said. “The ‘why’ is the most important. The ‘how’ comes later. It’s about understanding what a work can say and how you can say it.” To perform Stravinsky, for example, one should understand Russian culture and literature in order to discover “your part in it, what you bring to it,” Gilad said.

The third ingredient is a sense of humor. For Gilad, this allows a soloist to “take the ego away, so the music will come through you. This applies to an orchestra as well.”

For clarinetist Signe Sõmer, 24, who started working with him at the Colburn Conservatory in the fall of last year, Gilad is “a living legend.” 

“I really like that he is trying to describe a certain atmosphere behind a piece,” she said, adding that while working last year on Sibelius’ Second Symphony, “he managed to describe everything … the people, scenery, the darkness and even the sound of the Finnish language.”

Gilad said when a student is learning a piece, he forbids them to listen to anyone else’s version. “If you are learning Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano,” he said, “I would have you listen to the composer’s String Quartet, ‘Jeux’ [and] ‘Afternoon of a Faun.’ Then the music will come to you. If [you listen to] other artists, you start to copy and lose your own special colors.”

But Gilad doesn’t neglect strictly technical matters. “We have been working on embouchure [the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece], air, and last year I changed my tonguing technique,” Sõmer said.

Sõmer is scheduled to perform Max Bruch’s Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra with the Colburn Orchestra at the Ambassador Auditorium on Feb. 6.

Todd Cope, 30, another former student of Gilad’s who is now principal clarinet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, recalled his teacher’s three ingredients of a good musician, especially the part about having a sense of humor. 

“You have to be able to step back,” Cope said. “Sometimes we take everything so seriously. We’re all guilty of it. … Gilad teaches us that everything’s going to be OK.”

Cope said Gilad encouraged him to compete in international competitions, and “put myself out there.” The level of preparation required, Cope said, paved the way for successful auditions, leading to his present position in Montreal. Cope added that he still goes to see Gilad once or twice a year to play for him. “Once you’re a Gilad student, you’re a student for life,” Cope said.

Gilad seems firmly entrenched in L.A. He is married to Kimaree Gilad, an oboist who played with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for 30 years, and they have three grown children. 

Yet Gilad is often on the road teaching, performing and conducting. People marvel at his energy. “It doesn’t matter if a student plays for him at the beginning or at the end of the day,” Sõmer said. 

“I hate the travel,” Gilad offered, “but I love the stuff I’m doing. Making a difference in people’s lives is rewarding and enriching. It recharges my  batteries.”

Yehuda Gilad and the Colburn Orchestra will perform a free community concert at 3 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Valley Performing Arts Center, located at 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. For more information, call (818) 677-8800 or visit

Technique, sensitivity the keys to pianist Bronfman’s success


When Yefim Bronfman performs Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto with conductor Lionel Bringuier and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on July 31, he will be tackling what is known as a real “finger buster,” a term used for a work that is awkwardly conceived for a pianist’s hands or physically demanding. The Brahms concerto is both.

For Bronfman, who is celebrated for his virtuoso technique and musical sensitivity, the epic difficulty of Brahms’ score is pretty much business as usual, although something unusual happened during a Berkeley recital last October: While performing the final two pages of Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata, Bronfman literally busted a finger.

“I felt a very sharp pain,” the pianist said by phone from his apartment in New York. “Luckily, it was the last piece on the program. I finished the recital and managed to play two encores.”

Bronfman traveled to Los Angeles the next day, then straight into a rehearsal of Bartok’s Third Concerto with the Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel. “I realized there was a problem,” he said.

A doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center gave Bronfman the bad news. He had broken the fourth finger of his left hand, and it would take four to six weeks to heal. Concerts would have to be canceled. But Bronfman was determined not to miss an upcoming European tour on which he was scheduled to play all three Bartok concertos with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra. So he did what any driven musician would do: He went to another doctor.

“I did not miss a single concert in Europe,” he said. And, since breaking his finger, he’s also performed Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata. Was there any trepidation when he came to those last two pages of the breathtakingly powerful finale?

“What is scary about this piece is the middle section of the last movement,” Bronfman said. “That’s when you feel the pain in your hands because it’s so grotesque and with such gigantic leaps there. You cannot take it easy at this point. It’s the most wonderful moment of the whole piece.”

Bronfman clearly likes challenges. Within the last five years, he’s performed premieres of demanding concertos by Salonen and Magnus Lindberg. Both composers have added to the pressure by delivering their scores late. “When trying to learn the Lindberg, I realized some of the passages are really unplayable,” Bronfman said. “Did he think I was like a piano machine that could play anything?”

But Bronfman has sympathy for composers who try to broaden the scope of piano technique. “When Prokofiev wrote his piano sonatas, people said they were impossible. But then came [Sviatoslav] Richter and [Emil] Gilels, and now everybody plays them.”

Few living pianists get the honor of being immortalized in a major novel by an esteemed author. In Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” (2000), the narrator attends a rehearsal at Tanglewood and says: “Then Bronfman appears … He is conspicuously massive through the upper torso, a force of nature camouflaged in a sweatshirt. … He doesn’t let that piano conceal a thing.”

For Bronfman, Roth’s dramatic tribute came as a surprise. “I was amazed at his description, but I had no idea who Philip Roth was,” he said. The pianist laughed, recalling Roth’s unflattering detail about his being a “sturdy little barrel of an unshaven Russian Jew.” The two artists have since become good friends.

Surprisingly, Bronfman, who is 54, didn’t learn Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto until 1988. “I recommend that every pianist learn some difficult pieces while they are still in their teens,” he said. “For instance, I learned Brahms’ First Concerto when I was 15, and it’s always much easier than the Second, where it takes a certain stretch in your hands and technique to bring it off effortlessly.”

Bronfman said he doesn’t want audiences to see the difficulties: “I put the technical challenges behind me as soon as possible so I can focus on the concerto’s grandeur and passion, intimacy and beauty,” he said. “And there’s the humor of the last movement. It’s Brahms at his most mature and divine.”

Bronfman also avoids distracting mannerisms at the keyboard.

“My greatest idols are the ones who played with poker faces and made great music,” Bronfman said. “Heifetz was such a genius. He didn’t lift an eyebrow. The same with Horowitz and Rubinstein. I pay for a ticket to hear music. If I want to see a dance, I go to the ballet.”

Born and raised in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, Bronfman said his arrival in Israel in 1973 marked a turning point in his young life.

“I was about 14 years old, and Israel was where I decided I wanted to be a musician,” Bronfman said. “Within months of arriving, I heard some of the greatest musicians. Everybody was coming through Tel Aviv—Casals, Stern, Bernstein. Everybody.”

Bronfman, who holds dual citizenship, returns to Israel quite often, both to visit his older sister, Elizabeth, a violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and to perform with the orchestra there.

Being an Israeli and Jewish has deeply informed his life and work: “My mother is a Holocaust survivor, and my father was in the military fighting Germans during the war,” Bronfman said. “I’m very aware of the past of the Jewish people, particularly my mother, who is a direct victim of those horrible times. She was 13 when the war started. Most of her family got killed. She hid in the forest from the Germans.”

Bronfman added: “It makes a difference. Also, living in the Soviet Union, where Jews definitely felt like second-class citizens.”

In addition to his Bowl performance, Bronfman is scheduled to perform a solo recital in January at Walt Disney Concert Hall. “I’m going to try to play Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata without breaking my finger,” he said.

Yefim Bronfman performs at the Hollywood Bowl on July 31 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit hollywoodbowl.com.


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

Musicians Kill Only Themselves


I’d love to know if, in the long history of human evil, a great musician ever became a mass murderer. I ask this question because I’ve always had this crazy theory that when someone is busy and obsessed with creating and playing music, he or she doesn’t think about killing other people.

For example, I can’t imagine Amy Winehouse expunging her rage by going to a gun shop and mowing down people who trigger that fury. Similarly, I can’t imagine Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik going on his rampage if his passion had been playing the guitar and writing great songs. He might write protest songs to convey his anger, but chase down kids and kill them? I don’t see it.

Of course, I might be completely and stupidly wrong on this. I have never seen any formal evidence for my theory. In fact, there’s evidence that mediocre painters who get rejected by art schools (Hitler) or who paint silly clowns (John Wayne Gacy) don’t turn out very well. But I’ve observed many artists up close over the years, and, especially with musicians, one thing I’ve noted is that most of them pour their hearts into their art and music above all else—even above their most valued human relationships.

That’s because, from what I’ve seen, their true love—their deepest passion—is for their music. Nothing satisfies their egos or constant craving to create quite the same way. Their music is their spouse, lover, best friend and sibling all rolled into one. Unfortunately, often it’s also their drug dealer. Creating and playing music can be as addictive as doing drugs. In the case of Winehouse, the two acts seem to have merged.

But for all the tragedy of her death, who lost the most? Who lost a life? Her family and friends are devastated, yes. But who is dead and who is alive?

Breivik, however, is still alive, and 76 people are dead because of him. Maybe they are dead because he had no other way to express himself but through violence.

I can only lament that he was not a passionate and tormented musician whose hatred for foreigners had led him to overdose on cocaine rather than bullets.

Briefs: Israel apologizes to the Beatles, Europe commemorates the Holocaust



Beatles, Shea Stadium, 1965
Israel Apologizes to the Beatles

Israel is trying to atone for a decision to bar a tour by the Beatles 43 years ago. Israel’s ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, has written a letter to relatives of the late Beatles singer John Lennon and guitarist George Harrison apologizing for a 1965 government ban on the British pop group and inviting its surviving members — Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr — to play in the Jewish state.

“We should like to take this opportunity to correct the historic error which to our great regret occurred in 1965, when you were invited to Israel,” Yediot Achronot quoted the letter as saying. “We should like to see you sing in Israel.”

The Beatles were to have sung in Tel Aviv during their 1960s heyday, but political leaders nixed the appearances out of fear the Fab Four would “corrupt” Zionist youth.

Europe Commemorates the Holocaust

Former Auschwitz prisoners gathering at the Nazi death camp was among numerous Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations in Europe. Sunday’s event in the Polish town of Oswiecim, on the third annual commemoration day created by the United Nations General Assembly, took place on the 63rd anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet troops.

“Let remembrance of this serve as a shield that will protect us and generations to come against resentment, hate, aggression, racism and anti-Semitism,” said Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, a representative of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Sunday, Jewish communities in Ukraine lit candles and observed a minute of silence to honor the 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims, including 1.5 million Jews killed in Ukraine. It culminated four days of performances and exhibits in Kiev co-hosted by The Jewish Foundation of Ukraine and the All-Ukrainian Association of Jews – Former Concentration Camps and Ghetto Prisoners.

On Friday, the U.N. office in Vienna held a remembrance ceremony at the Rotunda of the Vienna International Center featuring the Vienna Jewish Choir performing for delegates from around the world. Also that day the Czech Senate, president and prime minister marked the Holocaust with ceremonies.

Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, will address the European Parliament in Brussels Monday as it commemorates the Holocaust. Also Monday, more than 1,600 people, including genocide survivors, are expected to attend a service at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall to mark the day in England.

Methodists Consider Divestment

A top Methodist body heard arguments for and against divesting from Israel. The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society heard from four speakers Friday discussing whether to present a divestment from Israel plan at the church’s general conference in April, according to the New York Sun.

The Rev. Douglas Mills, an executive on the church’s General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, made the case against divestment, the Sun reported, partly from concerns that a church-wide decision to divest would damage relations with Jewish groups.

Among those making the case for divestment was Susanne Hoder, a member of the New England Conference’s Divestment Task Force. Two of the 11-million member church’s regional groupings, in New England and Virginia, have recommended divestment from companies that they allege are complicit in Israel’s West Bank “occupation.” The weekend meeting, in Fort Worth, Texas, also considered divestment from other nations, including Sudan.

Christian Group to Give $3 Million for FSU Kids

A Jewish-Christian group is contributing $3 million to help needy Jewish children in the former Soviet Union. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, will give the $3 million to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). In exchange, Eckstein, who collects money from evangelical Christians, will have a say in how the money is spent and in formulating JDC’s strategy and programming.

The JDC estimates there are up to 50,000 needy Jewish children in the region. Eckstein gave $9 million the JDC in 2007, $6 million of which went to helping elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union and $3 million that went to help children. Eckstein recently cemented a similar strategic partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel, giving the agency $15 million per year for the next three years in exchange for a seat on its highest governing committee, its executive. The Fellowship will also continue to fund JDC programming for the elderly in the former Soviet Union.

Israeli Doubles Pair Makes History

Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich became the first Israeli doubles tennis team to win a Grand Slam tennis title. The pair, seeded eighth, defeated the seventh-seeded French duo of Arnaud Clement and Michael Llorda in the Australian Open final Saturday in Melbourne. Ram has won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, but never with an Israeli partner.

“It’s a great day for us, for our family, for Israel, for everybody,” Ram said, who noted that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had already called the pair to congratulate them. “He left a message for us to call him back; he couldn’t reach us.”

Hundreds of flag-waving Israelis were in the crowd, including Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, who traveled with his staff from Canberra for the match. The Israelis, who did not drop a set in the tournament, earned $393,211 for their victory.

Shahar Peer earlier in the tournament had become the first Israeli female to reach a Grand Slam final, but lost in three sets with her partner, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. The three Israelis are planning to play in Arab countries next month. Peer is poised to become the first Israeli to play in Qatar, while Ram and Erlich are considering a Dubai tournament along with another Israeli, Tzipi Obziler.

Facebook Founder to Visit Israel

Israel invited Facebook’s founder to attend its 60th Independence Day celebrations. Mark Zuckerberg met the Israeli delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week and accepted an official invitation to visit for the festivities in May, Ma’ariv reported Sunday. A former Harvard student, Zuckerberg shot to international fame by creating the Facebook networking site.

Ma’ariv quoted Zuckerberg, 23, as saying that Facebook would be an ideal platform for linking all the participants in a technology conference that Israeli President Shimon Peres is organizing in honor of the national birthday.

Palestinian rappers infuse poetry with politics


“Our music is not about coexistence,” said Tamer Nafar, the self-assured leader of Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. “There’s a few steps that come before peace.”

Nafar, 27, addressed an audience of roughly 200 people during “Poetry of Peace,” a hip-hop and cultural jam benefit for the Levantine Cultural Center at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Nov. 17.

“>
You’re a democracy?
Actually it’s more like the Nazis!
Your countless raping of the Arab soul
Finally impregnated it
Gave birth to your child
His name: Suicide Bomber
And then you call him the terrorist?

Sheava Rahimi, 24, was blown away by DAM’s impassioned performance at USC. An American of Persian Muslim descent, Rahimi does not speak Arabic and therefore could not understand the words to any of DAM’s songs. Nevertheless, she said she could feel what they were saying.

“They were incredibly inspiring,” Rahimi said. “I’ve never seen such energy and … I can’t even think of the right word for it — drive.”

“Poetry of Peace” was the first time Rahimi had ever attended an event organized by the Levantine Cultural Center, which strives to promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding among Middle Eastern cultures.

“There was a definite purpose to the show,” she said. “It rang with the message of peace. It left a strong impression on me.”

However, not everyone in the audience was pleased with the show’s perceived message. Jordan Elgrably, one of the founders of the Levantine Cultural Center and an active board member, said he received complaints from Persian Jewish attendees that the show was too political.

“The very nature of Palestinian culture is very political,” Elgrably said. “Anytime you deal with a minority culture — and the Palestinians are considered a minority in Israel — it will have a political feel. We’re scratching our heads over how we can do what we do and not offend too many people.”

A pan-cultural, inclusive approach is what the Levantine Center typically aims for, although a Jewish Israeli presence was markedly absent from the culture jam, which featured Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian and Palestinian performers.

“We definitely missed out on something by not having an Israeli performance,” said Elgrably, who comes from a Moroccan Jewish family.

He added, “Whenever DAM is invited to perform, it frequently happens that because they’re Palestinians, there is almost always an Israeli counterpart to balance them out. It’s as if they can’t stand on their own; they have to have an Israeli equivalent to legitimize them.”

Elgrably booked the group on the recommendation of Raya Meddine, a statuesque Lebanese American actress who served as the event’s spirited host.

In California for only two days, DAM had performed at Stanford and Chapman Universities before finishing off their tour in downtown Los Angeles.

Levantine Center board member Nile El-Wardani, who picked up the three rappers, their Jewish Israeli DJ and their French manager at LAX, said everyone was professional and polite. She added that the group was disappointed with the small crowd.

“They’re used to performing in front of huge audiences in Europe, and they asked me, ‘Why do you think people didn’t come?'” El-Wardani said. “I told them that it’s hard to put on any show that is Palestinian because people don’t understand what’s going on in Palestine.”

Spectator – Music First,


Even during the tensest days of the intifada, the four Jewish and four Arab musicians of the SheshBesh ensemble performed before mixed — and appreciative — audiences.

The ensemble’s fusion of western and Asian music and instruments can be heard Sunday, June 26, at Temple Israel of Hollywood, as part of the temple’s Nimoy Concert Series.

“This unique group of classical artists from the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), and their equally skilled colleagues from the Arab musical tradition, reflect the best of multicultural Israel today,” said actor Leonard Nimoy, who with his wife, Susan, is sponsoring the series.

Percussionist Bishara Naddaf has been with the ensemble since its beginning six years ago. His instrument is the deff, which looks like a tambour drum, and, in the hands of a master like Naddaf, can sound like an entire percussion section.

“I am a Christian Arab and my father did work on a kibbutz,” Naddaf said. “During the school year, we visit schools throughout Israel and perform for the students.”

When asked about attitudes among Arab and Jewishmembers of SheshBesh, which takes its name from a game similar to backgammon, Nadaff was effusive.

“We’re first of all musicians and human beings, and in that there’s no difference between Arab and Jew,” he said. “We love each other and we embrace each other.”

When it comes to discussing politics, “We talk a little among ourselves, but never in front of audiences,” he said.

Nadaff’s oldest friend on the ensemble is Peter Marck, who has been the IPO’s principal double bass since 1979 and helped found its educational outreach program to schools. Other musicians are Yossi Arnheim, the IPO’s principal flutist, violinist Wisam Gibran, Russian-born violinist Eugenia Oren-Malkovski and vocalist Haya Samir, a Jerusalemnite of Egyptian heritage.

Two masters of oriental instruments are Alfred Hajjar, who specializes on the flute-like ney, and Ramsis Kasis, who plays on and composes for the oud, the ancestor of the guitar and lute.

The concert by SheshBesh: The Arab-Jewish Ensemble, begins at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 26 at Temple Israel, 7300 Hollywood Blvd. Tickets range from $10-$25 for adults, and $8-$20 for children and seniors. For more information, call (213) 805-4261.

 

Secular Fans Hip to Religious Rapper


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He’s into rap, hip-hop, reggae — and religion. He’s not a Christian rocker; he’s a Chasidic reggae/hip-hop musician.

Matisyahu is the artist formerly known as Mathew Miller — until he found God, Lubavitch-style, almost five years ago.

The 25-year-old certainly beats to his own drummer. Over the last several years he’s played packed houses, garnering a following with Jews and non-Jews. He’s a regular on the New York club circuit, and always takes to the stage in the requisite black suit and white shirt. And he gets his groove on with a kippah on his head and his tzitzit flying.

On April 10, Matisyahu will work his magic in Los Angeles at a sold-out concert at the University of Judaism.

There are a handful of Orthodox musicians who use their Judaism in their lyrics, but Matisyahu seems to be one of the few who has managed to appeal to both Jewish and secular audiences. After Matisyahu performed at a secular nightclub in Iowa in January, an online magazine review said, “The crowd responded equally to his religious and secular utterances. Matisyahu certainly made converts of a few from the crowd, but whether it was to reggae or to Judaism is impossible to say.”

Matisyahu doesn’t appear to find anything incongruous about his hip-hop Chasidism. The soft-spoken young artist said it’s what has made him so successful.

“There’s never really been a religious Jewish voice that modern-day Jews and non-Jews alike can relate to,” he said.

The Lubavitch-style tradition, he said, is something others who have taken the same path can connect with: the heritage, the religion. “While this is the focal point of my life, at the same time I’m still a person that grew up with American culture and listening to American music, and I combine the two.”

The lyrics used in traditional reggae music, he says, originate from the same place as his own work: the Torah. “The Rastafarians base a lot of their on the Psalms and King David.”

In “King Without A Crown” Matisyahu sings:

What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Givin’ myself to you from the essence of my being
Sing to my God all these songs of love and healing
Want moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing

Many of his other songs speak of the yearning to connect with God and change the world. “Having one God is not just a Jewish concept,” he said. “Everyone can connect with that.”

While growing up, Matisyahu was heavily into all forms of alternative music, particularly reggae.

“A person’s life is in phases,” he said. “When you go through a new phase, you don’t kill the old you or forget who you were or where you came from.”

Mathew Miller came from White Plains, N.Y., where he grew up in a traditional Jewish household. His main Jewish education was twice-weekly Hebrew school classes, for which he came close to being expelled because of his disruptive influence.

A restless teenager with little interest in his studies, he turned to music, finding solace in beat-box rhythms, hip-hop and reggae.

Like many youth searching for something, Miller’s journey from Matthew to Matisyahu was an evolution and included a life-altering 11th-grade trip to Colorado, where the vast landscape made him realize there was a God.

Nonetheless, he dropped out of high school, turned to drugs and alcohol, and drifted aimlessly. But a trip to Jerusalem, and a chance Shabbat evening service at the Carlebach Shul on New York’s Upper West Side, eventually put Matisyahu onto the path he now treads today. He calls Crown Heights home.

The Chasidic melodies, raucous singing and the flower-power vibe of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s legacy, helped Matisyahu delve deeper into both his musical and Jewish soul, ultimately finding peace, solace and meaning in his life in the Lubavitch world.

Today he focuses on spreading the message of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe — with his music. “He said we’re supposed to take the things that we do and tell the world about the moshiach, and about God.”

At his concerts, he uses psalms, quotes from the Torah and anything else to fulfill the commandment to be “a light unto the nations” — albeit with a heavy Jamaican tone.

How does he reconcile Orthodox Judaism with performing on stage — particularly when he himself has said he has to avert his eyes at some clubs because the women are not dressed modestly enough?

“Those who know me know that as an artist this is my way of fulfilling my role and doing tikkun olam,” he said, referring to the Hebrew for “healing the world.”

One of his greatest supporters is his wife. A little-publicized fact, Matisyahu was married last August to an NYU film student. The couple is expecting their first child later this year.

In the meantime, Matisyahu is busy touring the country.

“I hope that people will enjoy my concerts and come away with a sense of truth and pride in who they are and where they come from,” he said. “And everybody can hopefully learn and discover what their mission is here.”

The 8 p.m. show has sold out. A 10:30 p.m. show has been added on Sunday,
April 10 at the UJ. Tickets are $25 each.

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Stein Scores Grammy


 

In the midst of all of the glamour of the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, one could easily miss the hurrahs of one local cantor. But it was a proud moment for Chazzan Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, one of a group of musicians honored Feb. 13 with an award in the Best Children’s Music category for “”cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins.”

The album honors the work of Jenkins, the Chicago-raised singer-songwriter dubbed by the media as “the first lady of children’s folk music.” Jenkins created such classics as “Miss Mary Mack” and “You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song,” sung on “cELLAbration” by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Cathy Fink, respectively. (Fink was also the album’s co-producer, along with performer Marcie Marxer.) Other artists on the album include Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin and the University Park Children’s Ensemble.

A previous Grammy nominee for his 1999 children’s album “Dreamosaurus,” Stein was asked to score the music on “cELLAbration” for Jenkins’ tune “Rushing Around Russia.” Stein noted how Jenkins influenced the careers of many children’s music artists, including his own, from her beginnings as a performer at various Jewish Community Centers in Chicago.

“It wasn’t silly, sing-song rhyme anymore. She [Jenkins] gave credit to children’s intelligence and imagination,” Stein said. “She gave the music real honor, real kavod. I’m very proud to be a part of this album.”

Stein is well-known locally for his devotion to bringing unique forms of music into Jewish celebrations, crafting services for Temple Aliyah centered on folk, jazz, bluegrass and swing music.

Asked what continues to attract so many people to folk music, Stein said “It’s a very honest idiom. It speaks truthfully about experiences and life. It’s centered around rhythm, and children like that, they like to be able to repeat things. You find that rhythm also in hip-hop, but it’s a hard sound, almost scary. Folk music is very warm and nonthreatening, very purely done.”

 

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday

Disabled artists make headway today thanks to the Irene Vaksberg Salon. The hair salon-by-day becomes an art space this evening, offering a forum for work by emerging artists with disabilities. “Readings From Explore and Express” features works by blind photographer Michael Richard and ceramicist Beth Abrams.

7 p.m. $10. 7803 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 939-7400.

Sunday

Jerusalem-born artist Rhea Carmi is one of eight early and mid-career artists whose work appears as part of TarFest Art Show 2004. According to her Web site, her body of mixed-media pieces “depicts brutality and insanity of war and its resultant human suffering both physical and spiritual.” The exhibition is part of the Miracle Mile Players’ Festival of Film, Music and Art being held this weekend, but remains on display at Lawrence Asher Gallery through Nov. 6.

5820 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. www.tarfest.com.

Monday

Fashion designer-cum-musical producer Max Azria and BCBGMaxAzria Entertainment compatriot Charles Cohen are honored tonight by AMIT Cherish the Children. The Israeli organization provides religious and general education in the form of 60 schools, as well as youth villages, surrogate family residences and other programs. The gala dinner benefits the AMIT network of schools in Israel.

5:30 p.m. $300+. Luxe Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 859-4885.

Tuesday

Tonight, those not yet sick of the political season get one last dose of wit before Big Tuesday. Parlor Performances and Harris and Frank Productions present the next and last installment of “Entertaining Politics: Six Tuesdays of Post-Conventional Wisdom,” with “philosopher-comedian” and Harvard grad Emily Levine.

7:30 p.m. $25. Magicopolis, 1418 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 471-3979. www.entertainingpolitics.com.

Wednesday

With hopes to become an annual event, The Century City Film Festival kicks off this year featuring films falling under the banner of “Camp, Cult, Classics,” and raising much-needed money and conversation on behalf of minorities in entertainment. Tonight’s benefit lasts through Friday and gives to the Minorities in Broadcasting Training Program.

Oct. 27-30. (877) 723-6887.” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday

Simians get center stage at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery’s new exhibition by celebrity photographer Jill Greenberg. A departure from her usual subject, “Monkey Portraits” is true to its title, featuring portraits of apes, who, through Greenberg’s lens, begin to look remarkably human.

Through Dec. 11. 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-0765. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Friday

Sure, ventriloquism can be creepy in the same way that uncle who used to pull a coin out of your ear always kind of freaked you out. But David Strassman has got the stuff, if you believe anything the Brit and Irish critics say. His one-man/many-puppet show “Dummy” was well-received on that other continent, so check out his latest, “Strassman,” for yourself. Just leave the kids at home for this decidedly grown-up puppet show.

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $14-$16. 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 769-7529.

Seeking Klezmer at the Source by Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

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When Yale Strom created his first klezmer band in 1981, he promptly bought a one-way ticket to Eastern Europe. While other groups in the emerging klezmer revival were transcribing old-world music off 78s, Strom intended to “find songs that existed only in the memories of Jews who still lived there,” he said.
Scholars scoffed as he packed his backpack, violin and tape recorder: “After the Holocaust, they assumed the Jews who had returned to their former homes had succumbed to communism,” said Strom, 47, a leading klezmer musician and scholar.
He proved them wrong during his year-long 1981 trip, the subject of his new memoir, “A Wandering Feast: A Journey Through the Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe” (Jossey-Bass, $24.95), co-written with his wife, Elizabeth Schwartz. This Jewish “On the Road” records his musical detective work as well as songs and recipes he encountered.
It all began when he arrived at Zagreb’s Jewish old age home on a drizzly night; the next morning, 79-year-old Rut sang the “Waltz From Senta” she had danced to at her cousin’s wedding in Szeged, Hungary as a girl.
In Kosice, Czechoslovakia, Strom sloshed through eight inches of snow to the shul on Zvonarska Street, where the shammes cried as he remembered how his mother, who had died in Auschwitz, had loved Yiddish songs.
To capture the zmiros the man and his friends sang on the Sabbath, Strom strapped his tape recorder to his leg and turned it on as the elderly Jews pounded their fists against the chipped, wooden table covered with siddurim, crumbs and shot glasses.
In the Carpathain Ukraine that spring, he traveled by horse and cart to perform with a Rom (Gypsy) band at a wedding and was so inspired that he improvised a song, “On the Road to Salang.” When the musician returned to the United States in 1982, he brought back more than just 50 obscure songs for his band to perform.
“I felt I had literally walked the paths where our forbears had walked, whether they were marching to the chuppah or the gas chambers,” he said.
If Strom is now renown as one of the world’s most prolific klezmer aficionados (he’s completed 10 books, eight films and nine CDs), he traces his passion to the journey.
“I learned not to take any day for granted, because you may not know where you’ll be the next day,” he said.

Batsheva Blurs Artistic Borders


During “Naharin’s Virus” a provocatative dance/performance piece that the Batsheva Dance company will excerpt this week at UCLA, a dancer holds chalk in her hand, dragging it through her body movements: Arching her back, outstretching her arm, she trails Hebrew words on a blackboard.

In the piece, the mood changes from torturously languid to controlled chaos in an instant, and while its message is ambiguous, its energy is, like the title, viral — easy to catch and hard to shake.

“Naharin’s Virus” (2001), a melding of performance art and dance, was inspired by the play “Offending the Audience” by Austrian playwright Peter Handke.

This weekend, 15 dancers from Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company will perform an excerpt from “Naharin’s Virus” and eight other works by chief choreographer Ohad Naharin at UCLA’s Royce Hall. This ensemble of dances is titled “Deca Dance” and it reflects the stimulating avant-garde style that has been associated with Batsheva since Naharin assumed his role of artistic director in 1990, and then house choreographer in 2003.

Before that, the 40-year-old Israeli company that was founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild was languishing without true stylistic direction. Naharin, a dancer by training whose works have been produced by dance companies all over the world, infused the company with his hurtling energy. Batsheva became synonymous with intrepidity, innovation and, in some cases, controversy.

“I think the strength of the work is my inability to describe it,” said Naharin, who spoke with The Journal from his hotel in Montreal. “It is not about conveying an idea, it is about experiencing. It is like if you ask me to describe the smell of fresh air — this is the same. It is something you have to experience.”

Naharin said that his work is about virtuosity and efficiency.

“It is about trying to diffuse the difference of what is classical, what is sacred, what is conventional, what is mathematic, what is scientific, what is beautiful and what is awkward,” he said. “It cannot be put into one category, [because] it is about the diffusion of the borders between things and creating something that is right for the work. My work shouldn’t and will not be identified with religious, national or ethnic connotations.”

Despite swearing off connotations, Naharin’s work was not created in nor is it reflective of a political vacuum. He is an outspoken critic of the Israeli government’s conservative policies. He favors land for peace and dividing Jerusalem, and he is aware of his work pushing boundaries. He has been castigated by some of the ultra-Orthodox for blending the sacred with the profane by using traditional music, such as the Passover melody “Echad Mi Yodeah?” (“Who Knows One?”) as the music for some of his more provocative performances. In 2001, at the height of some of the worst politically inspired violence in Israel’s history, Naharin collaborated with Israeli Arab composer Habib Alla Jamal to create “Naharin’s Virus.”

“I saw Jamal and his musicians in a performance and really loved their music and it worked, it clicked [with my dance],” he said. “For me, life and politics really mingle, and what is personal and what is political also mingle. For me [collaborating with Jamal] was about meeting a very talented group of musicians, but I cannot detach myself from the connotation of it. I was aware of what it could create, I am aware of the associations, but it was not the heart of my decision. The political stuff is a byproduct, not the aim of my work.”

For the 17 dancers in the company, who come from all over the world, Naharin’s work is allows them a freedom of movement.

“Naharin is a partner,” said Yaniv Nagar, a former dancer with the company and current company manager and stage manager. “If you do these pieces you have to give from yourself, and have a lot of creativity in yourself to express it. I was in a neoclassical company before, and there everything was set. [Batsheva] was not just movement, but an opportunity to bring something personal to it. We don’t carry any political flags, we just do art in Israel and individually everyone can connect to it in his own way.”

The Batsheva Dance Company’s “Deca Dance.” 8 p.m. on
March 19 and 20 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. For tickets, $17-$45, call
(310) 825-2101 or visit www.uclalive.org .

Shtetl Rock ‘n’ Roll


Much to the chagrin of cultural nationalists in places such as France, no culture seems immune to the seductive rhythms of American pop and rock. Fed by a steady diet of American TV and movies, young musicians from places as disparate as Zimbabwe, Paraguay, New Zealand, Mynamar and Egypt have learned to combine their indigenous folk music with U.S.-born-and-bred rock — making for a kind of transglobal, world-beat music with a heavy blues and R&B influence.

It has taken a while, but Yiddish music has finally caught up with the rest of the world in swinging to the rock ‘n’ roll beat. While Yiddish popular music was dealt a near-death blow by the Holocaust, it has been undergoing a fertile revival for the past 20 years.

While much of that revival has focused on picking up where the music left off in 1945, driven in large part by nostalgia for a lost world, the cutting edge of Yiddish song is advancing the music through the natural evolution that would have occurred had there not been a violent break in the chain in the mid-20th century.

The latest and one of the greatest examples of this can be found on "Goyrl: Destiny," the new recording by singer Wolf Krakowski. The follow-up to "Transmigrations: Gilgul," Krakowski’s new recording posits him as a kind of Yiddish Willie Nelson, singing a mix of Yiddish folk, theater and art songs in roots-rock arrangements worthy of the Byrds and the Band — the latter, like Krakowski, a group of players originally hailing for the most part from Toronto.

Born in a displaced persons camp in Austria, son of Polish-Jewish survivors, long-haired, black-leather-jacketed, poet, vagabond and itinerant musician, Krakowski is the Jewish bad boy, the one who turned his back on college, hit the road with his guitar, hopped rides on trains and worked at odd jobs.

His mentor was the late Mississippi bluesman Big Joe Williams, with whom he used to room. Yet Krakowski now performs the music beloved of the generation that perished during the war. He sings Yiddish songs with a deep tenderness, respect and knowledge of what happened to the people of his mama loshen (mother tongue) — all with a driving blues rhythm. Think "Fiddler on the Roof" laced with Bob Dylan.

Krakowski isn’t the only musician of his generation finding common ground between Yiddish and rock ‘n’ roll. Bands at the cutting-edge of the klezmer revival, such as the Klezmatics, Brave Old World and Klezperanto, have noticed how naturally the Ashkenazic modes blend with a funky beat.

Groups, such as Mikveh, Pharaoh’s Daughter and Golem, and singers, including Adrienne Cooper, Michael Alpert, Judy Bressler and David Wall, are finding correspondences between Joni Mitchell and Molly Picon, Paul Simon and Moishe Oysher.

Krakowski, however, is the first to give voice fully to the songs of Itzik Manger, Shmerke Kaczerginski, Sholom Secunda and Mordkhe Gebirtig in the style of contemporaries such as Tom Waits, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen.

When Klezmatics trumpeter and all-around Yiddish music maven Frank London first heard Krakowski’s music on "Gilgul," he thought it was what Jewish music would have sounded like had the Holocaust never happened. So he signed on as producer for "Goyrl" and gave the singer’s second album — which includes instrumental help from Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and saxophonist Charles Neville of the famed New Orleans group, the Neville Brothers — a more refined, spare sound. It emphasized Krakowski’s timeless baritone, the haunting melodies and the heartbeat rhythms.

The core musicians in Krakowski’s band are neighbors from the rural Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts that Krakowski now calls home. Bassist Ray Mason, drummer Bob Grant and Jim Armenti — who handles duty on guitar, mandolin, violin, bouzouki and saxophone — can often be found together playing as the Lonesome Brothers in area bars and honky-tonks. That experience pervades the sound of "Goyrl," and is no doubt partly responsible for the authenticity of Krakowski’s unique, electric shtetl-rock.

Kicking off "Goyrl" is "Tate-Mame" ("Father and Mother") by Benzion Witler, a Polish singer, actor and songwriter who died in 1961. The song begins with luminous guitar licks.

The lyrics are darkly existential: "Our lives are only empty dreams/Mindlessly rushing by/We ask time, allow a little happiness/It vanishes at the doorstep."

"Not all Yiddish music was frailikh, cheerful," Krakowski said from his Northampton home, which he shares with his wife, Yiddish scholar and singer Paula Parsky, known as Fraidy Katz. "There’s an expectation that I’ll be a frailikhmeister."

"In the minds of most people," he said, "Jewish music is klezmer. I like it, but that’s not my music. Sometimes I think my dead relatives, who were so brutally silenced, are channeling through me. Singing in Yiddish is how I touch them."

Krakowski introduces the dark, the sexual and the ironic in traditional Yiddish songs by Oysher, folksongs such as "Khvel Shoyn Mer Nisht Ganvenen" ("No More Will I Steal"), and the sophisticated music of conservatory-trained Emil Gorovets, whose "Tife Griber, Royter Laym" ("Deep Pits, Red Clay") is propelled by a syncopated reggae beat. Manger’s "Mit Farmakhte Oygn" ("With Eyes Closed") is drenched in pedal steel guitar, and Abraham Levin’s "A Shod Dayne Trern" ("A Waste of Your Tears") finds common ground between tango and surf-rock.

Krakowski’s vocals are tinged with pain and compassion born of witnessing firsthand the suffering of his survivor relatives. He sings "Hundert" ("One Hundred"), a counting song by an anonymous concentration camp inmate, accompanied only by a ghostly tsimbl. Krakowski also breathes new life into the familiar Joan Baez hit, "Donna, Donna," which began life as a Yiddish song with lyrics by Aaron Zeitlin and music by Secunda. Krakowski’s version restores the song’s horror at the slaughter of the innocent goat.

Even the seemingly easygoing, breezy, country twang of Witler’s "Lomir Trakhtn Nor Fun Haynt" ("Let’s Just Think About Today"), sung as a George Jones and Tammy Wynette-style duet by Krakowski and his wife, is belied by lyrics that in translation ask, "Who knows? Will a time come, and the two of us will be separated, and never see each other again?"

Both of Krakowski’s CDs are issued as part of John Zorn’s aptly titled "Radical Jewish Culture" series on Zorn’s label, Tzadik. Though Krakowski’s music celebrates Yiddish language and culture, it is most likely to be found on the world music charts.

"It’s a thrill to see yourself on record charts with Bob Marley, Femi Kuti and the Gypsy Kings," Krakowski said. And even more, he added, to hear his reggae-filled version of the traditional folk song, "Shabes, Shabes," being played on a Berlin radio station while he was visiting Germany in 1997.

His last CD, "Transmigrations," was nominated the Record of the Year for 2001 by the German magazine Folker."It’s a good thing I have a capacity for irony," he said. "Because singing in Yiddish is my personal, ongoing epithet to Hitler."

For more information, visit

Behind the Music: The Wedding Singer


In the 1998 hit comedy "The Wedding Singer," the eponymous character was a nice Jewish boy named Robbie. At the Sept. 2 Century City Park Hyatt reception of 30-something newlyweds Daphna Ghozland and David Hollander, the wedding singer is a nice Jewish boy named Robbie. True, the latter — singer/pianist/bandleader Robbie Helperin — will occasionally perform the odd ’80s pop song with his Simcha Orchestra as Adam Sandler did in the movie, but that’s where the parallels end, or at least, that’s where Helperin would like them to end.

"It was kind of painful to watch," Helperin said of the movie that immortalized his profession as a "Loserville" populated by "creepy musicians," in his words.

But this 39-year-old Jewish band performer doesn’t see his job that way. "Part of my drive has been to dispel the stigma of the job by making it as phenomenal as it can be," Helperin said.

The job of a wedding singer is unlike that of other musicians, like a rock star or concert pianist, because a successful wedding band is one that you notice — and one you don’t. It’s the soundtrack of your wedding, but it’s also the background music.

"I want people to be comfortable speaking," Helperin said. "I don’t want to be the kind of performer that takes away from the bride and groom. At the same time, you need to be control. You say as little as possible but as much as you need to get the job done."

While Ghozland, a psychologist, and Hollander, an optometrist, helped Helperin narrow down the song list for their Labor Day wedding, they trusted Helperin enough to let him choose most of the material.

"Robbie’s very organized, which certainly helped," Hollander said. "I told him I wanted to dance all night. I didn’t want any rap. Basically dance music from the ’70s and ’80s."

At his Beverly Hills office, Helperin has binders filled with music culled from dozens of cultures. He uses the latest computer software to keep clients and schedules meticulously organized and cross-referenced.

For the big fat Jewish wedding, Helperin offers a wide variety of styles: Klezmer, Moroccan, Yemenite, Persian, Israeli Folk, Chasidic, Yiddish, Musica Mizrachit, modern Jewish rock, modern Jewish funk and modern Jewish disco.

"Most Jews are exposed to a very tiny percentage of the Jewish music out there," Helperin said.

Ghozland also needed some French standards to entertain her father’s Algerian-French side. The Simcha Orchestra offered "La Vie En Rose," the Moroccan tune "Porom Pom Pero" and, for the father-daughter dance, "Under Paris Skies" — all sung in French.

Helperin was a 24-year-old aspiring pop star who counted James Taylor and Billy Joel as inspirations when he joined the Simcha Orchestra, which was founded 20 years ago by Jerry Katz, a guitarist who had once performed with Shlomo Carlebach. "At the time, I had hair down to my shoulders," Helperin said, "Jerry asked, ‘You a musician?’ I said, ‘Yes.’"

Over time, Helperin’s role within the band expanded. After Katz made aliyah to Israel, Helperin inherited the Simcha Orchestra on June 5, 1993.

"The same day the business became mine was the day I got married," Helperin said. But he and the band didn’t perform at his own wedding. "My wife told me to take the day off."

With a wife to support and the details of his rapidly growing endeavor to oversee, Helperin put aside his pop-singer dreams. Under Helperin’s leadership, the Simcha Orchestra amassed a roster of musicians who have performed with Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and Woody Herman, and have played for Steven Spielberg, Bob Dylan and Quincy Jones.

The band’s present lineup includes guitarist Tom Bethke, bassist Chris Haller, Bob Faust on trumpet, Joel Lish on viola and singer Sareet Atias. Drummer Jay Setar has been with the band since the early 1980s. Recent additions include cellist Jan Kellie, trombonist Rob Kaufman, and violinist Jonathan Dysart.

Percussionist Jeff Stern — a Burbank resident who recently played at "Hallelu" and has worked with Craig Taubman, Sam Glaser and Debbie Friedman — had his very first Jewish gig under Katz’s Simcha Orchestra.

Woodwindist Geoff Nudell, who reconnected with junior high school pal Helperin six years ago, admitted that he does not get too sentimental doing weddings and b’nai mitzvah. "It’s a job. I don’t mean to sound callous, but I don’t have any emotional commitment," Nudell said.

Some gigs can be trying, especially religious weddings, which can demand long, uninterrupted performances from the band.

"The schedule is such so that there’s continuous music and intensity," said Nudell, who has played bass clarinet for the TV series "Monk" and on the "Undercover Brother" soundtrack. "Typically, the average hora is 30-45 minutes nonstop, so that can be taxing."

Helperin still dreams of returning to his original singer-songwriter aspirations. But for now, he has a wife, a 4-year-old boy and a 9-month-old girl to provide for.

"I really like what I do," Helperin said of leading the Simcha Orchestra. "It’s got a little element of everything I ever loved about music — I get to orchestrate and arrange, conduct, I get to sing, I get to make people happy. The only thing I miss is the songwriting. I’m still looking forward to getting back to that one day."

World Briefs


Princeton, MIT Professors Win Nobels

A professor with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship is sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences. Daniel Kahneman, 68, based at Princeton University, is sharing the roughly $1 million prize with professor Vernon Smith, 75, of George Mason University. They were given the award for their work using psychological research and laboratory experiments in economic analysis. On Monday, H. Robert Horvitz, a professor at MIT, was announced as one of three winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Israel Dismantles Three Settler
Outposts

Israeli soldiers dismantled three uninhabited settler outposts in the West Bank. Wednesday’s move came after Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer pledged to remove all illegal enclaves, including populated ones. The head of the army’s Central Command on Wednesday presented settler leaders with a list of some 24 outposts due to be dismantled within a week, Israel Radio reported. Settlers asked to be allowed to appeal before steps are taken, according to the report. On Tuesday, settler leaders accused Ben-Eliezer of targeting the outposts for political reasons. His detractors allege that his stance on the outposts was taken in an effort to win votes from the dovish wing of the party as he fights for reelection as Labor Party leader in November.

Israel Transfers Funds to Palestinian
Authority

Israel transferred nearly $15 million in tax money to the Palestinian Authority. The money was the third and final payment of Israel’s promised transfer of some $42 million in tax revenues that Israel had refused to turn over to the Palestinian Authority since the outbreak of the intifada two years ago. The latest transfer was approved following U.S. pressure on Israel to ease the economic hardships of the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.

Students Sue Mich. U

Two students sued the University of Michigan for hosting a Palestinian solidarity conference. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, is intended to force the university to cancel the conference, slated for this weekend, on the grounds that it “violates free speech by inciting hatred against Americans and Jews,” according to Rick Dorfman. Plaintiffs Dorfman and Adi Neuman head the Michigan Student Zionists campus group, which is supported by Aish HaTorah, the Zionist Organization of America and Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha.

Israel to Close Fuel Depot

Israel’s central fuel depot, a feared target of mega-terror attacks, is to be closed by January. Infrastructure Minister Efraim Eitam decided in consultations Oct. 2 with the director general of the Pi Glilot facility that the fuel stored there would be moved to other installations around the country. Pi Glilot is located near densely populated areas north of Tel Aviv. An attempt earlier this year to carry out an attack at the site failed when a bomb planted beneath a tanker caused only a small fire.

Two Israeli Women on Fortune List

Two Israelis have been included in a list of the most powerful women in business. Bank Leumi President and CEO Galia Maor and Strauss-Elite Group chair Ofra Strauss-Lahat made Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business list, to appear in the Oct. 14 issue. Maor was ranked 34th, while Strauss-Lahat placed 46th on the list of 50 women.

Crown Heights Riots Retrial Likely

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for a third trial stemming from the 1991 Crown Heights riots. The high court decided this week not to consider a defense request to throw out charges against Lemrick Nelson stemming from the riots in Brooklyn. During those riots, Yankel Rosenbaum, a Chasidic man, was fatally stabbed during violence that followed the death of Gavin Cato, an African American child hit by a car in a Chasidic motorcade. In January, after an appeals court overturned the convictions of Nelson and Charles Price for civil rights violations in the 1991 murder of Rosenbaum, citing technicalities, the Anti-Defamation League wrote the Justice Department to continue the case. The department’s civil rights division subsequently affirmed the office’s commitment to “continue to pursue meaningful and serious punishment” against Nelson. Price struck a plea bargain in April for 11 years and eight months in prison, but Nelson’s case is still pending.

Y.U. Bequest Now Worth $36 Million

Yeshiva University plans to begin awarding scholarships from a multimillion dollar bequest to the school. The scholarship and loan fund was created after Anne Scheiber, a retired New York civil servant, left $22 million to the school when she died in 1995. The bequest was invested during extended probate hearings and is now worth $36 million. Beginning with the current academic year, students enrolled in Y.U.’s Stern College for Women and those attending the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who previously graduated from Stern will be eligible for the scholarship.

Report Slams Publisher’s Wartime Past

German media giant Bertelsmann used Jewish slave labor and made large profits by selling millions of anti-Semitic books during the Nazi era, according to a commission set up by the firm. The commission also said in a report issued Monday that the longtime company contention that it was a victim of the Nazis was a lie. According to the commision, the Nazis closed the firm in 1944, but probably because the Nazis’ own publishing house wanted to kill off competition, not because of any subversive texts published by Bertelsmann. When Bertelsmann became America’s biggest book publisher by acquiring Random House in 1998, it had said it was prosecuted by the Nazis for its theological works. Accepting the report, the company immediately issued a statement expressing regret for its wartime activities and for subsequent inaccuracies in its corporate history.

Campus Anti-Semitism Blasted

Hundreds of college presidents blasted anti-Semitism on college campuses in a New York Times ad that appeared Monday. Spearheaded by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Task Force on Anti-Semitism, the statement was created in response to campus activism on the Middle East that in some cases has veered into overt anti-Semitism.

The letter was initiated by James Freedman, former president of Dartmouth College and chair of the AJC’s Domestic Policy Commission. It follows a September speech by Harvard University’s president in which he said that some activities of the campus anti-Israel movement are anti-Semitic.

Musicians on Solidarity Tour

Three American musicians arrived in Israel on a solidarity tour sponsored by the United Jewish Communities. The “Gift to Israel” tour was organized in response to reports that international artists were avoiding appearances in Israel because of the security situation. Andy Statman, Peter Himmelman and Steve Hancoff were due to team up with Israeli musicians in a series of performances around the country.

Lanner Plans to Appeal Conviction

Rabbi Baruch Lanner plans to appeal his conviction for sexually abusing two teenage girls. Lanner, 52, was sentenced last Friday to seven years in prison for fondling the two students between 1992 and 1996, when he was their principal at the Hillel High School in Ocean Township, N.J. The judge denied Lanner’s request for a new trial and for bail pending appeal of the sentence, instead ordering him to prison.

Museum to Act on Artwork Claim

The British Museum said it may return four Old Masters drawings seized from a Jewish collector by the Nazis during World War II.

According to surviving family members, the 16th- and 18th-century drawings were part of the collection of Dr. Arthur Feldmann, a Czech citizen who died during the Holocaust.

Feldmann’s family has spent years searching for his collection of more than 750 drawings, which was seized by the Gestapo.

On Oct. 2, The museum called the family’s claim “detailed” and “compelling,” according to Reuters. A spokeswoman for the museum said the works may be returned to the family, or they will be paid compensation.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

What’s in a Name?


Eric, Matt and Chris are three musicians who refuse to give away their last names. But if you guessed it was out of a lack of ethnic pride, you’d be wrong.

"I’m a pretty high-profile Jew, whether I like it or not," says singer-songwriter Eric. "It’s hard to hide when you’re in a band called JEW."

Priding itself on its pop rock, JEW has been generating some buzz with its name and its music. "Don’t Speak French" got some alternative rock station rotation this year. In May, JEW scared up good press while performing at Las Vegas’ EAT’M Festival.

The unsigned band was working out of a Hollywood studio with a producer on the then-untitled tune, "Threw Your Love Away," when The Journal caught up with them earlier this year. Their demo’s other tracks include the brooding, Nirvana-esque "Notice Me" and the 1980s pop-influenced "12/31" and "Sugarfly."

"If you put us in a mix tape with songs of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, we fit right in," Eric says of his relationship-obsessed songs.

Not bad for a band whose guitarist had no musicianship several years ago.

"I couldn’t even hold a guitar," says Eric, a former personal trainer who was taught an unorthodox technique by Guitar World editor-in-chief Brad Tolinski in exchange for some fitness instruction.

"He told me, ‘You’ll literally be able to play in two weeks,’" Eric says.

"Nobody plays guitar the way I play. I couldn’t play a bar chord if you put a gun to my chest. Subsequently that’s what makes our sound so different."

"I’ve always been enamored by his drive and his naivete," says JEW’s drummer, Chris. "He’ll walk into a room and ask a musician, ‘What chord is that?’ and they’ll give him this look. Eric never has that kind of guard. It catches people off guard and it’s very disarming."

Eric grew up in Farmington, Maine, where he says he was the only Jew in school.

"[My parents] had this mutual dream of living in the woods in Maine. It was a great upbringing, but the one thing that I missed was any strong Jewish culture experience."

Oddly enough, Chris — the obvious non-Jew of JEW — had a mirror-image upbringing.

"In Potomac, Md., I was one of three goys in the neighborhood," Chris says. "When I was 13, I went to bar mitzvahs all [the] time. I knew how to make hamantaschen and I sang ‘Hava Nagila.’"

In 1995, Eric and Chris met in New York and formed an early version of JEW. By 1998, they found themselves in Los Angeles, where Chris has become something of a polyhyphenate — acting on TV series such as "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Homicide" playing "rednecks and yuppies," and getting three screenplays optioned, including one with Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films. Eric and Chris later met up with Matt, an old friend from their New York days who describes himself as "a total Jersey suburb Jewish kid." Shortly before New Year’s 2001, JEW — with Matt on bass — was born again as an L.A. band with a Viper Room show.

One of the band’s key attractions is its name, which JEW’s non-Jew has no problem with.

"People who will normally breeze by the name, get more involved with it," Chris says.

Eric adds, "I came up with it because the word is bold and powerful. In certain cases it’s a drawback, and in certain cases it’s been a positive. One [record company executive] told me, ‘I’ve had a hundred demos and the only reason I chose it was because it had the word JEW on it.’ But I also got a call two days ago from a high-powered manager who felt that the music was great, but was unwilling to work with us unless we changed our name."

"If we do," Eric continues, "it loses its fun and edge. We have no intention of changing it. JEW is here to stay."

Sweet And Loeb


Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb is eating a tuna sandwich and a spinach salad, talking about “Cake And Pie.”

In a voice as sweet and knowing as her wistful folk-pop, she says the point of her new album is that in life, as on the dining table, you can have your cake and eat your pie, too. “As weird as it seems, the best way for me to keep healthy and keep my weight down is to eat a little of everything,” the petite, famously bespectacled chanteuse-guitarist explains between bites at an Encino cafe. “If somebody offers me cake or pie, I say, ‘I want both!’ It’s a feeling of no limits. In the music business, and in a lot of businesses, you often hear the words, ‘No. it’s not going to work.’ But things can work. You can make things happen.”

Loeb — whose musical debut was in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at her Dallas Jewish Community Center — should know. Back in 1993, she was temping by day and working New York clubs by night, all without a manager or a record deal. But she did have a famous fan, the actor Ethan Hawke, who lived across the street from her Greenwich Village apartment (he used to call down to her from his second-floor window). When the fetchingly rumpled actor suggested Loeb’s lilting ballad, “Stay (I Missed You)” for the soundtrack of his 1994 Gen-X flick, “Reality Bites,” the singer suddenly found herself sharing album space with U2. She also starred in a coy music video, directed by Hawke, that appealed to MTV viewers burned out on gloomy grunge rock.

Loeb became the first unsigned artist to have a number-one single, making her one of the first female folk-rock musicians to emerge in a trend that would later include Jewel and Alanis Morrisette. Six major record labels vied for her services; a Grammy nomination ensued.

“It was a bit overwhelming,” concedes Loeb, who also had to deal with critics who questioned whether she was a one-hit wonder. “Some of my friends and family thought I was changing, but I was just busy. I was managing myself, as well as [doing] just basic things, like making sure my hair looked good on TV.”

Besides “Cake And Pie,” there is a distinct duality to 33-year-old Loeb — and it’s not just the contrast between her perky, retro-’60s look and her melancholy lyrics about ambivalent lovers. In person, she’s cerebral and girlish, wearing funky-granny glasses and a ponytail. She’s a pop culture diva who loves opera and has a comparative literature degree from Brown University.

And while her shows suggest Americana (she hopes to bake an apple pie onstage during 2002 shows), some of her earliest musical influences hail from her childhood Jewish community.

The first time Loeb played acoustic guitar in public was at Dallas’ Camp Chai, where, she says, “We changed the words of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ so they dealt with ‘cabin number one’ instead of ‘that lady.'” Musically, she says she related more to the “singalong songs” she learned at camp than to the “very dissonant, modern classical music” she heard at her Reform synagogue.

At her elite girls’ prep school, where she was one of only a few Jews, she refrained from singing the obligatory Christmas carols. Classmates attended a cotillion at a club that barred Jews, but that didn’t prevent Loeb from serving as class president or starting to write songs at age 15.

Even then, her lyrics were angst-ridden: “In my family life and my school the focus was always on keeping everything together, putting on a good face and trying to be pleasant and polite,” she explains. “For me, songwriting was a time to let everything else come out.”

The habit continued as Loeb formed a singing duo at Brown, burst on the national scene with “Stay” and released her 1995 debut album, “Tails,” which went gold. Her 1997 CD, “Firecracker,” featured her hit single, “I Do.”

By now her career trajectory is as famous as her frames, but Loeb has also embarked upon a quieter, parallel journey: her exploration of the spiritual side of Judaism. It began about six years ago “as I was getting of the age when I would hopefully get married and have children,” she says. “And — my parents would say, unfortunately — I’ve been dating men who are not Jewish, which means I have to really think about and be able to explain to somebody else, what I believe.” Loeb notes that she’s currently dating Dweezil Zappa, son of the late subversive rocker Frank Zappa: “He’s very anti-organized religion, which has really put my beliefs to the test,” she says.

To learn more, Loeb’s been reading books such as Rabbi Ted Falcon’s “Judaism for Dummies” and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s “The Book of Jewish Values” and attending a variety of synagogues around town (she favors Traditional services).

“Every time I go to temple, I think, ‘Why don’t I go more regularly?'” she says. “It’s almost like going to a shrink — you know if you go at least once a week it gives you time to think about where you are. And it allows you to connect with your community.”

It makes sense that Loeb, the self-proclaimed bookworm, would connect through charities that focus on reading. She’s participated in celebrity readings for Koreh L.A., The Los Angeles Coalition for Literacy and a CD project to benefit the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

Has her Judaism affected her songwriting? “It’s perhaps my tendency to be very analytical, to ask questions and to overquestion.”

With her musical career melding seamlessly with her faith, Loeb’s clearly having her cake and eating her pie, too.

“Cake And Pie” (A & M Records) hits record storesFeb. 26. For information about Loeb’s April concerts in Los Angeles, go to www.lisaloeb.com .

‘Strange Fruit’ and Stalinism


Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

David Margolick, writer of books and articles on legal issues for The New York Times and Vanity Fair, has hit a raw nerve with his haunting book, “Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Cafe Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights” (Running Press). The book is an account of the scalding impact of one song – a song about a lynching – on scores of Ameri-can activists, writers, musicians, artists and intellectuals.

When I interviewed him, Margolick told me of how he discovered “Strange Fruit”: “I got into Billie Holiday 15 years ago and bought a record. When I saw the song’s title, I thought it might be a sort of goofy long song with that playful title, kind of exotic and sexy. So I was utterly unprepared for what it actually was. I was amazed by two things: what it was about, and that I didn’t know about it.

“I fancied myself a student of civil rights a little bit. I grew up reading about it, caring about it, and I never knew anything about this. So I sensed there was a void. I always had at the back of my mind to write something about it. It stayed and grew in my mind. I just knew there was a story.”

“Strange Fruit” was written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher, who used the nom de plume “Lewis Allan,” combining the names of two of his children who died as infants.

Meeropol, a Communist who adopted the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 when they were executed as Soviet spies, first wrote the song as a poem, later setting it to music, when he saw a photograph of a horrendous lynching in a civil rights magazine. In 1939, Meeropol brought the song to Barney Josephson, the owner of Cafe Society, a legendary, integrated Greenwich Village club. Josephson gave the song to Billie Holiday, who made it indelibly her own.

Columbia refused to record the song, and Holiday took it to Milt Gabler, a producer who ran his record label out of his Commodore Record Shop in Manhattan. Gabler recorded it, and it has never gone away. In recent years, the song has been performed by Nina Simone, Tori Amos, Cassandra Wilson, Sting and UB40.

“Decades later,” Margolick writes, “the experience of listening to, and watching, Billie Holiday perform ‘Strange Fruit’ – her eyes closed and head back, the familiar gardenia over her ear, her ruby lipstick magnifying her mocha complexion, her fingers snapping lightly, her hands holding the microphone stand as if it were a teacup – lingered in many memories.”

As Pete Hamill has commented, “Strange Fruit” was not concocted by a songwriter with a fedora and a cigar sitting at a piano in the Brill building hoping for a hit. It put a searchlight on one of the ugliest facets of the American experience from 1889 to 1940, when, according to a study by the Tuskegee Institute, 3,833 people were lynched in the United States, 90 percent of them in the South.

Margolick’s concentration on just one song’s impact is an illustration of the power of the written word to change and transform our lives. I will never forget my own epiphanies of this kind – among them Kay Boyle reading James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” to my writing class at the New School for Social Research when it came out in The New Yorker.

I come to Margolick’s book from a somewhat unique perspective. While writing my novel about the Rosenbergs, “Red Love,” I researched the Communist Party’s deeply cynical and exploitative role in the campaign supposedly to free them (in fact, the party, at Soviet direction, wanted nothing of the kind). I also drew upon my own personal adolescence experience, when Communist historian Herbert Aptheker, chronicler of slave rebellions, with his blazing red hair and equally blazing eyes, gave his last lectures at the crumbling Jefferson School of Social Science after Khrushchev’s speech about Stalin’s crimes in 1956.I loved to watch Aptheker; he was highly intelligent, and there was an inspired lunacy about him.

Sometimes he started “talking black.” And sometimes he turned his back to the class for long periods of silent contemplation. We would wait patiently. Stalin’s words of inspiration were on the blackboard, and in a shaking voice, Aptheker defended Soviet troops in Hungary and quoted a Brecht poem that Communists did not kill, they stopped killing. Yeah, right. I remember Aptheker once whispering to me that Tennessee Williams was “on our side,” that Stanley Kowalski was a “splendid revolutionary,” and that Williams’ plays were magic (he was right about that).

Aptheker also told me of his own youthful days risking his life battling Jim Crow in the South. On that score I believed him then and I do today. American Communists could betray a good cause in a heartbeat (and Ralph Ellison writes brilliantly of their abrupt abandonment, literally overnight, of Harlem in “Invisible Man”), but like other ideologues, if instructed to do the right thing, they could do it with passionate hearts and sometimes even do it well.

Which brings me to the only difficulty I have with Margolick’s elegant and compact book, as enduring an achievement as it is. Margolick uses the word “progressive” to denote everything good, and that includes Henry Wallace, his leadership of the Communist-dominated Progressive Party, and the Communist Party itself. By not critically examining the party’s historic role, Margolick almost unwittingly lends himself to the currently fashionable revisionist view of the party as somehow, maybe in spite of itself, a force for democracy-that it really was indigenous, radical and progressive, and not a servile defender of a brutal, anti-Semitic and murderous Soviet status quo that embraced the Hitler-Stalin pact, barbarous repression and concentration camps.

Abel Meeropol’s great and beautiful song helped pierce the American conscience and transform society, and that is almost entirely what David Margolick’s book is about. But there is an inherent problem in embracing an ethos that somehow suggests, if only by historical omission, that democracies have “no enemies on the left.” Stalin and Pol Pot, among many others, would hasten to disagree.

Russian Artists on Display


It’s common knowledge that the Jewish exodus from Russia in the late 1980s brought to Israel a flood of talented artists and musicians. Less well known is that many came to the United States as well. On Sunday, Jan. 24, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will spotlight the works of a half-dozen of these artists in a slide show and discussion, “An Afternoon with Jewish Artists from the Former Soviet Union.”

You’ll see the works, meet the artists, and marvel at the conundrum of a society that could help produce such brilliance, only to treat it so miserably. The program and slide show begin at 4 p.m., followed by a reception and viewing at 5:30. The artists featured are:

Vladimir Derkach: Born in Moscow in 1964, Derkach has already gained an international reputation for his intense, romantic studies of nature, landscapes and cityscapes.

Irine Fire: Artist, writer and illustrator, Fire began to draw only in 1991, but her work has already attracted the attention of collectors and galleries around the world. Her creations, saturated with color and cramped with images, buzz with warmth and light — as if a lifetime of pent-up creative energy is bursting through in each canvas.

Zoya Ivnitskaya: She was already an acclaimed set and costume designer throughout the former Soviet Union when her paintings began to show at galleries in Moscow and Kiev. Her work uses elaborate color schemes and inspired detail.

Ann Krasner: A highly trained scientist in her native Moscow, Krasner had never picked up a brush until she received a set of watercolors as a present from her husband on her 30th birthday. Since then, Krasner has walked away with first prizes in art competitions, sold out gallery shows and been sought after by museums and galleries from Los Angeles to Paris. Her mostly large, allegorical works use bold colors and striking figures to explore themes of love, nostalgia and longing.

Alex Shagin: An internationally acclaimed coin designer and metal sculptor, Shagin combines his awesome technical skills with an eye for telling detail. His numerous works depicting significant events and outstanding individuals in history are coveted by collectors.

Peter Vegin: In his native Russia, Vegin was famous as both poet and painter. Though a critic of the Communist regime, he managed to publish 14 books of poetry, two of which he illustrated himself. His poetry is informed by images of the great painters, and his painting conveys much of the romance and precision of good poetry. — Rob Eshman, Managing Editor