Spirituality in Art ‘Underground’ artist finds inspiration in Jewish mysticism

LONDON — The underside of one of London’s busiest train stations is an unlikely place to find a room full of Kabbalistic imagery. Yet, located under Waterloo station, south of the River Thames, is Gallery 223, now showing the works of artist Simone Krok, whose main inspiration comes from the Kabbalah.

Taking center stage in Krok’s most recent exhibition, which opened on June 5 and will run through June 18, is a 4-foot, 2-inch high bronze ring upon which are etched the 10 aspects of Sephirot, the Kabbalistic concept for the 10 aspects of creation. It’s one of the more well-known themes found in Kabbalah and has captivated Krok throughout her career.

As a student at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the South African-born artist concentrated on Kabbalist symbolism. In the years since, she has made a point of studying spirituality as well as Judaism and currently learns with the rabbi and his wife from her local synagogue in London.

“I like it when people look at my work and have a personal response,” said Krok, 46, whose soft-spoken nature is at odds with the violence found in some of her work. “I don’t want to say ‘this is what you have to see.’ People should take away from each piece whatever it is they get from it rather than what I feed them. The art should speak for itself and have a life of its own.”

Titled “Paradise Lost,” after John Milton’s epic poem, it is Krok’s first solo exhibition and features elaborate sculptures, smaller pieces of intricate bronze jewelry as well as two multimedia pieces. It is a show of paradoxes in that it incorporates the themes of creation and destruction, heaven and hell and war and peace. It’s also noteworthy for the range of media the artist employs: bronze sculpture, collaged canvas, digital animation and plates of resin and steel.

One of the more interesting and upbeat pieces in the exhibition is a bronze sculpture of a baby fixed to the underside of a wing shaped like the Hebrew letter yud. According to Krok, the wing represents both the wing of an angel and the scapula on a woman’s back, the place where babies in South Africa are often carried to keep mother’s hands free. This baby, unlike many of the other broken babies on display in the exhibition, is protected.

This piece also demonstrates the influence Krok’s South African upbringing. Though she describes her childhood as sheltered and isolated from the reality of apartheid that was happening around her, it’s a theme that has greatly influenced how she approaches her art.

“I don’t believe there are new ideas or themes but a layering of existing ones,” said Krok, 46, whose history is as varied as her work. “My work is a culmination of my personal experiences.”

Krok has studied in her native South Africa, Australia and Tel Aviv and earned degrees in subjects ranging from classical civilization, animation and digital media to jewelry engineering, all of which she considers influences on her work. In particular, her work with metals led to the creation of extensive sculptures, or as she describes them, “turning little things into big things.” She now lives in London with her 12-year-old daughter.

For “Paradise Lost,” Krok worked for about a year to prepare the pieces, some taking weeks to complete and others up to six months.

“Every piece I work on, I have a love-hate relationship with,” said Krok, who has also spent time living in Berlin and Los Angeles. “There always comes a time that I want to throw it in ocean and never look at it again. Especially if a piece is taking a long time to finish.”

Current events also strongly influence the pieces on display. In the colorful “Sequence of Many Levels of Deception,” newspapers are used for the base of 12 collages, framed and hung in three rows of four.

“When I was working on the pieces for this exhibition, I was feeling very affected by war, by what happened in Paris, by the girls who were abducted in Africa,” said Krok, whose work sells from several hundred dollars to more than $23,000 for the larger bronze sculptures. She added, “We are so exposed to horrific things that we become desensitized to what’s going on.”

“Most of the work explores themes such as war, death, creation and destruction, and the underworld cave-like setting of Gallery 223 is a fantastic place to consider the somewhat darker underbelly of our existence,” said Alex Wood, gallery manager and curator of the exhibition.

One of the most striking — and disturbing — works in the exhibition is an interactive piece entitled “War Games.” The viewer is asked to spin a wheel to determine the color of the wax-work baby that the viewer will then place in an entanglement of barbed wire.

“Krok deals with questions and themes that are relevant to each and every one of us. The viewer does not need to know anything about art to find some meaning,” said Wood. “The work may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it certainly doesn’t take an appreciation of art to leave an impression.”

Rachel Stafler is a freelance writer from Baltimore lives in London.

The Many Lives of Arnold Clapman Renaissance man reconnects to Judaism in Baltimore as he continues lifetime of making music, art

Five years ago, Arnold David Clapman came to Baltimore, as he said, with his tail between his legs. His marriage had ended, as did his many art classes — which during his 25 years in California included teaching at-risk youth and incarcerated men — when funding dried up. California just didn’t feel like home anymore.

He hadn’t lived in Baltimore since 1962, when he left upon graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art to head to the cultural epicenter of Greenwich Village in New York City. No longer feeling the warmth of the Northern California sun, and with some encouragement from his Baltimorean sister, Arnie Clapman packed up to start over again, like he had done many times before.

“Five years out, it’s a whole new chapter,” he said. “A whole new door opened. I was just treading water when I first came here.”

Clapman, 75, whose life has been a whirlwind of making art and playing music, now finds himself playing congas — his longtime instrument — with a variety of musicians in Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community, and the music has connected him to Judaism in a way he had only previously dreamed of. And as a resident of the Weinberg House on Old Court Road, Clapman screens movies for the residents three nights a week, provides monthly cartoons in the newsletter and even fixes his neighbors’ TVs and remote controls.

“I’m the punk kid on the block,” he joked. Clapman even has a girlfriend. “I could be a millionaire, but I don’t think I could be richer. I have everything. What I have money can’t buy.”

Clapman’s reconnecting to Judaism through music is essential to being Jewish, said Guitars of Pikesville owner Joshua Polak.

“Music is at the core foundation of Judaism … That’s the spark that ignites when everything of consequence takes place,” he said, referring to biblical stories such as when Miriam led the Israelites in song after crossing the Red Sea, as well as modern customs. “It’s at the core of who we are. I’m not just talking about music, I’m talking about any sort of artistic expression where all artists find ourselves.”

A look around Clapman’s two-room apartment shows that his life has been anything but ordinary. There are photos of him with famed folk singer Richie Havens, the first performer at Woodstock with whom Clapman had an artistic, musical and business relationship, and of Muhammad Ali signing a painting Clapman made for him; Clapman illustrated a children’s book for Ali and sketched him for DC Comics. There’s at least a dozen swords on display — replicas from “Kill Bill,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and “Excalibur” — die-cast fighter planes and at least seven congas in plain sight, with his two stage congas set up and another propped up with a tuning wrench sitting on top of it.

An easel sits across from his desk in his art and music room. Inside the closet, along with congas, are printouts of his demon paintings, based on “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” considered an important book in occult history.

“They’re not really idols, I don’t worship them,” he quipped.

The artifacts help tell Clapman’s story, from his time playing music and drawing portraits in Greenwich Village — where he played with everyone before they got famous — to Boston, where he had three children and joined a jazz-fusion band that would later get a record deal and take him back to New York, then to California, where he would teach art to those who may have needed a creative outlet the most.

Baltimore Beginnings
Arnie Clapman was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Baltimore when he was 2 years old, which is how young he was when he first exhibited his artistic abilities. His parents used to draw him pictures, his father in pencil when Clapman was learning to talk and his mother on a slate chalkboard to entertain him. She drew a bird one day, left the room, and when she came back, there were two birds.

“So, I don’t know whether I was a born artist or a born forger,” Clapman said. Drawing occupied his free time at home, where he spent his evenings after school taking care of his young twin sisters along with his other sister, Nannette, who is two years younger than Clampman. Both of his parents worked. “I liked just drawing stuff, but it didn’t really take off for me until I was old enough to read the Sunday funny papers. That was my first exposure to art that I wanted to be able to do.”

Comics like “Prince Valiant,” “Flash Gordon,” “Dick Tracy” and “Tarzan” piqued his interest, as did animals, dinosaurs and monster movies.

“We lived in a very small house. … My brother would make these animals, life-sized animals out of cardboard like a jaguar and various snake things, and my sisters, if they had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, these things would be sitting there and scare the hell of out them,” Clapman’s sister, Nannette Blinchikoff, recalled.

As a student at the Talmudical Academy, Clapman wanted to be able to draw comic book versions of biblical stories as well. As he went on to high school at Baltimore City College, he was emulating the comic-book artists he idolized and working with pen and pencil. But after winning a nationwide patriotic poster contest with his design of a kid saluting a flag, his mother, Terri, hired a local artist to give him lessons, which opened his world to other mediums such as charcoal and watercolor paints.

“I wanted to master them,” Clapman said.

She also got him enrolled in adult art classes at MICA while he was still in high school, and the quality of his work landed him a four-year scholarship at the school.

At the same time, his mother, who Clapman said “what she lacked in funds she made up for in contacts,” got him a job on The Block playing congas at the Rainbow Lounge. It would lead to the other gigs, including drumming for exotic dancers, which helped Clapman pay for books and art supplies.

“At night I had a different life. During the day I was studying art and falling asleep a lot because I was working all night,” he said.

A friend who acted as his agent got him a gig with pioneering bebop jazz drummer Max Roach, who would ultimately inspire Clapman to head to New York after college. While playing the song “Caravan” at a gig at a black club called Estelle’s on North Avenue, Clapman’s hands started bleeding a bit from playing the up-tempo tune.

“I went into the men’s room and while I was bandaging it up — because I was embarrassed, I didn’t want anyone to see — Max followed me into the men’s room, and he said, ‘You’re really good, kid, but you’re never gonna find out how good you are staying here in Baltimore, you gotta go to New York,’” Clapman said. And he listened, taking off for Greenwich Village in 1962, when “everything was just starting,” and got himself a storefront apartment with oriel windows on West 16th Street off 6th Avenue.

The ‘Electric’ Village
“It was like going into Never Neverland, like wonderland, it was just magical,” Clapman said. “You could sense that something really big was getting ready to happen there. It was all about entertainment and music and just the arts, and I just walked into it; it was amazing. I don’t think I got home for almost a week. I slept at a different place every night.”

He would become house percussionist at Café Bizarre, where he would back countless acts including calypso bands, Havens, The Smothers Brothers and The Ronettes, the latter of which he’d accompany to Harlem, where famed record producer Phil Spector taught the ladies their future hit “Be My Baby.”

As he was playing music and making his own art, he was drawing portraits to make extra money. It was at a portrait studio one night where he met Havens, the famed folk singer who would give the opening performance at Woodstock in 1969 and pen the anthem “Freedom.” Havens also drew portraits to make extra money.

“Before that, I didn’t talk to him. I used to watch him play, he was magic. I used to drop everything just to watch him play at the Bizarre,” Clapman said. “So did everybody else; the waitresses, waiters, the whole place would stop. Richie would start singing and everything would stop. He was just hypnotic. It was like nothing else that anybody had ever heard.”

The two struck up a friendship, and Clapman performed with Havens all over the Village, meeting greats such as Bob Dylan. He even shared the stage with icons Carlos Santana and Thelonius Monk.

“The air was like electric,” he said of the Village. “It was like the center of the world.”

But he only stayed a few years. Clapman married actress and dancer Nancy Hall and moved up to Cambridge, Mass., with her in the mid-’60s. The couple would have three children.

In Boston, Clapman took his art skills to Harvard University, where he drew dinosaurs and plants for gift shops and scientists and performed fossil restorations, a dream-come-true for some who drew dinosaurs as a kid. When archeologist Louis Leakey found the “ape-man” skull, believed to be an ancient relative of humans, Clapman was the first to draw it in America, he said.

“All this crazy stuff happened to me,” he said. “It’s being in the right places at the right time.”

All this time, Clapman continued playing music and making art on his own terms. He earned himself a reputation for being a good funk player, which landed him local gigs as well as musical run-ins with Miles Davis, around the time of his “On the Corner” album, and The Staples Singers.

“To this day, my daughter Madeleine [Hall] is a blues singer I think because Mavis [Staples] held her in her arms when she was a baby,” Clapman said. “The music came from somewhere.”

Hall remembers the kind of music her dad was playing back in those days.

“It was very experimental avant-garde jazz,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I don’t know that I recognized it as music at the time. But it was cool having people around playing instruments.”

Clapman was recruited for super-band Baird Hersey & The Year of the Ear, which he described as an 11-piece band with a huge horn section and three drummers playing “avant-garde jazz rock.” It would take Clapman back to New York, where the band cut three albums under a contract with Arista Novus Records, and he reconnected with Havens.

California Dreamin’
Clapman and Havens, along with the folk singer’s longtime manager, Marcia Wolfson, formed ARM Productions (for Arnold, Richie and Marcia), which entailed Clapman working on art and music with Havens.

During this same period, Clapman created comic-book art for Heavy Metal magazine and art projects for Muhammad Ali and Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong.

ARM Productions would take Clapman to California, where he and Havens hoped to get in early on special-effects technology. They used top technology and a created a demo reel showing their colorization and film restoration skills using “King Kong.” Although Hollywood studios were interested, the project never came to fruition after millions of dollars in startup funds fell through.

With seven years of work down the tubes, Clapman decided to stay in California and met a woman who took him up to Santa Cruz, which he called “the most beautiful place I’d ever been.”

“I’d never been any place like that. I was a city boy,” he said. “The surfing capital of the world and redwoods and mountains and nature like I’d never seen. Big Sur, Monterey, unbelievable.”

Clapman started teaching adult art education: caricatures, cartooning, portraits, illustrations and watercolors. But he wasn’t making enough money, and his lifestyle caught up to him.

“I had hit a bottom. In 1991, it all kind of crashed. I was homeless and wanted to stop, couldn’t stop,” he said, referring to drinking and drugging. Although a car accident nearly killed him, it wasn’t until he was threatened with jail time that he decided to get clean.

“The problem all my life was that drinks were always on the house wherever I went, and the drugs were pretty much free, particularly when I was well known. I had dealers following me around,” he said. Even in California, where he was lesser known, “it was still there, all around me.”

He got sober, and through his recovery groups met a woman he would marry and a guy who became his best friend and bandmate, Joey Bryning, with whom he would form “sober band” Crazy Heart.

In the mid-’90s Clapman started working as an overnight counselor at a group home for troubled juveniles, “mostly gang kids,” he said. While on the job, he would work on freelance art projects.

“My wife would give me a pot of black coffee … so I could stay awake all night, and I would do illustrations,” he said. “Kids started sneaking out of bed to watch me.”

Word spread to the kids’ counselors and then to their schools, and in no time Clapman was teaching more at-risk youth from Santa Cruz to the barrios to juvenile hall, where he was affectionately known as “Arnie the Art Guy.”

He opened his own nonprofit art school, and with the work of these kids and other teens, he published “Comix by Kids,” a diverse series of comics still very dear to his heart. Two of the kids from barrios even landed scholarships at prestigious art institutes because of their work.

“I get goose bumps just thinking about it,” he said. “I never saw that coming. … California turned into an amazing trip for me, that’s why I stayed there for 25 years.”

But Clapman’s California honeymoon came to an end. Funding for his teaching dried up, his marriage of 17 years ended, and his age was preventing him from running around the way he used to.

“Everywhere I looked were things I can’t do anymore,” he said. “It was like rubbing my old age in my face.”

He moved back to Baltimore feeling like a failure for having left California under those circumstances.

“I thought it was all over for me here,” he said. But the ever-adaptable Clapman soon made a new, rich life for himself.

A Rebirth in Baltimore
Blinchikoff, Clapman’s sister, reintroduced him to Baltimore and helped him get into the Weinberg House. Through a Chasidic rabbi, the son of one of the building’s residents, Clapman wound up playing with Israeli folk singer Oneg Shemesh at Congregation Tiferes Yisroel on a whim.

“We rocked the place,” Clapman said. “On the strength of that I got noticed by the Chasidic community and even though I have an earring, even though I wasn’t one of them, they took me in.”

He’s become a regular at Guitars of Pikesville, where he performs Sunday, and got a gig with the “Rockin’ Rabbi,” Avraham Rosenblum, known for his work with the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, playing with new band The Brisket Brothers.

“He’s one of those people you instantly fall in love with,” Rosenblum said. “He’s a very big-hearted individual, he’s a got a great sense of humanity.”

Added Rosenblum: “He’s a great conga player. He’s a total natural. It’s in his bones. It’s in his blood.”

Clapman, who has since purchased a “beautiful” talis, said he has everything he ever wanted now.

“What I wanted more than anything that I could never have was the joy, the joyous part of the religion. To be with people that love God so much it just comes bursting out,” he said, “Like Simchas Torah, I’m up on the bimah and I’m playing and the Torahs are dancing around me or I go to a Shabbaton over at Pearlstone and I’m playing congas and I’m soloing and all the rabbis are dancing in a circle. For a Jewish kid this is big stuff.”

Like Clapman, Polak reconnected with his own Judaism later in life.

“It’s something that never leaves you. I think it’s something you find truth in when you’re allowed to,” he said. “We find that when we’re allowed to experience Torah … when it’s not coercion and when it’s more a time of exploration, that’s when you get Torah and that’s what happened to him.”

Rivka Malka Perlman, a member of Tiferes Yisroel who first met Clapman at the Oneg Shemesh concert, said the Orthodox community is very accepting of Clapman in contrast to the Judaism he grew up with.

“[Back then] there was a strong sense of judgment and harshness: ‘You do it like this or you don’t do it at all.’ A very punitive kind of Judaism and judgmental,” she said. “I know in Baltimore, there’s a tremendous amount of diversity and acceptance. In the Orthodox community, the more cultural the better.” She’s seen people perk up when Clapman is introduced to them as a cartoonist or as someone who worked with at-risk gang kids.

Hall, who is 49 and lives in the Boston area, said she’s seen a lot of personal and spiritual growth in her father.

“He didn’t get the kind of recognition that other artists did. I know that at one point it was a big deal to him,” she said. “I think he’s in a different place now, a spiritual place. I think his priorities changed.”

Clapman, who is working on illustrations for a series of short stories written by his grandfather and namesake, Aaron David Schwartz, is now happy and comfortable in his Pikesville apartment, surrounded by mementos of his storybook life.

“These are fleeting moments and that’s why I like to surround myself with all this stuff, surround myself with my life,” he said. “It’s a whirlwind. It would make a great movie.”

See Arnie Clapman perform as a featured guest Sunday, June 21 at Guitars of Pikesville, 806 Reisterstown Road, Suite 6, Pikesville. Music starts at 6 p.m. Visit guitarsofpikesville.com or call 410-415-5400.


A Musical Summer

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia hosts a diversity of musical acts and festivals this summer. (Provided)

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia hosts a diversity of musical acts and festivals this summer.

This summer, Baltimore residents can catch jam bands, pop-punk heroes, classic rock icons, alternative rock giants, comedy, orchestral performances and a variety of up-and-comers at the region’s various outdoor venues.

“There’s nothing like seeing a concert outdoors,” said Toby Blumenthal, director of rentals and presentations at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. “That’s what summer’s all about: being outside and really enjoying the atmosphere.”

Between Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion, the city’s music and art festival, Artscape, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s outdoor shows, concertgoers can find any genre quite literally under the sun.

Merriweather hosts a variety of top performers this summer, from the newly wildly popular Sam Smith (July 24), pop-punkers Fall Out Boy with rapper Wiz Khalifa (June 27), ever-evolving rockers My Morning Jacket (July 26), neo-soul queen Erykah Badu (Aug. 8), two days of jam-band giants Phish (Aug. 15 and 16), country star Darius Rucker (Aug. 22), alt-rockers Death Cab for Cutie (Sept. 13) and up-and-coming blues rockers Alabama Shakes (Sept. 18).

Several shows stand out for Audrey Schaefer, spokeswoman for I.M.P., which operates Merriweather and the 9:30 Club, including Willie Nelson, who performs with Old Crow Medicine Show on Aug. 19.

“This guy’s still got it, man, I don’t know how. He’s 82,” she said. “When I grow up I wanna be like him.”

O.A.R. will be setting what Schaefer thinks must be a record by playing at Merriweather for the 11th season in a row.

On the heavier side of things, the punky Vans Warped Tour comes to the venue on July 18 and is the one show that boasts what Schaefer calls a “parents’ depot,” a tent for parents to hang out in while their kids watch the bands.

Faith No More makes a triumphant return to the area on Aug. 2. “I know there are a lot of near-40-year-olds losing their mind about them,” Schaefer said of the band, which hasn’t toured in decades.

“There’s nothing like seeing a concert outdoors. That’s what summer’s all about: being outside and really enjoying the atmosphere.”

For classical music, one can head to Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville, where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra continues its annual tradition of the Star-Spangled Spectacular on July 3 and 4, which features fireworks at the end of each performance. The symphony is also bringing “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane to sing American standards and perform comedy on July 16 in Baltimore, and then it’s on the road to The Mann in Philadelphia on July 18. The symphony also performs “Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions” (July 1) and the music of Led Zeppelin (Aug. 1) this summer.

“The summer, for us, is an opportunity to play around with the calendar and really do some unique programming,” Blumenthal said.

Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion, located in the Inner Harbor, also boasts a diverse array of artists this summer. The venue hosts alternative rock heroes Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional (June 17), explosive acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriella (June 20), John Fogerty performing Creedence Clearwater Revival songs(June 22), gypsy punks Gogol Bordello and Irish punks Flogging Molly (June 25), progressive jam rockers Umphrey’s McGee and funk band Lettuce (July 19), comedian Jim Gaffigan (Aug. 11), guitar maestro Santana (Aug. 26), The Doobie Brothers and Gregg Allman (Sept. 2), among others.

To top it all off, Baltimore City hosts the nation’s largest free art festival, Artscape, July 17, 18 and 19. Headliners include funk pioneers George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, reggae rockers Michael Franti & Spearhead and New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue alongside a variety of local and regional bands on three stages.

“This is an area that has a really sophisticated audience in that there are so many people here that are passionate about music and different flavors of music and different styles,” Schaefer said.

While Baltimore is sometimes skipped on big national tours in favor of Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia, Blumenthal said a lot of artists see the value in coming to Baltimore, especially the older ones, given the city’s history with rock music. Merriweather, while showcasing a variety of American music icons, also features a lot of newer artists and focuses more of the younger generation of music fans, Blumenthal said.

“I think that what’s great about this market is you can do any kind of show, whether it’s a bluegrass festival all the way to the heritage artist or newer, younger artists, and there’s always a crowd,” he said. “There’s always a demographic that supports these kinds of concerts.”


A Philharmonic Journey Huberman’s music comes to Gordon Center to mark 70th anniversary of WWII

Last Sunday, attendees at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills were transported back to the days of World War II, but in a manner that no one has done before.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, Sundays at Three Sinfonia performed selections by Polish-Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman in a concert titled “Exile to Freedom.”

During the war Huberman put his career on hold to recruit Jewish musicians throughout Europe who were in danger of being captured by the Nazis. He obtained visas, entrance documentation and funding to secure the passage of the musicians and their families to what was then known as Palestine. He launched the orchestra in 1936.

Sunday’s performance featured seven selections that had been performed by the original orchestra in Tel Aviv almost 80 years ago, including Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” — a composition that consists of two movements and alternates between a mellow and frantic pace. Conductor and violinist Ronald Mutchnik said Schubert wrote the symphony in order to illustrate that the work of oppression is “never finished.”

The Gordon Center performance featured selections by Polish-Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. (Photos Provided)

The Gordon Center performance featured selections by Polish-Jewish violinist
Bronislaw Huberman. (Photos Provided)

“He felt he had to show the world our work is never done,” said Mutchnik. “We must fight against tyranny and anti-Semitism.”

Mutchnik, who is also music director for the Howard County Concert Orchestra, co-founded Sundays at Three 18 years ago following the death of Daniel Malkin, a cellist who played in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The orchestra consists of a collection of musicians from the Baltimore-Washington area and plays mainly chamber music. He has known most of the musicians for 30 years.

“It was about seven or eight years ago that we began to form an orchestra together on our own with these musicians,” Mutchnik said of the current group.

He said after watching the film “Orchestra of Exiles,” which tells the story of Huberman, he became curious as to whether anyone had re-created the first concert given by the Palestine Symphony, later the Israel Philharmonic.

After Mutchnik looked at the original program and saw no one had re-created it, he decided it was “high time” to do so.

“Huberman basically felt that he had to save the lives of these musicians that were no longer allowed to perform in the countries that they had been born in and studied music in,” he said.

Mutchnik became interested in classical music from an early age upon learning the story of how his uncle, Allyn Leavey, became a German prisoner of war.

“Before his capture he had met a fellow soldier who shared with him his love of classical music and said ‘you’ve got to listen to Brahms and Beethoven and Mozart and all of these great composers,’” Mutchnik said.

Leavey then wrote to his mother and instructed her to get the recordings, which he was finally able to hear after he returned safely home.

“Because of that, my mother brought me up to listen to classical music,” said Mutchnik, “and I learned to love it so much so that’s the most basic reason any of this was even possible.”

Susan Kleinberg, who lives in Columbia and attended Sunday’s performance, said she was inspired by the unlikely pairing of music with a time of tragedy.

“The choice of playing this again and reliving something that happened in the 1930s was particularly powerful for me,” said Kleinberg, “because of everything going on in the world today, and it all seems to be falling apart. And somehow this gave me some hope that we can work together without violence and without hatred.”

David Gradwell, who is involved with the Howard County Concert Orchestra, also attended and said he was impressed with Mutchnik’s vision.

Gradwell said, “I thought it was a fantastic concert and a great occasion to commemorate.”

Forging a New Vision Josh Kohn embraces new role as performance director at Creative Alliance

Less than a week before heading to China for a tour sponsored by the New Orleans-based public radio show “American Routes,” the Chinese government clamped down on all outdoor festivals. Club appearances with audiences greater than 600 people were canceled too.

With three ensembles — Treme Brass Band, Los Tex Maniacs and Wylie and the Wild West — set to depart for the April 27 through May 3 tour, Josh Kohn worked his Beijing contacts and managed to book venues on the fly.

Josh Kohn (Photo by David Stuck)

Josh Kohn (Photo by David Stuck)

The 34-year-old’s exuberance, network and ability to work in a fast-paced environment are among the reasons he was appointed as the performance director for the Creative Alliance this past fall, taking the reins from Megan Hamilton, who departed for her next adventure with the Peace Corps.

“It was really interesting to be in a city having its issues while things were going on in Baltimore,” said Kohn. “I think about things artistically [about the comparatively] loose nature of American artistic expression.”

Walking through the Creative Alliance space at The Patterson Theater in Highlandtown, Kohn contends that “every art space has its own energy” and at the Creative Alliance that means the “weird, eccentric is embraced,” as evidenced by the Monday morning remnants of the Mad Max themed Marquee Ball from the weekend before the initial interview.

Using his “encyclopedic knowledge” of music, Kohn is responsible for booking 110 shows a year in the first-floor versatile black box theater performance space. He’s brought in polka music, Egyptian artists to perform music from their country’s golden age, Pakistani spoken word performers and experimental jazz musicians.

If there doesn’t seem to be an obvious thread linking the performers Kohn books, it’s because he’s not stuck to a niche.

“I bounce around with my knowledge obsession,” he admits. “I live vicariously through the great art I help facilitate.”

Moving across the street to a quirky, independent coffee shop, Kohn continues to espouse his vision for the future.

The Creative Alliance will continue to “tap into community-based expression” through partnerships with local schools, the Hispanic community, the Baltimore Resettlement Center and others. Mainstays such as burlesque performances and intimate jazz performances aren’t going away, but the focus on hyper-local artists is going to be expanded upon.

Kohn envisions bringing in more nationally known performers, both to expand the audience’s exposure to other performers and to connect local artists with those on the national stage. He’s talking to agents about promoting local talent, so those artists in residence at the Patterson or living locally can earn a living that affords them to keep on creating.

He also wants to foster a more robust Jewish artistic presence. The national trend for Jewish artistic expression, he said, “has devolved into a cappella puns” which are “shlocky.”

“It disappoints me where we are,” he said. “I want to support good [Jewish] artistic expression,” pointing to successes like puppeteer Anna Fitzgerald of Red Ball Theatre’s retelling of the Purim story at the Wild Purim Rumpus hosted by Charm City Tribe at the Creative Alliance.

Prior to joining the Creative Alliance, Kohn spent 11 years as the Programming Manager with the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Silver Spring and served as Program Officer, Jazz and Traditional Arts at Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. The Bucks County, Pa., native, who graduated from the George Washington University with a degree in American Studies, also completed a competitive fellowship with Devos Institute of Arts Management, now housed at the University of Maryland.

Knowing what the organization, which will celebrate its 21st birthday in style next year, means to the Baltimore arts scene, Kohn is working to strike the right balance.

“I look at my position as both curating really interesting, powerful, transformative events here at Creative Alliance and also be a conduit for the community. I try to keep the lines of communication open for what the Creative Alliance should be,” said Kohn.

This month is another busy one for Kohn and Creative Alliance. Tonight marks the release party for the Bumper Jacksons — whom Kohn describes as “one part old mountain music, three parts New Orleans jazz” — and the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival and The Big Show Dance Party with Bachata Plus will take place in late June.


Sweetness of Freedom Memorial Day weekend welcomes Shavuot


(Photo ©Stock photo/Catherine Lane)

Memorial Day brings the holiday weekend that ushers in the beginning of everything summer. And Shavuot occurs at the same time, reminding us of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The Torah was given to the Jews, as their journey was one from misery to a country flowing with milk and honey. So, eating dairy on Shavuot commemorates the sweetness of freedom and the new life of the Jewish people.

And food is no exception for both celebrations. Fresh berries are making their early appearance, making me think about using them in dishes from light to hearty entree salads. What about making some good sandwiches for picnics at outdoor games? Don’t forget to try adding sun-dried tomatoes and a pesto spread for your regular turkey or even tuna sandwiches. Bring along some soft pita pockets, peasant bread slices, fresh sprouts, the filling and set up a mini-sandwich bar at your picnic!

Strolling through the produce, I see early strawberries and blueberries, but it’s those blackberries that really catch my eye. They are such a simple fruit — dark and juicy, and there is no question about their ripeness. Easy pickings. Eat them, bake them, and cook them, or simply garnish a fruit tray with them. It’s one of the “short harvest” things such as Honey Bell oranges in winter, fiddleheads and fresh peas. So grab them when you see them.

Here is a “buffet” of sorts to choose from that could enhance or create the holiday weekend menu.

• Enhance roasted cauliflower with a little sprayed olive oil and curry powder. Serve with fresh peas garnish.
• Warm two serving plates for hot foods by placing on top of your toaster oven while heating something.





A Music Man Memorial to beloved Pikesville native hit all the right notes

Steven Michael Stern (Provided)

Steven Michael Stern (Provided)

The room was filled with posters and statues of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest names — the Iron Lady, the Three Stooges and the Dark Knight — but the name on everyone’s mind that night at the Pikes Theater was not Christian Bale or Meryl Streep,  it was Steven Michael Stern.

Stern, raised in Pikesville, loved music from a young age and never stopped playing until the day he passed away from cancer at 47.

Although he hadn’t lived in the area for more than 20 years, his friends organized two memorial events, one on May 12 in Pikesville and the other in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where Stern lived with his wife and two children until his untimely death last month.

“He just started picking up instruments and playing them by the time he was 9,” said Maureen Kessler, Stern’s cousin. “He must have played 20 instruments.”

After discovering a passion for music, Stern joined a band, Prophecy, as a teenager.

“I think [the band] was very important because a lot of people knew him,” said Stern’s father, Linas Richard Stern.

Prophecy quickly grew in popularity through winning multiple battles of the bands.

“They were the cool, cute guys who played in a band,” said Danielle Stettner, another of Stern’s cousins.

Stern attended Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory and then the Berklee College of Music. After finishing school, he went on to compose with the world-renowned German film composer Hans Zimmer, under whose tutelage he helped to score films like “The Lion King,” “The Renaissance Man” and “I’ll Do Anything.” As the owner of Sternmusic/Catmandude Music he continued to score music for clients such as MGM, Fox Sports and CBS.

In 1999, Stern partnered with childhood friend Stuart Hart to create Selectracks Music Library.

“We’ve been friends since we were 10 years old,” said Hart. “He showed me my first guitar chords, and I ended up teaching him jazz proficiencies.”

Stern helped secure a deal to sell Selectracks to Bug Music, which was later acquired by APM Music. Immediately following both purchases, he was invited to serve as a senior vice president and vice president, respectively, for each company.

His last project, an APM custom music division called Resonate Music Group, boasts such credits such as “Lincoln,” the re-recording of the Baltimore Ravens’ fight song and “Hawaii Five-O. “

But one of Stern’s most notable accomplishments became the centerpiece of the memorial held at the Pikes. The celebration began with a video made by Allen Markow, a childhood friend and organizer of the event.

“Steven use to sit in his room and re-record scenes from videos with his own music,” said Markow.

The video Markow produced included pictures of Stern throughout his life with various family members and friends set to a background of music from Prophecy.

After watching the video, Stern’s friends did what he loved his entire life: They played music.

Stuart Keiser covered the song “Different Worlds,” originally co-written and produced by Stern. In 2012, the song reached No. 1 on the Australian iTunes charts after it was sung by a contestant on “The Voice Australia.”

Other performances at the Pikes included covers by Scott Lean and Scott Garfield, original members of the band Prophecy, Stuart Hart and Markow’s son, Alex, who performed Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” replacing the word “she” with “Steven.”

“He was our coast-to-coast music man,” said Kessler.


5K or Bouquet Unique ways to commemorate Mother’s Day

Participants in the Maryland Half Marathon and 5K, founded by Michael Greenebaum and Jon Sevel of Pikesville, are raising funds for the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, a research and teaching facility gifted by Greenebaum’s father, Stewart, and named in honor of his mother, Marlene, a two-time breast cancer survivor.

Now in its seventh year, the race, which typically falls on Mother’s Day weekend, has raised more than $2 million for cancer research, some of which has directly affected Greenebaum’s mother.

“Part of what I like about this whole story,” said Greenebaum, “is that I’m raising money for research,” and it’s Dr. Angela Hartley Brodie, professor of pharmacology and researcher at the Greenebaum Cancer Center who was so instrumental in developing a highly effective breast cancer treatment called aromatase inhibitors, the same class of drugs Greenebaum’s mother takes now, he said.

The race happens on May 9, in the Maple Lawn community of Howard County.

Jewish Women International is providing another special way to appreciate mothers. The Mother’s Day Flower Project is delivering a bouquet and small gifts to mothers living in battered women’s shelters across the United States for a $25 contribution. JWI will also send a Mother’s Day card to any woman a donor chooses to thank for being an inspiration and helping women in need.

“We started the Mother’s Day Flower Project to remember those women who are struggling to rebuild their lives and to remember those children, who are the youngest victims of abuse,” said Lori Weinstein, the organization’s CEO.

“People look forward to it every year,” said Faith Savill, community relations specialist at House of Ruth Maryland, Inc. in Baltimore, a recipient of the program for several years.

Savill said House of Ruth receives many vases of flowers, and they are displayed in common areas so all the clients can appreciate them. In addition, they receive dozens of bottles of OPI nail polish or other small beauty products for clients to choose from as well.

“When you’re experiencing trauma and you don’t have many things around you that belong to you,” she said, “it’s nice to be surrounded by things that are beautiful.”

To order a bouquet visit jwi.org/mothersday.


Scarf Maven

042415_scarfLocal businesswoman Terri Kane is best known to her national and international clientele as the “scarf maven.” Now she can add published author to her title with the release of her humorous memoir, “Scarf Maven Ties One On.”

With a whopping 28,000 scarves sold in the last four years, it’s clear that the Baltimore-based top-rated eBay seller’s shop is a vintage scarf collector’s dream. And with her background in costume design from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Kane is able to “separate the treasures from the trash.”

Among the longs and squares, silks and polyesters, shoppers can find collectibles from every era — 1940s scarves with “Made in Occupied Japan” printed on the label, paisley prints and Vera Neumann designs from the 1960s and bold patterns from the 1980s. In her hunt for quality scarves, Kane has come across Judith Leiber originals, Burberry, Valentino, Bob Mackey and an estimated six authentic Hermes scarves in good condition, which sold for approximately $300 apiece, a far cry from the $1,400 they may have originally retailed for.

Scarves, Kane said, are a more affordable way for women to wear a designer name.

“You may not be able to afford a Valentino gown or suit, but you can have a Valentino scarf or Hermes,” said Kane.

Though eBay is rampant with fakes, Kane has learned over time how to spot them. With fine European scarves, she explained, the hem is rolled in rather than under. Quality silk twill should have a cotton-like feel, and for vintage scarves, like classic Hermes, she looks for the names of commissioned artists’ embedded into the designs.

Kane ships orders nationally and internationally. This past week she shipped orders to Italy, France and Belgium and counts customers in Australia, the United Kingdom and Poland as regulars.

“It’s hard to find designs today,” she said. “It used to be that all department stores carried scarves, but now a lot don’t, or if they do, they’re very expensive.”

Though she is frequently asked to do shows, Kane has demurred, as it would disturb the meticulous scarf filing system she has set up in her home office. Only twice has she made exceptions.

Last year, when she was laid up in the hospital, her husband, Mike, got to speaking with the nurses. Somehow their scarf business came up in conversation, and soon an impromptu pop-up shop was running by Kane’s hospital bed with nursing staff and hospital administrators traipsing in out with their purchases. In a similar vein of making lemonade out of lemons, when their home was flooded and they had to stay in a hotel, the hotel’s staffers caught on to their business and bought up several of Kane’s lots.

After years of hearing the same questions — “How do I set up an online business? Where do you source your scarves?” — Kane decided it was time to pen a memoir, albeit one with a comedic edge. Woven through the 215-page book are helpful hints, family recipes and amusing anecdotes about the business and customers.

Though she does divulge some insight into where she sources her scarves — mostly through auction houses — don’t expect to find any customer lists. All names have been changed; even eBay is referred to by the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym VintageCartel.shop or V-Cart for short.

The best piece of advice she offers to those who ask is, “Listen to the customers, that’s the biggest thing. Tell the customers what you’ll do and do it. It sounds so simplistic, but you would be shocked by the number of people who won’t do that.”

Also threaded through the book are insights into the entrepreneurial couple’s past endeavors. Kane and Mike first went in on their own costume jewelry line in the 1980s and gained a following throughout the South, showcasing their wares in Atlanta and Dallas. With big box stores encroaching on mom-and-pop shops, Kane sold the business but retained the name Terriart.

The couple’s next foray into business was through chocolates.

“We sold to a lot of general stores, and they told us that they wanted something other than Russell Stover,” she said. “We went out and found a chocolate line when sugar-free started getting big, and suddenly, we were in the candy business.”

They transitioned that business into helping regional candy lines go national and others expand into the kosher market.

Kane began working on the book in earnest a year ago, though this is not her first foray into writing. She wrote for Charlotte Magazine and for the Charlotte Observer in her native North Carolina, and for nearly 10 years she has been the facilitator of the Baltimore Jewish Writers’ Guild, which meets monthly at the Owings Mills JCC.

Twenty years ago, the Kanes, looking for a change of scenery, stumbled across a front-page newspaper story on Baltimore’s emerging Jewish community. They decided to pull up stakes and head north. In a twist of fate, their home in Charlotte sold in less than a week to a couple from Owings Mills.

In addition to the writers’ guild, Kane is active in Hadassah and started the Hadassah chapterwide book club.


Bridging Sounds, Bridging Cultures

Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel got the pre-tour jitters in anticipation for his American tour — changing the set list, figuring out how to incorporate his band into the performance and even tinkering with his own instrument.

“I’ve been waiting for this tour for a long time,” he said. He decided to perform on a grand piano as opposed to electric keyboards and kick off the concert by himself.

When he takes the stage at Washington’s Lincoln Theatre Wednesday, April 22, he may even start with some intimate improvisation.

“I want to go onstage for the first time and to share my heart, to sing, not even things that I plan in advance,” he said, “to sing and to play to the audience just by myself in a very intimate way.”

One by one, he’ll bring out the members of his band until the stage is full. And with the diversity of musicians performing with him, the audience may need that gradual addition to digest the wealth of diverse talent they’re seeing. There’s Gilad Shmueli, Raichel’s co-producer, who, he said, is an “incredible drummer and percussion player.” There’s Yogev Glusman, a violinist and bass player from Argentina; Marc Kakon, an oud and guitar player who came to Israel from Casablanca, Morocco; and woodwind master Eyal Sela.

Idan Raichel performs at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 22. (Provided)

Idan Raichel performs at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 22. (Provided)

“I was a fan of his when I was in high school,” Raichel said of Sela. “I used to go to all of his concerts, and I’m very honored and lucky that he agreed to play with me and my band.”

Raichel and his band will also be joined by three singers: Ethiopian-Israeli Avi Wassa; Cabra Casay, Raichel’s Ethiopian backup leader who came to Israel from the refugee camps of Sudan; and Maya Avraham, a singer with Egyptian roots and Indian and Arabic influences.

For Raichel, who sings in Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic — the sounds on the streets of Tel Aviv — collaborating with musicians from various backgrounds is something he has done from the beginning.

“I think that every collaboration holds in itself a story and a tribute to life,” he said.

He’s performed with neo-soul singer India Arie, Palestinian musician Ali Amr and classical Baroque singer Andreas Scholl. He and Amr performed alongside Alicia Keys in Central Park in New York City at the Global Citizen Festival, singing “We Are Here,” a song Keys wrote calling out for peace.

If people remember us as ‘Israeli music’ it will mean a lot for us … if people take it as the soundtrack of Israel for the last decade or two.

Raichel grew up in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, and started playing keyboards in high school, concentrating in jazz. In the army, Raichel served as a musician, performing Israeli and European pop hits at various military bases with the military band.

“I think it affected me a lot because soldiers are the most honest audience after kids,” he said. “If they are bored, you will see it. If they are happy, you will see it. If they are excited, you will see it. If they are tired, you will see it. So I think it prepared me for the toughest audiences all over the world.”

After spending time backing other Israeli musicians, Raichel started his own project. In 2003, his first single, “Bo’ee” propelled him to fame in Israel. The Idan Raichel Project’s 2006 album, “Cumbancha” established a global audience.

Raichel, who draws on folk music as a major influence, found that once he toured outside of Israel — where his music was considered Israeli music — people defined his genre as “world music.”

“What defines ‘world music’ is it’s artists who are bringing the soundtrack of the place where they are coming from,” he said. “If people remember us as ‘Israeli music’ it will mean a lot for us … if people take it as the soundtrack of Israel for the last decade or two.”

Although relations between Raichel’s home country and the United States have been rocky of late, he said he feels welcome when he comes to America, even though sometimes there are protesters calling for boycotts of Israeli music.

“Very often, I go out to the people who protest and I even offer them a tea. I think that the one thing you can tell about these people are they care; otherwise they would not stand outside on the sidewalks and protest,” he said. “I think that dialogue between people is the most important thing.”

And coming from a volatile region, he sees the exchange of cultures as a crucial part of creating dialogue.

“I think sharing culture — even if there is a conflict, there is a lack of dialogue — you should know your neighbor, know your enemy, just to create a dialogue and then people can build bridges,” he said. “You get to know the daily life, the heart of the people, the heart of the culture, and music is definitely one of the most accessible tools.”

The Idan Raichel Project performs at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St., NW, Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 22. Tickets are $45 to $55, and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Visit bit.ly/1NybHJE for tickets and info.