Tag Archives: music

Looking Forward

2.MOZART---QUEEN-OF-THE-NIGHTAmerican Visionary Art Museum founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger calls the museums’ new exhibition, “Human, Soul & Machine: The Coming Singularity,” opening on Oct. 5, one of the most important and most prescient ones AVAM has ever developed.

Although the multiple issues raised by technology’s ever-growing impact on our society are the subjects of many creative projects, Hoffberger pointed out that recent events — such as the gathering of journalists’ phone records, secret drone strikes and the recent chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian government against its own citizens — have only made the exhibition more timely and the questions it raises more critical.

“We didn’t want to make the exhibit fearsome,” said Hoffberger, who curated “Human, Soul & Machine.” “In fact, we bent over backwards to show the positive effects of technology. But as with all of our exhibitions, the themes we explore are not good or bad, just powerful.”

In addition to the issues of privacy, surveillance and chemical warfare, the exhibition also examines technology’s impact on employment and manufacturing, longevity and health, farming and food, creative invention and entertainment through the work of more than 40 visionary artists, futurists and inventors, including artist, composer and cyborg activist Neil Harbisson.

Born with achromatopsia, a condition that does not allow him to see colors, Harbisson, since 2003, has been able to “hear colors” and to “perceive colors outside the ability of human vision” with the assistance of the “eyeborg,” a cybernetic eye he helped to develop, which is permanently attached to his head. Since the attachment of his eyeborg, Harbisson, 31, has created “sonochromatic” art-work that explores the relationship between color and sound and the relationship between bodies and cybernetics. In 2010, he co-founded the Cyborg Foundation for research, creation and promotion of products related to extending and creating new senses and perceptions by applying technology to the human body.

The exhibition also includes, among other works, Kenny Irwin Jr.’s “Robotmas” installation, a selection of Alex Grey’s Sacred Mirrors, O.L. Samuels’ 7-foot-tall “Godzilla,” Adam Kurtzman’s full-sized “Bride of Frankenstein,” Rigo 23’s drone-protesting drawings, Allen Christian’s life-sized “Piano Family” and Fred Carter’s wood carvings.

“I want people to be literate and informed about how much information is out there,” said Hoffberger. “When people think, how can the government possibly be listening to every phone call they make, [they should know that] we now have technology to store so much more data than ever before. People worry about this, but we are in a time where anything that can be encrypted can be decrypted. If the government is doing things wrong, it will be harder for them to get away with it.”

The hope, she said, is that we can harness all of this technology and intellectual capacity to create a better world.


More At Museums

While the AVAM zeros in on what’s new in the world, the Maryland Science Center travels back in time with “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition,” which opens on Sept. 28. The exhibition features the largest collection of real mummies ever assembled from Europe, Asia, Oceania and Ancient Egypt, some as old as 6,500 years. The exhibition was developed by American Exhibitions Inc. The corporation’s president is Jewish Baltimore native Marc Corwin. For more information, visit mdsci.org or mummiesoftheworld.com.

Opening on Sept. 8, the Baltimore Museum of Art presents “Morris Louis Unveiled,” featuring the work of the late Morris Louis (born Morris Louis Epstein), a founder of the Washington Color School (a visual-art movement of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s). Louis was born, raised and educated in Baltimore. The exhibition includes more than 25 works, including several large-scale paintings, a number of rarely seen drawings and related works by Klee, Miro, Matisse, Picasso and Pollack, all artists who influenced
Louis’ work. For more information, visit artbma.org.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland opens its fall exhibition, “Passages Through Fire: Jews in the Civil War,” on Oct. 13. The exhibition, originated by the American Jewish Historical Society and the Yeshiva University Museum, explores how the Civil War impacted American Jewish life, incorporating rarely seen objects, photographs and letters and three original short films. “Passages Through Fire” also provides informal education opportunities for youngsters with four hands-on activity stations. For more information, visit jewishmuseummd.org.

CrackerJack Theater

Bruce Randolph Nelson will star in two Jewish-themed plays this fall. Shown here, he takes the stage  as Groucho Marx in Centerstage’s  revival of “Animal Crackers.” (Photos by Richard Anderson)

Bruce Randolph Nelson will star in two Jewish-themed plays this fall. Shown here, he takes the stage
as Groucho Marx in Centerstage’s revival of “Animal Crackers.” (Photos by Richard Anderson)

It will be a busy and intensely Jewish fall for veteran actor Bruce Randolph Nelson. The City Paper’s choice for best actor of 2012, Nelson is playing Jewish comedian Groucho Marx in Centerstage’s revival of “Animal Crackers” and Jewish artist Mark Rothko in Everyman Theatre’s production of “Red,” all within a three-month period. In fact, said Nelson, the last week of “Animal Crackers,” which is a wacky musical comedy, will be the first week of rehearsals for “Red,” which is a serious drama.

But Nelson, 47, a longtime member of Everyman’s resident company, isn’t complaining about the demands of his schedule or the remarkably dissimilar roles he will play in such short order. In fact, he couldn’t be happier.

“My career has always been about big right-hand turns in character,” he said. “And one of the advantages of being part of a company like Everyman is that they’re always stretching and challenging you. They are willing to take chances [with casting] since they know you intimately and know what you can do.”

Although Nelson feels fortunate that he has been able to perform both comedic and dramatic roles, he admits that comedy is harder.

“Comedy is so exacting, and comedic rhythms are so specific,” he said. “When you’re laying down a punch line you have to lay it down clearly, and you have to hope that the comedy is received by the audience. If not, you’ve got a dull show. In drama, you’re less worried about how the emotions are received by the audience.”

The comedy in “Animal Crackers,” as anyone who’s seen a Marx Brothers movie knows, is highly physical.

“There’s a lot of racing around and anarchy on stage — anything that would upset the applecart,” said Nelson. “The Marx Brothers’ style grew out of vaudeville. It’s very presentational and at the footlights.”

To prepare for the role of Groucho Marx, Nelson researched all the brothers, trained with a vocal coach and “made a meal” of the movie version of “Animal Crackers” and other Marx Brothers films. Nelson said his ultimate favorite is “Monkey Business.”

Where Groucho is concerned, Nelson is especially impressed with his work on the TV program “You Bet Your Life,” which aired on radio and television from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

“The way Groucho ad libs and holds court … I’ve become a huge fan,” said Nelson.

Donald Hicken, who will direct Nelson in “Red,” is a huge fan and said he is thrilled to be working with him again. Hicken, one of Baltimore’s most prolific directors, is also theater department head at the Baltimore School for the Arts. He noted that the play’s theme — the process of creating art — is one with which he naturally identifies.

“As an arts educator, it’s easy for me to connect to this piece about a young artist so passionate about art. I see this every day,” said Hicken. As a matter of fact, the role of Rothko’s youthful assistant, Ken, will be played by one of Hicken’s former students at the BSA, Eric Berryman.

Hicken speculates that “Red,” a Tony Award-winning play written by John Logan and first produced in 2009, got its title from a discussion that takes place in the play about the impact of color on human emotion.

092013_CrackerJack3“Rothko had a fascination with myth, death, passion and what color evokes in people,” he said. “He was also tormented by the way people engage with a work of art and frustrated with people who choose art because it will fit well over the sofa or match with the furniture. He wanted them to have a more profound experience, where the painting was the dominant event. He was concerned with how art was observed. He wanted it to be seen in an environment where light and auditory phenomena were controlled.”

Those concerns are at the forefront of “Red’s” storyline. Ken accuses Rothko of “selling out” when the older artist agrees to sell his work to a Four Seasons Hotel. When Rothko visits the hotel and imagines his paintings hung on the walls there, he backs out of the deal.

Although art and its creation takes center stage in “Red,” Hicken stressed that the play’s human dimension is also paramount to the play’s appeal. “It’s the story of an encounter between two men — a young man and an older man — who share a passion. It’s a human story.”

“Animal Crackers” runs through Oct. 13. For tickets, visit centerstage.org.

“Red” opens Nov. 6 and runs through Dec. 1. For tickets, visit everymantheatre.org.


Theater Galore

There’s still time to catch Everyman’s new production of “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee William’s classic drama, directed by the company’s founding artistic director, Vincent M. Lancisi. Runs through Oct. 6. For tickets, visit everymantheatre.org.

Theatre Project hosts the Charm City Fringe Festival Nov. 6-10. The festival features four different companies and a dozen performances over five days. For information and tickets, visit theatreproject.org.

Fells Point Corner Theatre opens its fall season with “Durang Durang,” a selection of short plays by Tony Award-winning absurdist playwright Christopher Durang, directed by Andrew Porter. The show runs through Oct. 13. For tickets, visit fptc.org.

Queen fans will be in for a royal treat when “We Will Rock You, The Musical” comes to the Hippodrome Theatre Oct. 15-20. For tickets, visit broadwayacrossamerica.com.

America’s oldest, continuous little theater, Vagabond Players, Inc., opens its 98th season with Moliere’s classic comedy “The Misanthrope,” which runs through Sept. 29, followed by the 1970 Tony Award-winning musical “Company,” which runs from Oct. 18 to Nov.17. For tickets, visit vagabondplayers.org.

Get tickets for “Animal Crackers”>>

Virtuous Virtuoso


Ethan Bortnick has traveled the world. He will be at the Gordon Center next month.

Ethan Bortnick is short in stature, but tall on talent. The 12-year-old musician will wow audiences at the Gordon Center For Performing Arts, when he opens the venue’s fall 2013 season — its 19th — on Oct. 12. Although his father and manager, Gene Bortnick, said the family doesn’t think of Ethan as a prodigy, he admits that he and his wife, Hannah Bortnick, both Ukrainian immigrants, are “beyond overwhelmed” by what their son can do.

“When I was 3 years old,” Ethan said, “I asked my parents for piano lessons.” Since he was still a preschooler, the Bortnicks didn’t arrange for lessons, but instead purchased a toy piano for Ethan. They soon realized that when it came to the piano, Ethan was no ordinary 3-year-old, as he was able to reproduce every melody he heard. His first piano teacher declared after only two months that Ethan needed a more advanced instructor. By the time he was 6, he was performing on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

“When the producer from Jay Leno called, my father hung up on her, because he thought it was his sister pranking him,” said Ethan. “Then she called back and said, ‘It’s really us.’”

Since then, Ethan has traveled the world, sharing stages, recording studios and television production sets with celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber, Tony Bennett, Beyoncé and Elton John. He even composed and performed a song for Muhammad Ali.  In 2010, Ethan became the youngest musician to create and host his own award-winning, nationally televised concert special on PBS. Ethan holds a Guinness World Record for being the youngest musician to host a solo concert tour. He twice has appeared on “Oprah,” where he was named one of Oprah’s All-Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids, and he recently completed shooting of a full-length film, “Anything is Possible.” Not only does Ethan headline the movie, which costars Lacey Chabert and Jonathan Bennett, he also co-wrote all the songs and scored the background music. A holiday-themed story, “Anything is Possible,” is scheduled for release in December.

When Ethan and his family aren’t traveling, they make their home in Hollywood, Fla. There, Ethan attends seventh grade and plays sports with his brother and friends.

“I’m just a regular kid,” he insisted. “Even seconds before I go on stage I’m playing with my father’s [Nintendo] DSi.”

While on the road, Ethan attends classes virtually by skyping into his classrooms.

Although he hobnobs will all sorts of celebrities — even interviewing the notoriously interview-shy Celine Dion on his PBS show — Ethan denies having a favorite A-lister.

“They are all very nice people,” he said.

Ethan is equally diplomatic when it comes to music genres and academic subjects.

“I like them all,” he said.

Ethan is not only a remarkable talent, he is also a true mensch. When he was 5, Ethan’s younger brother, Nathan, was born with a serious heart defect.  His brother’s medical challenges have inspired Ethan to help others in difficult circumstances.

“I remember he [Nathan] was sent by helicopter to a hospital, and when I visited him, I saw other kids suffering and it made me feel bad,” he recalled. “Based on my experiences traveling, I see how a lot of people aren’t as fortunate as others. It’s really important to help as many as we can.”

So far, the young artist has helped to raise more than $30 million for a variety of organizations including Miami Children’s Hospital, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, ONEXONE and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

For tickets to see Ethan Bortnick in concert on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8:30 p.m., visit gordoncenter.com or call 1-800-518-2819.


More Music at the Gordon Center

This fall, the Gordon Center also will present bluegrass group Seldom Scene on Nov. 2 and Israeli recording star David Broza on Nov. 21. On Oct. 20, award-winning performer and music educator ShirLaLa will play rock and roll for Baltimore’s youngest music fans, and just in time for Chanukah on Dec. 1, children can rock out to The Mama Doni Band.

Get tickets to the Gordon Center>>


From The Charts To Your Machzor

Former Beatle Paul McCartney performs “Getting Better” in 1976.  His ex-wife, Linda, is also pictured. (Jim Summaria via Wikimedia Commons)

Former Beatle Paul McCartney performs “Getting Better” in 1976. His ex-wife, Linda, is also pictured.
(Jim Summaria via Wikimedia Commons)

In time for the 2013 High Holiday season, here is a list of the Top 5 popular songs to put you in the mood for introspection, repentance and renewal — and a few just to make you smile:

1. “Who By Fire”
(Leonard Cohen)
The consummate coffeehouse theologian lands in the No. 1 spot on our list, having borrowed the title and concept of this song directly from the emotional centerpiece of the High Holidays liturgy, Unítaneh Tokef. Another song of Cohen’s deserves honorable mention here: “The Story of Isaac,” a post-modern retelling of the famous near sacrifice that highlights the moral ambiguity of Abraham’s choice. The section of Genesis that contains the original story is read as the Rosh Hashanah Torah service.

2. “Man in the Mirror”
(Michael Jackson)
From the time when Top 40 songs were still allowed to have simple moral messages, the King of Pop reminds us that changing the world must always begin with changing oneself. As with the silent confessions of the Yom Kippur musaf, the High Holidays are a time to give our friends and family a break and turn our critical eye to the person looking back at us in the mirror.

3. “Getting Better”
(The Beatles)
A golden oldie about turning things around: “Man, I was mean, but I’m changing my scene and I’m doing the best that I can,” sings Paul. Sometimes we lose faith in our ability to grow out of lifelong patterns of getting hurt and hurting back, but the song insists that change is always possible when we open our hearts and truly listen to our loved ones.

4. “Please Forgive Me”
(Bryan Adams)
This one’s about saying sorry for loving too much rather than too little. After all, don’t many of our conflicts come from holding on too tight? Not to mention the heart-wrenching power of Adams’ voice, which moves the listener like good chazzanut ought to.

5. “Unwritten”
(Natasha Bedingfield)
Here’s one for the millennials. A talented young British singer/songwriter, Bedingfield sings with conviction about the ever-present possibility of a fresh start. Her chorus offers an optimistic counter to the traditional image of the sealing of the book of fate: “Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.”

And a few more just for fun …

“Oops! … I Did It Again”
(Britney Spears)
This song marked the original pop princess’ transition from ingénue to femme fatale. Perhaps it can inspire those of us who walk around feeling ethically spotless to remember that we all make the same mistakes (and usually twice).

“On Bended Knee”
(Boyz II Men)
Those of us Jews who are not football players (so, all of us) only take a knee once a year — during the Yom Kippur musaf service, when cantors, rabbis and often whole congregations bow down in unison to commemorate the ancient Temple service.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends”
(Green Day)
For the shul-shluffer (synagogue sleeper) in all of us.

Binyamin Kagedan has an M.A. in Jewish thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. This story originally was published by JNS.org.


Best Music Festival

Brad Selko (left) started Hot August Blues and Roots Festival 21 years ago in his backyard. Rich Barnstein (right) helps promote the festival, which now brings around 5,000 people to Oregon Ridge Park each year. (Justin Tsucalas)

Brad Selko (left) started Hot August Blues and Roots Festival 21 years ago in his backyard. Rich Barnstein (right) helps promote the festival, which now brings around 5,000 people to Oregon Ridge Park each year. (Justin Tsucalas)

The Hot August Blues and Roots Festival has come a long way since the first show 21 years ago at Brad Selko’s farm in Monkton.

“A friend of mine came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to have a picnic in your backyard with Charlie Musselwhite?’” Selko said. “I said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

A couple months later, almost 400 people showed up to see the legendary blues player. Each year, the number of bands and attendees would grow in size, and the festival moved to various venues until finding a home at Oregon Ridge Park in 2002; it attracts upward of 5,000 each summer.

“Every year the show gets a little bigger, and we improve upon it,” said Selko, who founded the festival and books the music lineup.

While the festival isn’t strictly blues anymore, the Aug. 17 concert boasts a diverse lineup that includes blues-rockers Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, New Orleans funk band Galactic, Brooklyn Afrobeat outfit Antibalas, eclectic bluegrass band Greensky Bluegrass, rootsy singer-songwriter JD McPherson, Chicago bluesman Eddy Clearwater, electro-rock duo Boombox and a long list of diverse local bands.

“It’s the premier Baltimore outdoor music festival, and the artists that Hot August Blues brings to town are incredible musicians,” said Stephen Yasko, general manager at WTMD, a Towson-based independent radio station. “It serves the part of WTMD that connects the artists with the audiences.”

Hot August Blues was recently named “Best Music Festival” by Baltimore magazine. As part of its continuing evolution, the festival added a third stage this year and will also feature a variety of performance artists, drum circles for kids and adults and a harmonica workshop for kids.

“We have more diversification than we probably ever have had in 21 years,” Selko said.

Rich Barnstein, who helps the festival with social media and promotion, said Hot August Blues has been successful because Selko is progressive and listens to what fans want.

“You have to have a fresh lineup,” Barnstein said. “He’s always changing that.”

A lot of attendees said they would like a video screen so they can see performers even when seated far away, so the festival added that this year. Other attendees wanted to see some non-craft beer options, so Selko got National Bohemian for this year’s festival.

“The bottom line is to try to find a way to make Hot August Blues better and better,” Barnstein said.

Selko said other than some 1950s and 1960s jazz, he mostly likes to listen to new music.

“He’s a real music fan,” said Steve Kearns, a volunteer coordinator. “He listens to a lot of music, and when he goes on vacation, he drives to see [people] perform.”

By branching out beyond pure blues, the festival has attracted a larger audience with a wider age range.

“It’s just getting better and better all the time,” said Bobby Dollar, who has been working security for 14 years.

For local artists, playing the festival is a grand opportunity. Performing for thousands of eclectic music lovers just outside of Baltimore gives them a chance to make some serious waves.

Cara Kelly, who will be opening up the main stage with Cara Kelly and the Tell Tale, is “totally excited.”

“You get to play in front of a hometown crowd, and at the same time, [we’re] sharing the stage with some people, some musicians, I really admire,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”

Kelly’s huge, soulful vocals and her band’s bluesy rock feel make them a good fit for the festival. Some bands, such as electro-rock trio DELTAnine, draw on similar influences but take the music in a new direction.

“We’re definitely bringing something else to the table,” said Ben Kolakowski, the band’s guitarist. “There’s the younger generation, they’re definitely more into this electronic kind of thing … but at the same time, maybe they grew up listening to classic rock and blues from listening to their parents’ music.”

Kolakowski, who draws on blues and rock influences in his guitar playing, said his band fits somewhere in bet-ween the electronic and rock worlds, since they have live drums and guitar as well as a DJ. He is particularly excited to play the festival, having grown up in the Cockeysville/Timonium area.

“That’s my stomping ground,” he said.

Selko’s love of eclectic music not only brings a diverse lineup to the festival each year, but also allows attendees to experience long shows from each band with minimal overlaps between the stages. National acts performing at the festival have set times ranging from one hour to two hours, and some local acts are even getting hour-long sets.

While the lineup may have exp-anded beyond the pure blues and roots music, there’s a touch of these pioneering genres in all of the festival’s performers.

“All this music came out of the roots music,” Selko said. “There’s something everybody’s going to like there.”

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com