New CD Commemorates Kristallnacht and Reimagines Hebrew Melodies

When composer Eugene Marlow had the inspired idea to include a track on his upcoming CD, “Mosaica,” to commemorate Kristallnacht’s 76th anniversary, the first person he thought of was his Aunt Ruth Rack in Australia.

Now in her mid-80’s, she was a 9-year-old in Leipzig, Germany when she witnessed the 1938 event, also known as “The Night of Broken Glass.” “I decided I had to have her narrate this,” said Marlow. The result is “Zikkaron (Remembrance)/ Kristallnacht,” an original composition that opens with the sound of Goebbels’ harsh voice and then fades to Ruth’s memories of that awful night.

The quasi-classical/Hebraic melody, according to the CD liner notes, represents Ruth’s mother’s resolute calm against the surreal, destructive aggression by the Nazis. Repetitive, single piano notes bring to mind the shattering of glass. The marching rhythm of the brass and percussion evokes a dark terror and brutality.

Marlow sent Ruth a rough mix of the track. “She liked it very much,” he said, adding that he also included an instrumental- only version on the ninetrack CD.

Pianist Marlow founded “The Heritage Ensemble,” a quintet dedicated to performing and recording his original compositions and arrangements of Hebraic melodies in various jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and classical styles. Other members are of Puerto Rican, Lebanese and Eastern European descent. Marlow’s family background is Russian, Polish, German and British.

“I am a third or fourth generation musician/composer,” Marlow said. “This is my passion,” he added, jokingly, “If you open up one of my veins, little quarter notes will jump out.”

“Mosaica” is the ensemble’s fourth album and the first to include a vocalist, Cantor Shira Lissek. “I heard her sing and loved her voice. She and I chose specific melodies,” Marlow said, adding that Lissek was concerned that as a classically trained cantor, she lacked a strong background in jazz. ”I told her, ‘You sing it straight. We’ll do the jazz around you.’” The result is a stunning collection of songs that simultaneously feel familiar and brand new. “Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet)” is an exciting combination of moving vocals and silky jazz accompaniment, while “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze (Passover’s Four Questions)” is a bright, lively rendition of the traditional Passover melody.

Marlow, who holds a Ph.D. in Media Studies, an MBA, an M.S. and B.S. in music composition and a B.A. in English, is a professor at New York City’s Baruch College in the department of journalism and writing. He didn’t get serious about music until he was in his 20’s and didn’t start studying composing formally until he was in his 50’s.

He plans a spring 2015 release of a DVD visualizing the “Kristallnacht” track with vintage photographs from Austria and Germany to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and a fall 2015 release of original Brazilian-inspired compositions.

“I have accelerated my music output in the last five years,” Marlow said. “With ‘Mosaica,’ in particular, I made it a mission to do something different than our previous albums.”

To purchase the CD, go to cdbaby.com/cd/eugenemarlow6.

Advertisements

A Communal Rosh Hashanah Resolution

well-known greeting used in the days preceding Rosh Hashanah is “Tichleh shannah v’killeloteha, tachel shannah uvirchoteha.” It means, “Bring an end to the year and all its curses, and begin the New Year and all its blessings.”


The words come from a Hebrew poem written in 13th century Spain, but the sentiment
is most applicable to the end of 5774 and our hopes for 5775.

5774 was a difficult year, one we’d rather forget. It opened with the controversial findings of the Pew Report, “A Portrait of American Jews,” in early October and the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and Palestinians that took many from cautious hope to despair. Next came the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and the calls for and acts of revenge for those murders. The growth of anti-Semitism around the globe has everyone on edge.

Hamas missiles fell on Israeli towns while Jews in our own communities were divided about Israel and Zionism. “Operation Protective Edge” and the death and destruction in its wake have left us with much uncertainty. Bring an end to the year and all its curses, indeed!

The High Holidays traditionally mark a period of 10 days during which we engage in heshbon hanefesh (deep introspection), mostly as individuals. But soul-searching is something that is incumbent upon us as a community as well. Could we have done anything to make the past year a better one? Can we do anything to make a difference in the year ahead?

The Jewish world faces many challenges that can have an impact on both Jewish life and Jewish lives (as well as the lives of others). Too often our community is unable to engage in meaningful conversation about perilous issues. The Jewish world has become averse to internal conflict, often preferring the anodyne voices of the echo chamber. One must ask: if we cannot talk among our own people, how can we ever expect to come to a peaceful resolution with others?

We should consider a communal Rosh Hashanah resolution: to learn to listen to those with whom we may disagree with open minds and hearts, and to learn to disagree agreeably.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on September 25, 2014.

PEM’s Calder Exhibit a Dance in Slow Motion

Peabody Essex Museum’s exclusive East Coast presentation of “Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic” is everything an art exhibit should be. It is welldesigned, sensually pleasing and intellectually stimulating. The 40 pieces by one of the most influential and innovative artists of the 20th century reinforce PEM’s commitment to American art and celebrate Alexander Calder’s contribution of single-handedly transforming what would be thereafter thought of as “sculpture.”

Visiting the show is like entering an elegant abstract landscape, one where shadows have mass and gravity is irrelevant. The theatrical, dancing mobiles, which Calder invented, and stabiles (grounded pieces that still move) activate time and space in a way that creates an atmosphere of performance. Background avantgarde music by such composers as John Cage adds to the multi­sensory experience.

Calder was raised in Pennsylvania and his family included accomplished sculptors. He travelled to Paris frequently during the 1920’s and 30’s, befriending such surrealist and abstract artists as Joan Miro, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. When he saw Piet Mondrian’s paintings, which only used primary colors, Calder exclaimed, “I would like to do that, but I would like it to move.”

Trained as an engineer, Calder became fascinated by the challenge of liberating sculpture from its historical limitations. His goal was to take the static, hollow, pedestalled medium and reinvent it. “Just as one can compose colors or forms,” Calder said, “so one can compose motion.”

Calder started working with wire in 1930, and the gallery’s first pieces explore his development of mobiles, ethereal works that create lines in space and, thanks to the superb lighting design, moving shadows. Many of the works, such as a trilogy of mobiles mounted in front of colored panels, are owned by the Calder Foundation N.Y. and are rarely exhibited.

“Little Face” is a choreographer’s delight, untethered parts creating a cohesive whole. Calder’s engineering genius is evident in his knowledge of the precise weight and density of each black piece that would counter the elements above and below.

From the magical, slow wake of the mobiles, one next explores his stabiles. Moving more slowly, subtly and quietly than the mobiles, their effect is one of benevolent creatures that happily invite the viewer to connect emotionally.

The exciting “Un effet du japonais” is like an anthropomorphic animal dance, its three legs stationary, its two arms poised, ready for the frenzy a puff of air would create. “Southern Cross,” displayed nearby, is a blend of mass and weightlessness, of movement and stillness. The effect is spell-binding, and prompted Albert Einstein to remark, “I wish I’d thought of that.”

Before his death, Calder also revolutionized monumental sculpture constructed for large outdoor spaces. La Grande Vitesse, a landmark in Grand Rapids, Michigan, marked the first time the public embraced abstract sculpture.

Pictured at top: 2014 Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource Un effet du japonais (1941)

Sowing A Master Seed

The recent release of the documentary, “The Green Prince,” came at the perfect time. After a summer of Operation Protective Edge, we could use a breath of hope and optimism. On its surface, the film tells the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Hamas informant, and his Shin Bet enlister and handler, Gonen ben Yitzhak. Digging a bit deeper, however, reveals an inspiring story of friendship, loyalty and admiration between two individuals who had every reason to hate and mistrust each other.


For ten years, the two collaborated to foil Hamas’s terrorist activities. Both were creative and unorthodox; both were courageous and both took paths that transcended the constraints of their ingrained politics and ideologies. They found and followed their own moral compasses, taking on the responsibility of acting on those convictions.

In the present context of fragile, temporary cease-fires and fierce armed conflict, one has to ask oneself, “How did this Palestinian and this Israeli, each entrenched on opposite sides of a decades long conflict, overcome those external barriers to develop this kind of selfless bond? What was their secret?”

This is one small story about just two people, but it is a story with a very big message.

This film serves as a reminder and inspiration that it is through individual people that both peace and war are waged, and that tolerance, understanding and acceptance are flip sides of intolerance, revenge and hatred. Each of us is capable of forming relationships with anyone; it is a mental barrier that tells us otherwise.

At some point, that seed of hope at the core of “The Green Prince” must take root.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on September 18, 2014.

Honky Tonk on Parade

There should be a jukebox tucked in the corner of Endicott College’s Manninen Center for the Arts Heftler Visiting Artist Gallery, one loaded with songs by the country music favorites whose portraits adorn the compact gallery’s walls. Dolly Parton, Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and Doc Watson are all there, looking young and fresh and ready to break into toothy, foottapping song. “Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music” is a collection of 27 black and white photographs taken between 1968 and 2010 by Henry Hornstein, a 67-yearold New Bedford native who teaches photography and illustration at Rhode Island School of Design. His photos document the changing world of country music and its fans, and reflect his deep love for the music, its performers and its unique venues.

Horenstein describes how a Jewish kid growing up in New Bedford developed an interest in country music in the exhibition notes. He started hanging out in the “kid friendly” Melody Shop, New Bedford’s only music store, at age eight. He met folk singer Paul Clayton there, who recommended he buy “Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams.” It was Horenstein’s first LP and he still plays that record.

When his parents moved to Boston during his high school years, he essentially took up residence at Cambridge’s legendary Club 47, hearing many different performers playing many different genres. His interest in photography blossomed as a junior history major at University of Chicago. Heeding the advice of his teacher, Harry Callahan, to “photograph people and places to which I was naturally drawn,” he took pictures in Nashville and Texas, in smoke-filled bars and hillbilly ranches during the 1970’s.

All along, he knew he wanted to preserve on film what he saw as a disappearing world of lesser honky tonks and country music parks. In 2012, he published “Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music,” a sumptuous collection of 120 black and white photographs he shot from 1972 through 2011, many of which are part of the Manninen exhibit.

HonkyTonk2
Waylon Jennings, Performance Center, Cambridge, 1976


What is most surprising is how well represented New England, and especially Massachusetts, is. There is Don Stover, a banjo picker from West Virginia, who came to Boston in 1952 and settled in Billerica. A 26-year-old Dolly Parton, looking like the poster child for the song, “Honky Tonk Angel,” posed in front of Symphony Hall before her debut concert there in 1972. Doc Watson, the North Carolina blind guitarist and singer who performed until his death at 89 in 2012, was memorialized at Cambridge’s Performance Center in 1974, as was the hard-living Waylon Jennings in 1976.

The Hillbilly Ranch in Boston was a favorite of Horenstein’s, and he photographed Tex Ritter there, as well as the regular patrons. Jerry Lee Lewis, at an old Baldwin piano, nonchalantly lights up a cigar at Boston’s Ramada Inn in 1976.

“A lot of people assume that country music is a Southern thing,” Horenstein wrote. “It isn’t. It’s everywhere.”

Honky Tonk” will be at Endicott College Manninen Center for the Arts through October 17. For directions and hours, go to endicott.edu/centerforthearts.

Pictured at top: Jerry Lee Lewis, Ramada Inn, Boston, 1976

 

 

Peace of Mind

September 11, 2001 marked a day of fear, disorientation and profound sadness for all Americans. Life as we knew it was suddenly altered. Since then, we have learned to live with its aftermath: color-coded terror alerts, heightened airport security and increased surveillance camera presence. We have become accustomed to the new post-9/11 “normal.” We may not be our pre-9/11 complacent selves but neither are we perpetually on the brink of panic. We take precautions, but we carry on.


September 11, 2014 presents similar challenges for Jews everywhere in the world. A wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel demonstrations has swept across every European country, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8. Daily reports of violence and defamation against Jews and Jewish property are impossible to ignore. The head of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, Vladimir Sloutzer, warned, “Never before since the Holocaust have we seen such a situation as today.” Such pronouncements are unnerving.

World Jewry is on edge, with good reason. This is not paranoia; to be anxious about the scope of this toxic hostility makes sense. There is a real and present danger in this anti-Semitic trend, and the relentless media coverage only increases our unease. Furthermore, there is the added complication of Israeli policies, politics and tactics with which not all Jews agree. However, disagreements with the policies of the Israeli government does not make us any more or less vulnerable to anti-Semitic attacks.

How can we American Jews avoid being consumed by feelings of helplessness and victimization? How do we maintain inner calm and peace of mind in this turbulent time of vandalism and desecration?

The answers are as different as the individuals asking the questions. For some, engagement, action and protest lighten the weight. Many seek the support of community and discussion and the outlet of action. For others, turning a hopeful eye inward works.

We must find ways to cope as individuals and as a global community with this new fear, disorientation and sadness. If we let the enemy destroy our peace of mind, then they will have truly won.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on September 11, 2014.