For Lenny

“Expect glamor with substance” 
— David Patrick Stearns – WQXR: New York’s Classical Music Station on Lara’s new album “For Lenny: an Intimate Tribute to Leonard Bernstein and his American Legacy”

Acclaimed pianist and recording artist Lara Downes brings Leonard Bernstein to life through Lenny’s lesser-known “Anniversaries for Piano” and new works created as anniversary pieces for Lenny himself written by contemporary artists. Bernstein’s son and middle child, Alexander Bernstein, shares stories from the stage as part of the performance.

KlezFest: A Celebration of Klezmer at Or Hadash

Please join us for a lively celebration of Klezmer music, featuring world-renowned Klezmer musicians the Strauss/Warschauer Duo and longtime Philadelphia favorites the Ken Ulansey Klezmer Ensemble. Opening for these two great acts will be Or Hadash’s own New Klezmaniax! Our evening will begin at 7:30 pm with a short Havdallah service and will feature a wide variety of Klezmer favorites. For more than 25 years, Deborah Strauss and Cantor Jeff Warschauer have been at the forefront of the international klezmer and Yiddish music scene. They are renowned worldwide for their depth of experience and knowledge, and for their innovative performances and workshops.  Penn Council for the Arts winner Ken Ulansey leads a versatile Klezmer ensemble that flavors its broad Klezmer repertoire with lively world-music nuances. In addition to all this delightful music, we’ll be serving complimentary wine and hard cider, courtesy of Stone & Key Cellars; and yummy desserts will be available for purchase. Admission is $35. For tickets, please go to or the direct link, .  Tickets also will be available at the door. For information, contact Lori Rubin, [email protected] . Come get your Klez on!!!

Lenny’s Revolution: A Centennial Bernstein Celebration With David Charles Abell

By now you must have seen all the ads announcing Lenny’s Revolution: A Centennial Bernstein Celebration, with David Charles Abell and The Philly POPS. Maestro Abell, the principal guest conductor of the 65-piece Philly POPS orchestra, is flying back from London for the Leonard Bernstein celebration concerts, which will be held on February 2 – 4 at the Kimmel Center.

I was able to interview Mr. Abell (pronounced “uh-BELL”) by phone while he was in London. During our conversation, he shared his Philadelphia roots with me, and mentioned that he still has relatives who live in Chestnut Hill. [Read more…]

Winners of the International “Young Classical Virtuosos of Tomorrow” Competition

“There is no song, once sung, made still forever”: In Memory of Nelly Berman

“What is a 19-year-old girl teaching her first piano lesson in Odessa dreaming about? Her wish was not a big house, a big car, and diamonds. Her wish was the same as I have now – to give every child that is gifted in music the best teaching possible….Close your eyes, make your wish, and make your life.”

– Nelly Berman, 2007

On Sunday, June 18th, the Nelly Berman School of Music and the NBS Classical Music Institute will present the Gold and Platinum winners of the “Young Classical Virtuosos of Tomorrow” International Music Competition in concert at the Perelman Theater of the Kimmel Center. Gold winners will perform in the 10:00am concert, and Platinum winners will perform in the 3:00pm concert featuring guest performer Derek Barnes, cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

[Read more…]

Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out!

“Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out!” is the first of a monthly benefit concert series with Broadway, TV, film and recording stars. The concert will debut on Inauguration Day and feature performances by a star-studded cast. Concert organizers Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley explain the purpose behind the event: “By bringing together this spectacular group of artists to celebrate the diversity and hope that makes America its best, we hope this concert will lift spirits and remind people across the country that we are stronger united and our voices will be heard over the next four years.”

Among the performers scheduled to appear are Betty Buckley, Sharon Gless, Andrea Martin, Jessie Mueller, Bebe Neuwirth, Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez, Billy Porter, Chita Rivera, Brian Stokes Mitchell and more. Participating performers are subject to change.

Proceeds of the concert series will benefit several national organizations working to protect human rights, including the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center and the Sierra Club Foundation. The concert was created and organized by Rudetsky and Wesley in association with Your Kids, Our Kids and with the support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

The concert will be held at The Town Hall theater in New York. Although the tickets are sold out, you can stream the concert here live, as well as make donations. For more information, follow Concert For America on Twitter and Facebook.

Capitol Steps Performance

Two days before the election, join us for a night of hilarious musical political satire as The Capitol Steps, a Washington DC-based comedy troupe that began as a group of Senate Staffers, presents songs from their current album, “What to Expect When You’re Electing.” Just like this election, their show is constantly changing, strenuously bi-partisan, and includes songs like, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Crimea,” “Ain’t No Pipeline, Now It’s Gone,” and “The iMpossible iWatch.”

If you’ve ever wanted to see Hillary Clinton sing a show tune, Donald Trump sing a rock song, and Chris Christie do classical ballet, this might just be the show for you!



American Academy of Music Concert and Ball Raise $1 Million

Left to right: Mayor Michael Nutter and his wife Lisa with the Temple University School of Medicine’s vice president for development, Nina Weisbord, and dean, Dr. Larry Kaiser.

— article and photos by Bonnie Squires

More than $1 million was raised at the American Academy of Music’s 157th annual anniversary concert and ball in Philadelphia last weekend.

Despite bitter cold and snow-covered streets, the events attracted about 1,200 guests, including Mayor Michael Nutter and many Jewish philanthropists.

The event’s theme was “Preserving the Heritage,” and accordingly, the raised money will be used for installing a new HVAC system and other repairs to the historic Academy building — the first opera house built in the U.S.

The building resides in the Avenue of the Arts, and is often called the “Grand Old Lady of Broad Street.”

More after the jump.

Jimmy Schaeffer and his wife, Nicole Dresnin, with Jimmy’s parents, Adele and Harold, at the pre-concert reception.

The newly-appointed president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees, Adele Schaeffer, reigned over the evening. The Bacon Brothers — actor Kevin and composer Michael — served as the hosts on stage.

Another Philadelphia native, Grammy-award-winning singer, actress and poet Jill Scott, performed the song “Summertime” from the opera “Porgy and Bess,” and other material from her platinum-selling albums.

Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted The Philadelphia Orchestra in a medley of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” songs.

Later that evening, the Bacon Brothers performed in front of the Eddie Bruce Orchestra, in the Bellevue Park Hyatt Hotel ballroom.

Left to right: Mitchell and Hilarie Morgan, Roberta and Carl Dranoff, and Renee and Joseph Zuritsky.

Ken and Nancy Davis in the lobby of the Academy building.

While Adele Schaeffer was busy in the receiving line, greeting hundreds of patrons, her husband was surrounded by some of their grandchildren.

John and Christina Saler, long-time Academy supporters.

Gala Concert “Celebrating Nelly: a Tribute to a Life in Music”

— by Elena Berman

Recently, I was sitting crossed-legged on the floor of my mother’s house, digging in her old green cardboard suitcase full of photographs and thank you cards. I poured over the black and white photographs from Odessa, depicting our family and close friends. There were also many pictures in color, of my mother surrounded by her former piano students, whom she taught over the years of her life in Philadelphia, which were proudly taken after numerous concerts my mother had presented. There were pictures of my mother’s students, and even her students acting in a musical play that she had directed based on the lives of Clara and Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. Strewn among the photographs were dozens of cards from the parents of my mother’s students, with words of gratitude for changing their children’s lives through her teaching. With deep sincerity they thanked her for bringing forth their kids’ potential and talent in music. They described her as being not only a teacher, but a great mentor and role model.

More after the jump.

Nelly Berman teaches two-year old Elena

We came to the U.S. 37 years ago with 3 suitcases. One contained precious photographs and indispensible music scores. Included was the Grieg concerto that I was working on, Chopin concerto I was hoping to learn, Rachmaninov Preludes that my mother loved to play, as well as a number of anthologies that my mother was hoping to use for her future American piano students. The other suitcases held all of the clothes and mementos that we could bring out of Russia.  In them, we also packed wooden cups and saucers, colorfully painted with gold and red flowers, and little black boxes, with miniature scenes from Russian fairy tales, painted with great skill. These trinkets were meant as souvenirs for our future American friends. Those two other suitcases were thrown out long ago, souvenirs given out, clothes discarded, but only this green suitcase, full of pictures of our former life in Odessa, and new life in the USA, was left as a keepsake.

I came upon an old picture of me, not more than two years old, an age completely erased from my memory. I am holding my hands carefully placed over the keyboard of our old Bechstein upright piano we had in our apartment in Odessa. My young mother Nelly is standing over me, showing me how to touch the keys properly. Excited to see this picture, I had it scanned at the NBS school office and emailed it to my mother.  “Look at your hand position,” she exclaimed proudly, glancing at the picture. “Most little kids’ fingers stick out in all directions, and they bang on the piano with such force. On this picture you already have a perfect round shape of your hands, with your wrists high and your fingers beautifully round. And you are focusing carefully on what I am teaching you.”

That is my mother Nelly, in that statement, always conscious of what is important in teaching music to students. In Odessa, she had been teaching piano hour upon hour, in a music school in our district, called “Music school No. 1”.  There, she had to follow a specific, mandated plan for assigning pieces to her students, based on the Ministry of Culture’s graded programs for all music students in the Soviet Union.  My mother would constantly rebel and assign the music that she felt would open the minds of her piano students. She would be reprimanded for it again and again. Music education was free – one of the special perks the Soviet Government allowed their citizens. Students, starting from the age of 7, had two lessons per week in their instrument. If not pianists, they were required to study piano as a secondary instrument. They also had weekly classes in theory, solfeggio, music literature, choir, and chamber groups for advanced students. All students had to pass an examination twice a year to continue their music education.

My mother was famous as a teacher in Odessa, her students not only won competitions but they adored her. I leaf through our old Russian music books that my mother still has. They are piled up on the Steinway in her house, a beautiful instrument she purchased in the USA. I see my mother’s writing in English on different pieces in the books – this Mozart Concerto was meant for Kyle Cesar Luo, the Debussy “Claire de Lune” was meant for Allison Klayman, the Beethoven sonata was for Ellen Morris, the Mozart Fantasy was assigned to Felix Zhang, the Prokofiev Vision Fugitives was intended for Daniel Schlosberg, the Chopin E minor concerto was intended for Nandira. Those students’ names bring memories of the years when I would sit at her lessons trying to pick up on all her skills of being able to inspire her students, achieving beautiful phrasing and dazzling technique.

Nelly, left, with NBS students, circa 1985.

I remember these children’s wonderful music making and their dedication and excitement about playing their instrument. Kyle has played with the Philadelphia Orchestra as a soloist not once but twice, and while attending Medical school, he played a Rachmaninov Concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic. He has become an eye surgeon like his father. Allison Klayman spent 5 years in China, learned Mandarin, and recently received a prize at Sundance Festival for her full length documentary called “Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry” which was screened at the Ritz and Bryn Mawr movie theaters this summer. Ellen Morris studied Physics at the University of Chicago and minored in piano performance, and then reversed the order. Felix Zhang was named one of the top twenty All American High school students in 2007 by USA Today, played a Tchaikovsky Concerto and is now graduated from Harvard, having done research on Alzheimer’s disease.  Daniel Schlosberg is working on his Master’s Degree in Composition at Yale University, has written an opera for the Yale Opera company, and is working at this moment with a famous Broadway musical theater composer, orchestrating his scores. And then, I found a picture in the suitcase of my mother hugging her two new little students, Nina Hartling and Nicolas Lu, whom she started to teach last year, after her stroke. There are so many others whose names I have forgotten, and whose path in life would love to discover!

In the Soviet Union, it was realized that students required at least2 lessons per week plus other instructional classes in order to become musically proficient, and this support was provided by the State. The U.S. does not support music in this way. It is left for parents to make their own decision to provide such financial support for these extra lessons. In many cases they cannot do it, and very talented students cannot realize their musical desires. The NBS Classical Music Institute was thus established in 1996, because the level of support needed to satisfy all of the worthy students that we had by then attracted, was not sufficient. It was then that the generosity and devotion to the advancement of classical music education came to us from Elaine Kligerman. She was willing to satisfy this need, and so the Scholarship Fund was developed.  Because of her generous support, just about every student who is worthy and desirous of having the additional lessons per week can have them. Mrs. Kligerman herself is an established pianist, having attended both the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. With her great knowledge of music and education, including 15 years of serving as adjunct piano faculty at Temple University, she recognized the importance of supporting these talented children.  As a result, the school has grown significantly in reputation, with its fame spread throughout the Philadelphia area as well as to New York and even to communities in California. Without Elaine Kligerman this would not be possible. I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Over the years, my mother brought truly outstanding teachers to the school, who shared her vision of the value and tradition of music education and love of teaching. Together they raised the bar for what each child could accomplish, giving them the tools to realize their fullest potential, inspiring them and nurturing their self confidence.

Nelly at 19 years old

I found another letter in her old green suitcase that she wrote 10 years ago:

“What is a 19-year-old girl teaching her first piano student in Odessa dreaming about?  Her wish was not a big house, a big car and diamonds. Her wish was the same as I have now – to give every child that is gifted in music the best teaching possible. For all 45 years of my teaching life I awake in the morning and review in my mind what students had achieved the day before.  The words in a song from my favorite Cary Grant movie say: ‘Close your eyes, make your wish, and make your life.’ It seems that Providence has enabled me to help talented music teachers from different countries find a home in my school and to be creative enough to bring about this unique school.  I would like to thank you all for coming and making my dreams come true.”

Join me in celebrating Nelly Berman’s gift of music to so many young people.

With much love and admiration,



Philadelphia Academy of Music Hosts Memorable Concert and Ball

No, the award-winning actor and star of Broadway and film, Hugh Jackman, is not Jewish, as far as we know, but we could not resist including him, backed up by maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, on the stage of the Academy of Music.

— article and all photos by Bonnie Squires

When the Academy of Music and The Philadelphia Orchestra held their annual Concert and Ball on Saturday, January 26, 2013, Jewish philanthropists and supporters of the arts were prominent on the scene. Their businesses, corporations, and family foundations were listed and depicted in the gorgeous program journal, where charities, schools, colleges, and other worthwhile community endeavors are photographed and sponsored.

The volunteers and executives in charge of the mammoth event were far-seeing enough to have booked Hugh Jackman as the main talent far in advance of his nominations for his role in “Les Miserables,” for the Golden Globe award (which he won), the SAG award and the Academy Award. Jackman’s energy and passion in rendering numbers from shows he has performed in, like “Carousel,” as well as his role as Jean Valjean, inspired maestroYannick Nezet-Seguin and the orchestra to match Jackman’s verve.

More after the jump.

(left to right) Dianne Rotwitt, PA First Lady Susan Corbett, and Diane’s husband Jeff Rotwitt, Esq., at the President’s Reception preceding the Philadelphia Orchestra concert.

At one point, the Philadelphia Boys Choir, in bright red jackets, came on stage to sing background for Jackman. He also treated the audience to the sight of his seven-year-old daughter coming out on stage, offering a silver platter with a Philly cheesesteak on it.

Even the First Lady of Pennsylvania, Susan Corbett, got in the act when Jackman danced over to her VIP box, twirled her around while he sand “Mack the Knife,” and then planted a kiss on her cheek, to the cheers of the audience.

As you turn the pages of the program journal, a prized coffee table publication, you come across many Jewish names. There were so many hundreds of people at all the various venues of the event that I only got to capture a few dozen in photos. Others were spotted across a crowded dance floor at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, being serenaded by the Eddie Bruce Orchestra (18 members strong).

Marjorie and Peter Ochroch raved about Hugh Jackman and maestro Yannick.

Nancy and Ken Davis were among the many hundreds of delighted supporters of the Academy of Music and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The spirit and generosity of the late Ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore hovered over the entire event, from start to finish, with the restored chandelier and the renovated ballroom, beneficiaries of the Annenbergs vision and philanthropy.

Just as they did for the Barnes Foundation opening, the Jewish community showed strong support for the Academy of Music and The Philadelphia Orchestra, emphasizing the theme of this year’s event: “Celebrating New Beginnings.”

Delighted with the 156th Anniversary Concert and Ball  and the huge turn-out are (left to right) Carl and Roberta Dranoff with Terese and Senator Bob Casey.

The Zuritsky Family joined in the “Celebrating New Beginnings” event which ended up at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue for dinner and dancing.  Here we see (left to right) Robert Zuritsky, CEO of the Parkway Corporation, with his wife Caroline, his mother Renee and father and founder of the firm, Joe Zuritsky.

Steve and Julia Harmelin  represented Steve’s law firm, Dilworth Paxson, which was one of the Major Sponsors of the evening.

(left to right) Joe Kluger and his wife Susan Lewis, a cultural arts reporter for WRTI-FM, joined Vada and Dave Conant at the gala.  Conant is general manager of Temple University’s WRTI-FM station.

Jeanette Lerman Neubauer and her husband Joe Neubauer,  Prime Sponsors of the Academy Concert and Ball,  greeted their friend Barbara Eberlein at the President’s Reception.

Bill and Lizzie Rubin joined Bill’s parents, Marcia and Ron Rubin, Benefactors of the event.


JEWMONGOUS Hanukkah Concert At Milkboy Coffee

Would you like to do something hip for Hanukkah this year?  Call up your JDate and reserve your seats for December 22nd at the Milkboy Coffee in Ardmore. JEWMONGOUS is in town for only one performance of his comedy song concert.

Who is JEWMONGOUS?  Sean Altman was part of the Rockapella group that composed the famous Emmy-winning song for the PBS-TV series, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?  In 1997, he embarked on his solo career, naming his newest incarnation JEWMONGOUS.  

More after the jump.
Mr. Altman tells me, “Christmas (a.k.a. “the Christian Chanukah”) is upon us and JEWMONGOUS is gonna party like it’s the 1999th-iversary of Christ’s bar mitzvah.  Featuring his new song “Jesus Christ’s Bar Mitzvah” and original favorites like “The Least Jewy Jew In Jewville”, “They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)” and “Phantom Foreskin.”  

Sean Altman concludes by telling me, “JEWMONGOUS welcomes all believers and heathens but is not appropriate for children unless you’re training them to be sailors.”

JEWMONGOUS in concert
8pm, Saturday, December 22, 2012
Milkboy Coffee, 2 East Lancaster Ave. / Ardmore, PA
$15 advance/ $18 day of show, 8pm, info: 610.645.5269.