“Do you know why I like playing Jazz? Because it will take me as far as my mind will let it.” Rio Clemente
Yes, Rio, the expansion of one’s mind and experiences can come in many forms, be it music, theater, visual arts, history or any other perceived Zen which allows an individual to broaden their horizons. It is not often enough when all of these things come together but beginning May 12 those willing to venture near Warren County, NJ will have the opportunity to attend the first “Celebrate the Arts” festival benefitting The Rutherfurd Hall Foundation.
Recently, Sarah Brelvi, one of the festival organizers and several of the scheduled performers discussed the foundation, the building’s history, the importance of the arts and culture and their involvement in the first of what is going to become an annual event.
“We completed all this basically in the last six months,” said an excited Brelvi. “This will be the first year for the Rutherfurd Hall Foundation Arts Festival and it’s a brand-new festival coming into the northwestern New Jersey area. This was the idea of and birthed actually by Deidre Bryant Worth who is a trustee of the Rutherfurd Hall Foundation. So, as we were coming out of COVID and looking for ways on how we could engage the community in the foundation, we decided that the best way would be to have an arts festival and the purpose of the festival is threefold; we want to engage the community, we're looking to constantly, continually draw attention to Rutherfurd Hall; which is located in Allamuchy, New Jersey in Warren County. Rutherfurd Hall was originally a family home owned by the Rutherfurds who would come from New York City to enjoy the country and all of the different sportsman activities that would be able to take place; If you go back to the Gilded Age, this would be like a cottage. So, it's a 104-year-old mansion, a Tudor Style country type home and it’s now been for the last 10 years a cultural arts center and museum and when I say a cultural center, it's an arts center but it's not necessarily just art. We're bringing art to it this year but It's really a cultural center where many types of programs and events take place throughout the year. The purpose of the Hall Foundation is to feature the mansion and the property and to showcase all of the arts and right now we're raising funds for various capital improvements. We're raising funds to air condition the first floor of the mansion; as you can imagine, it was not air conditioned 104 years ago
People can be passionate about many things but those who immerse themselves in the arts; well, to some it is a labor of love and Sarah, as well as her family fall into that category.
“I've been a trustee for the past eight years and I've always served in a leadership position and this year I have the honor of serving as the President of the Foundation. I've lived in Allamuchy with my family for the past 33 years and Rutherfurd Hall mansion has always been present. When the time came, the Rutherford's bequeathed the mansion to the Sisters of Charity and nuns lived in Rutherford Hall; it was then called Villa Madonna and we would have the opportunity to visit with the nuns, see the mansion and engage in some of the programs they had but when they moved from the Hall it was acquired by the Allamuchy Board of Education and it's now open to the public; a gem, we call Rutherfurd Hall a gem, a hidden gem. I've always been involved in culture and arts and many types of performing arts, our children actually are thespians and grew up in the performing arts. So, it's important to myself and my husband, Doctor Brelvi, that we perpetuate arts in our community. We perpetuate culture and we’re doing so through the physical building of the mansion, the property and the land; there's a whole park, Allamuchy State Park that surrounds the mansion; so why not get involved? Why not take my skills; I'm a retired professional fundraiser, and why not take my skills and my love of the Community and arts and bring it to Rutherfurd Hall?”
Many times, especially where the government is involved, there are delays and rules to follow and when putting on an event such as this and organizers can sometimes encounter unwanted “Roadblocks” requiring some tenacious efforts in order to get things moving. Sarah says, there were some detours but overall they have overcome any obstacles.
“That's It, it has taken a lot of tenacity and honestly, there have been roadblocks that we've had and we've been able to successfully maneuver around some of them and through some of them. Nothing major, but there are always these hidden roadblocks and I believe what you're saying is it's the understanding or the lack of understanding; I don't mean it to be negative or judgmental that people do not have a love for sharing the arts from their heart. Sincerely, it’s a love of art and culture and when you have that and that is intertwined within your personality, you can't shut it off.”
“We are looking to showcase and highlight local artists and these are all local artists from New Jersey, or a really close proximity of Pennsylvania and the festival runs from May 12th when we kick it off with an arts festival gala; I was working with our team yesterday and we're about ready to shut off ticket sales to the gala because we're almost at our peak which is excellent news and we've had some wonderful and very engaging supportive sponsors and what's important is that these are new sponsors to Rutherfurd Hall. We have the John Johnson Auto Group, which is John Johnson who grew up in Allamuchy, went to preschool with the nuns at Rutherfurd Hall, attended Sunday services in the chapel as he grew up as many families did in Allamuchy and is a very successful business person and his intent is to support his local community. John Johnson has been our greatest. Supporter in so many ways philanthropically and through his business to the community and we have gained other sponsors which you know you have to cultivate new relationships consistently and continually and the arts festival has opened that door for us. So, we're really very grateful to have those relationships come to Rutherfurd Hall.”
When putting an event like this together there are choices to be made for the entertainment and in this case the foundation has chosen local creatives to set the tone for the opening weekend.
“Well, actually, Peter Maier was a gift that landed right in our lap,” explained Sarah. “The owner of our local radio station. WRNJ is friends with many people in the community; his name is Norm Worth and he was actually having lunch with an Allamuchy resident and farmer, Ray Bohacz and Ray is a personal friend and had worked with Peter Maier at one time when Peter was in the auto industry. So, when Norm started to tell Ray about this, he said, “Oh, let me see if Peter would be interested in showcasing his artwork and so a group of us went out to Bethlehem to where he lives in Pennsylvania and to his studio. That was absolutely amazing to be with the artist; his paints, his brushes, his pieces, his work clothes and just engage in it and soak up what it is to be an artist. We're very honored to have his work, which will be displayed and all of the artwork will be displayed throughout the whole festival which runs from May 12th to the 22nd but on May 14th we have an open house where there's no charge to come into Rutherfurd Hall and view all the artwork. All of the artwork is available for sale and a percentage will come to the foundation.”
“We do want to be sure that we're ensuring to the public that we're making this accessible and affordable to everyone. The fee to attend each one of the performances is $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and children and those are performances by the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, Allison Bolshoi; who has performed at Carnegie Hall as an opera singer and Rio Clemente who has performed at Rutherfurd Hall many times. We also have a historian, Joan Salvas and she's Rutherfurd Hall’s resident historian and she'll be lecturing on the history of Rutherfurd Hall. Oh! We encourage ballroom dancing; we're going to have demonstrations with participation and prior to that an open house wine bar. People can come in that evening and hear Bach, Beethoven and Mozart music performed on an 18th Century Fortepiano; are you familiar with the Fortepiano? It is one of the original pianos from the 18th Century and it resonates; the tones can be very loud. When I say loud, I mean very enriched tones that will emulate from the piano. Then we conclude with something that's also brand new to the Northwestern New Jersey area; it’s a film festival. We have short films that have been approved to be shown and these are all by New Jersey filmmakers, the films are about New Jersey or by New Jersey film makers.
Another one of the performers is the aforementioned Alison Bolshoi, a local Contralto who has graced some of our nations finest stages and beyond and for Alison, it is her first experience at this venue
“They invited me to come in with other opera singers and put on a classical concert and I was very happy to say yes,” said Bolshoi with a slight laugh. I'm not familiar with them, and frankly I've been looking for a venue just like this and it was really a meeting of the minds; I've been trying to start a classical opera series out here and it's very difficult to get something like that going and having a venue that suits the music is something you really want and this is gorgeous and I didn't even know it was there. I must have driven by it 100 times in the four years that we've lived out here, it looked to me just like a school and instead it's this gorgeous mansion on the water and it has a lovely theater that seats 100 people, which is a really nice number for getting something going; it has a grand piano and it's just very elegant and perfect for a classical background.”
Bolshoi is no stranger to performing and as she tells it; her love of the stage began at a very early age.
“Well, I've always been performing, I was one of those children that spoke very, very early as a baby; I was tap dancing and singing at 18 months old in a theater troupe with my parents. I've just always been on the stage and everyone thought I was going to do musical theater until college when a professor heard me singing in the hallway of one of my universities I attended and said; “What are you doing singing musical theatre? You're an opera singer!” So, I started studying with him and then right out of college was hired at Bianchi and Margherita’s nightclub in The Village in New York. I sang there for years and then Senator Paul Simon from Illinois heard me singing there one night and said, “What are you doing singing in a nightclub?” He sent me to the Chicago Lyric for an audition; I auditioned and didn't get the job, but that's OK, because I realized that I should be taking myself more seriously. I've had a really great career and if anything, it has gotten stronger in the last few years except for COVID, of course. I just sang at Carnegie Hall several weeks ago, I sang at Carnegie in 2018. In 2019 and I'll be at Dallas Opera in the fall making my debut there and everything is just sort of rolling downhill with my career. I'm sort of crazy that in addition to my own performance career, I have a full-time teaching business as well as wanting to bring classical music out to the country. So, you know, my family is always like; “Really, you're going take on something else?” I really enjoy it and there's a need for classical music out here. There are a lot of people out here who follow classical music and who don't necessarily want to drive into the city every time they want to hear something. So; if we have a series out here, it's going to be most welcome, I can see that already. When you think of classical or opera you think of grand stages and the costumes and everything like that and yet we can also do opera in concert form where you're performing duets or trios or Arias and if the people are familiar with the music, or even if they're not, you're still listening to beautiful melodies and if the performer is good, they are delivering the meaning of the Aria without having to have the whole backdrop of the sets, the costumes and the full story.”
When most think of opera singers, the impression is that they are fluent in a foreign language, given that the selections they perform are always in a foreign language but not so says Alison.
“Opera singers often do not speak the languages that they sing in; I sing in, I think it's eight languages at this point. My job is to sing in another language so that a native speaker of that country believes that I'm from that country. Most opera singers do have that gift; we are chameleons with language and we can just as easily sing in Czech or German or French or Italian. I sing in those languages, plus Greek, Ancient Greek, Spanish; there are no operas in Spanish, but there is classical art songs and I also sing in Korean; we strive to be as believable in each language as possible. I do speak some German, nothing crazy but I can get by and I can pretty much get by in Italy and France as well but it's not my native tongue and I didn't learn it from the perspective of speaking it. I learned it from the perspective that I will translate every word of this Aria and I will know idiomatically what I'm stressing, what are my most important words for conveying the feeling that this character is expressing.”
So, when she takes the stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday May 14; will she be performing one of her favorite Arias?
“ I love to sing the character Fricka in Wagner's “Ring Cycle.” Fricka is the goddess of marriage and she is married to Wotan and she is berating him for having slept around with the Earth goddess Erda and creating Bruunhilde, so she is berating him for not being faithful (laughs); it's German at 90 miles an hour and it's something I'm just particularly good at and Wagner is my favorite composer. I actually just yesterday decided to put Fricka on the program for Rutherfurd Hall. It is a very unusual thing to hear Wagner at an oratorio concert but I think it's also important to introduce it as just like any other Aria and given some time people will go, oh my God; what was that? That was so unusual. Then they get interested in looking it up; what is Wagner and what does he write like? Will I like any of these operas if I went to see one in its entirety? So that's the idea, to just keep opening people's consciousness to other composers and to more classical music.”
We’ve already read a bit about renowned artist Peter Maier; he elaborated on how he came to be part of this event and his art.
“The Hot Rod farmer, Ray Bohacz; he has a place over near there, I think it's in Hackettstown, it’s a 100-acre farm and he writes for the Farm Bureau and he's got a podcast that goes to 80 countries. So, Ray is pretty well known in the farm industry and he met me through another New Jersey fellow, Rob Ida the famous custom car builder and because I was a senior designer for Cadillac, Pontiac and Chevrolet Motor division he came over here to do a podcast on what Rob and I are doing car wise and we just hit it off and he told Diedre Bryant Worth about my stuff and two days later they were over here. They took a long shot and said; “Hey, we can't afford your work but we know who you are, you've got an international reputation; can we come over?” I said, sure; I'm a Vietnam veteran and I've helped a lot of organizations.”
“My paintings are scanned, not photographed, so there's no pixelation and they have a special process that they've made where they can print my paintings on metal or on the back of plexi,” he continued. “I can do a life-sized car painting which is five or six by 17 or 18 feet and scan it and it won't pixelate or I can make it 10 inches. So, just pick a size and this allows people who can't afford an original to buy that; I thought it would be a good idea for them and they did do so too so, that's how I got involved.”
Maier’s work isn’t limited to cars, he has a deep history with and has also done countless portraits of music icons
“Well, it's a deep history with Mort Cooperman, Mort Cooperman is former owner of the famous Lone Star Cafe in Greenwich Village. We were introduced by a museum director oh, twenty years ago and Mort and I, if we don't talk every day, we talk every other day; for the last 20 years and he fell in love with my work and he's promoting it like crazy. Before he opened the Lone Star, he was a top advertising executive on Madison Avenue; he was one of the guys who came up with the phrase “You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy’s” and that's Mort; he's a real character. He knows everybody from Willie Nelson to Johnny Cash; everybody who was anybody in country music played at the Lone Star, plus people like Liberace and non-country singers like James Brown. He introduced me to many and one I kind of didn't know, a group called The Band. I wasn’t familiar because when I was in Vietnam, they didn't play a lot of that stuff for us but when I got home my wife Jan; we got married in 1969. Jan would say, “I want to buy some albums.” So, I used to go on a Saturday or Sunday to Hudson's Department Store and maybe buy 10 albums; they were like three bucks back then for 33 records. I’d come home and she’d always say, “I want The Band. Well, I finally found it and I liked their music and one day Mort calls me up and says, “Listen, I’ve got an idea for a TV program and I’ve got some celebrities in mind. You're gonna be the car guy, and they're gonna ask you why you thought such and such was done on a particular car and you're going to give your answers whether they're right or wrong and it'll create a buzz.” So, he picked two celebrities and the first one didn't want to do it and the second one was Levon Helm of The Band. So, we met Levon up in Woodstock at his place and we talked it over and it was a go but it never really made it to TV. Everybody liked it but you know these TV executives, they’ve got their own ideas. We didn't like their ideas so we said, eh, let’s can it and then believe it or not, a year later, Levon passed away. So, that's how I met these guys and did a whole bunch of celebrity portraits. We had a big museum show in Ohio and another one called “Legends.” I did Jagger, I did Keith Richards and a big painting of Keith called, “Under My Thumb” and you’ll see why; it will be in in the Rutherford show. I did Janis and Hendrix, I did Willie and Springsteen and I'll probably do a bunch more as the time goes on and then I will put them up on the market.”
Maier’s art is unusual in that he doesn’t work with standard paints or surfaces.
“I'm the only one in the world who uses experimental automotive paint given to me originally by DuPont which is now Axalta Coatings; they purchased DuPont's entire paint division. I paint on aluminum, so whether I do a car or a person or an animal or an inanimate object I work with automotive paint strictly that are waterborne experimental and they've given me about $350,000 worth of paint; I can open five body shops. I only use eight colors and I mix them in very thin layers, no colors are pre-mixed. So, let's say I want green, I'll put yellow down in a thin layer, and then I'll put a thin layer of blue over it and boom, you've got green. So, this builds up; I can go 75 to 100 layers and they won't muddy out. When the painting is complete, we put three coats of automotive premier clear on it, we wet sand that and then we put one more flow coat on it and it produces a 3D effect. They're so deep you can't believe the paintings; they do not look like paintings. You’ve got to see them in person because they're so big.”
Big? Peter says that he can create in “Any size;” so, what will he be exhibiting at the festival?
“We have “Pisces,” which is a double fish, a beautiful Angelfish shot from underwater in water; it's kind of interesting, one’s going in one direction and one’s going the other direction. I call it “Pisces” and it has beautiful colors, very rich colors. Diedre has that on their site and they’ve sent postcards all over the place and they're affordable. The biggest one is like all 70 by 60 wide, it's a pretty big print and they're about 12 grand but when you see it, you'll understand why. Keith Richards is another one, it's called, “Under my Thumb” and you'll see why.”
To discover more about The Rutherfurd Hall Foundation’s Celebrate the Arts Festival, please visit https://rutherfurdhall.org/about/rutherfurd-hall-foundation/ . To find out more about Alison Bolshoi, go to https://alisonbolshoi.com/ and for Peter Maier, please see https://www.petermaierart.com/about.
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!