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America’s Piano Showman Dino Kartsonakis Brings a Musical Extravaganza at Carnegie Hall
by Asher J. Matathias*
As Israel celebrates its 65th birthday, Jews throughout the world are heartened with the support evinced for this democratic oasis by Christians, and others, hailing the creation of a latter-day miracle in a region replete with divine revelation. However, and in recent weeks, Anna and I were introduced to the Missouri-based charismatic pianist and impresario, Greek-American Dino Kartsonakis and his singer-wife Cheryl who pitched a Zionist message in support of the Jewish State via a musical extravaganza in music’s Mecca, New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Thus, after teaching my St. John’s University class, and my wife Anna her afternoon Hebrew class at the Oceanside Jewish Center Religious School, we joined hundreds of an heterogeneous audience in the storied Isaac Stern Auditorium (his overlarge portrait gazed upon us, a handful of Jews, feeling reassured), as we turned our eyes to observe a full orchestra on the Ronald O. Perelman Stage ready to begin a few minutes past 8:00 PM.
America’s Piano Showman, a title aptly given to virtuoso Dino Kartsonakis, has the honor of being the only person to ever perform inside the Tower of David, in Jerusalem. Dino has captured the world with his unique talent, stellar performances and exceptional showmanship. He is two time Grammy Award nominee and one time Grammy Award Winner for “Chariots of Fire”, eight time Dove Award winner and Tele Award winner for “Miracles.”
His talent and performance prowess all started at the tender age of three, when he sat at his grandmother’s upright piano, and played both melody and harmony of an hymn he heard that morning at church. He grew into his talents and later studied at the Julliard School of Music, and conservatories in both France and Germany.
Touring the world and playing in such places as Russia, Japan, and Israel to name a few, also The Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and many more prestigious venues nationwide, he also performed for presidents and dignitaries alike. Aside from touring the world, Dino made countless network television appearances since the age of sixteen, plus the highly rated talk show “The Dino Show” produced and hosted by him and his wife Cheryl Kartsonakis. For over 25 years they wowed audiences around the globe in over 200 countries with variety of celebrity guests as well as performances by Dino and Cheryl.
Following a rousing overture by conductor, and Nashville resident, David T. Clydesdale, Dino appeared in a flashing costume befitting his role as host, in short order introducing the Puerto Rican tenor Daniel Rodriguez to sing the Star Spangled Banner, Dr. Robert Stearns gave a passing rendition of the Hatikva (“Hope”, the Israeli national anthem), and Israel’s New York Consul-General Ido Aharoni.
The last, took the opportunity to connect the 10 days interval between tragedy — the observance of Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Day, Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and the Victims of Terrorism — and joyous celebration of the founding of the modern State of Israel, the dream of a movement’s founder, Theodor Herzl! As an Israeli diplomat he knows too well how his country, our Jews’ special refuge, is demonized, the Shoa denied, and, indeed, how some ape the chance to repeat it. Therefore, the zeal of these supporters is welcomed, their words to be discerned and mined for their fervent attachment to the Holy Land under Jewish sovereignty.
Dino, as did other performers throughout the evening, emphasized their collective commitment to keeping Israel alive and thriving, gingerly enlisting themselves in combating anti-Semitism, a contagion amply demonstrated in daily news dispatches. The internationally famous Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale joined Cheryl in singing an arresting version of Jerusalem of Gold, beginning in English and concluding in Hebrew! The late Jester Hairston’s Amen, well-known beyond the Gospel circuit, made people rise, sway, simultaneously clapping and raising their hands, waving them in adoration.
There were other selections for general appeal: Chariots of Fire, When the Saints Come Marching In, You’ll Never Walk Alone, America the Beautiful; however, it soon became apparent that we were intended to be captivated by the stumping and shouting common to revival Evangelical prayer meetings, with all the talent that this genre could display.
So, we learned to appreciate the professional splendor of the artists, while separating their overbearing Christian messages: Oklahoma City resident and five times Grammy winner Sandi Patty, also five times Grammy winner Kentuckian Larnelle Harris, Indiana’s Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, while second-generation talent, and Dino and Cheryl’s daughter, Christina Bohn, ascended to the conductor’s podium to offer the inaugural performance of an original composition, 1948 Triumphant. Their Midwest roots is mentioned to explain the devout religious sentiment commonly associated with the Bible Belt, and the well-intentioned but questionable motivation arising from insinuating themselves directly as Hope for Zion, in saving 800,000 Israeli children from the alleged hunger that is their daily lot. Pauletta Washington, wife of superstar Denzel Washington, appeared as guest star and performed a couple of songs with her captivating voice, leaving the audience in awe.
During a festive, post-concert reception, and while most waxed lyrically, Anna and I commiserated with Greek-American journalists Dimitris Rhompotis of the monthly NEO Magazine (a special edition was produced for the occasion), and the daily National Herald’s Dean Sirigos, lamenting the self-evident absence of the Greek Christian community, but pleasantly surprised that an effort was made to bring and honor several Holocaust survivors. Obviously, for Jews, the comment made by messianic rabbi Jonathan Cahn was flippant when he answered the question whether we are waiting for the first or second coming of the Messiah with the noncommittal, “Yes!” Nor was he convincing donning a talit (prayer shawl) and blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) to the cadences heard on Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement!
Having stated that this solicited program was an unusual opportunity to stand up for Israel, I can affirm this unique experience leaves me unfulfilled. It could not be otherwise, for there was always the residue of sweeping substantial doctrinal differences under the rug to attain an ephemeral, fundamentally flawed unity. Instead, Jew and Gentile, with respect for our differences, indeed celebrating them with tolerance, understanding, and compassion, let us join to sing a harmonious Halleluiah chorus, dancing the Hora with brio, wishing happy birthday to Eretz Yisrael!
* Asher J. Matathias is assistant professor of political science at St. John’s University, president of the Five Towns Lodge of B’nai B’rith, resides in Woodmere, is married to Anna for 42 years, and is the father of three daughters, who have given him four grandsons and three granddaughters.