Transfigured Night transfigured

Publication: 
Independent Review by Philippa Kiraly

By Philippa Kiraly

Music of Remembrance’s mission is “Lest We Forget:” lest we forget the Holocaust, all that led up to it, and its aftermath. But that doesn’t mean its programs are ones of gloom and doom. The composers who died in the camps earlier lived ordinary lives and wrote music of all kinds, from cabaret songs to chamber music.

Sunday’s Nordstrom Recital Hall program was anything but gloomy, though it was held on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, when the persecution of Germany’s Jews was ratcheted up with frightening violence.

Its centerpiece was composed four decades before that, so why does Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht (Transfigured Night) have a place on this program? Schoenberg was one of the first Jews to recognize the writing on the wall and flee Germany in the early 1930s, but for the rest of his life in the U.S. he worked tirelessly to rescue European Jews.

Richard Dehmel’s brief romantic poem is of a couple walking among trees on a dark night, in which, full of guilt and shame, she painfully confesses she became pregnant before she met this man. He forgives her and says the child will be loved as his own. Schoenberg’s musical depiction for double string trio was composed very early in his career before he turned to 12-tone music.

MOR commissioned Donald Byrd to choreograph it for this concert, and the audience saw a memorable world premiere.

Byrd has created a beautiful, explicit story ballet. Departing from the story’s setting the two bare-foot dancers, Shadou Mintrone and Alex Crozier, were in romantic ballet costume, she in a grey calf-length gauzy tutu with a low-cut maroon top and little puff sleeves plus an exquisite and complicated French braid hairdo; he in a black frock coat, black tie and maroon tights.

In Nordstrom’s small space, the dancers’ expressions were easy to see. Mintrone’s face and body together mirrored her agony, her sorrow, her sadness and reluctance to burden her new lover with the story and the reality, and finally her acceptance of his loving offer. Crozier’s conflict and decision-making were equally easy to read.

Byrd’s choreography followed the classical style, the two dancing together, followed by her solo, then his solo, then both together at the end, all of it folded seamlessly into the story. His choreography was deeply imaginative, frequently unusual, always relevant.
Mintrone and Crozier are members of Spectrum Dance Theater, superb dancers both who never made the tiny stage look too small for his leaps or her turns. They gave full physical expression to Byrd’s, Schoenberg’s and Dehmel’s work.

This brilliant piece was the culmination of an excellent concert, well programmed in its variety. As always, founder and artistic director Mina Miller had done extensive homework to find works by composers long dead, their works buried in European attics during WWII. This time she showcased two Dutch composers both killed in the camps, a fine Sextet for Wind Quintet and Piano from 1933 by Leo Smit, and two works by the very young Dick Kattenberg, the lighthearted Escapades for two violins, and the jazzy Tap Dance, for two pianos with Mintrone dancing the rhythms. This brought roars of approval and was repeated.

Not least was a delightful group of seven cabaret Songs and Satire from Terezin, by various composers and lyric writers, of whom one or the other for each song died in the camps. Mezzo-soprano Julia Benzinger was just the right person to perform these in cabaret style, but it was a shame that the songs translated in English were not printed in the program. While her words were mostly clear, it was often not possible to catch the gist of the lyrics.

Miller accompanied her, and all the other works were performed by members of the Seattle Symphony with the inclusion of violist Joel Belgique from the Oregon Symphony.