Seventy years after Auschwitz, victims live on through their music

JT News
Publication Date

MONDAY, January 26th, 2015 - “Is it something from which you wake? A nightmare or a fairytale? No! It really happened. No! We were there.” –Farewell, Auschwitz

When Music of Remembrance premiered its commissioned work “Farewell, Auschwitz” last spring, the reception was astounding.

“The audience was so moved by it we went out and played it again,” said artistic director Mina Miller. “The next day someone wrote, ‘That should be the new Hatikvah.’”

The powerful piece, based on a poem by political prisoner Krystyna Zywulska and set to music by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, consists of three vocalists, piano, and strings and provides what might be described as a surreal look over the shoulder at the Nazi death camp as its survivors are released.

“Farewell, Auschwitz” will close MOR’s concert marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp on January 27. It is one of two pieces in the “Art From Ashes” program that was created by a survivor rather than a victim.

“All the [other] pieces were created by composers who perished in Auschwitz,” said Miller. “They were all sent to Auschwitz, and they were all murdered.”

Included in the program is a suite of pieces composed by musicians imprisoned at Terezín, the camp notorious for producing musical and artistic productions to cover up the atrocities of the Nazi plan, before they were deported to Auschwitz.

This is not to say the concert will be unbearably depressing.

“You listen to this music and you’d never believe it was created under such dire circumstances,” said Miller. “There’s no way of knowing this person was in slave labor and hadn’t eaten in six months. It’s amazing courage that defies imagination.”

Hans Krása’s string trio is lively and light despite being written in Terezín in 1943, shortly before his deportation and death. Robert Dauber’s “Serenata” for violin contains a tango, as does Dick Kattenberg’s “Escapades.” Dauber and Kattenberg were just 23 and 24 years old, respectively, when they died.

“It’s heartbreaking to know how much unrealized creative potential was for these artists,” said Miller. “It’s a lasting gift that this music is here.”

With 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, MOR is thinking about the future of its mission. Miller’s plans for the organization include taking on deeper questions of the role of art in tragic circumstances and commissioning new music and dance pieces. She’s currently working with artists a new piece exploring the question of artistic responsibility as a libretto conversation between Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. And new material is still surfacing. In 2016, MOR will present a commission based on the life of a Hungarian Jewish poet.

“When his body was exhumed from a mass grave they found all this poetry he’d written on a death march,” Miller said. “If you take a poem and you set it to music, the poem has another life. It has an emotional life. To dramatize someone’s creative life through music is an important vehicle.”

“Art From Ashes” will open with welcome remarks from Mayor Ed Murray. Tickets are free, but going quickly.

“The pieces are all accessible, they’re all very short,” said Miller. “You can grasp the different styles of the music. I think it will be an eye opener for anyone who hasn’t been exposed to Music of Remembrance before.”

By Emily K. Alhadeff, Associate Editor, The Jewish Sound


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