Terezin, or Theresienstadt, was the infamous "model" camp where Holocaust victims were held before being shipped off to extermination; it was the camp the Nazis showed to outsiders to convince them that the enemies of the Third Reich weren't being mistreated. Some of Europe's finest musicians were sent there, and despite the conditions, musical culture flourished—coffeehouse and cabaret music as well as orchestral, choral, and chamber music. Songs and chamber music written at Terezin make up part of the program of next Monday's "Music of Death and Life" concert, the debut of Music of Remembrance, a new organization dedicated to the preservation and performance of music related to the Holocaust.
Music of Remembrance
"Music of Death and Life"
Benaroya Recital Hall, 365-7770
November 9 at 7:30
The Terezin composers include Carlo Taube, a pianist who led the camp orchestra; poet, writer, and radio producer Ilse Weber; and Gideon Klein, whose burgeoning career as a concert pianist was cut short by the Nazis' ban on public appearances by Jewish musicians. Uv'tzeil K'nofecho, a Sabbath evening prayer written by Terezin cantor David Grunfeld, will be heard in its original form and as the theme of a fantasy for string quartet by Zikmund Schul. V'I'Yerushalayim, a prayer for protection and redemption, was set for voice and strings by Hindemith student Vilem Zrzavey.
Also heard will be a concertino for flute, viola, and bass by Erwin Schulhoff, perhaps the most celebrated of the composers killed by the Nazis. Not only Jewish and a fervent Communist, Schulhoff was also a progressive musical voice ("Three strikes," Music of Remembrance's artistic director Mina Miller adds wryly) whose dark works explored atonality and jazz—influences the Nazis branded "degenerate."
The US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, is the only other organization in the country presenting this repertory. Miller intends for the concerts to raise "the whole question of what it must be like to create under those circumstances." She hopes to expand the organization's activities to include school lectures, recordings, and commissions.
Miller would also like to program a contemporary work on the theme of the Holocaust for each concert (a second one's scheduled for April). Getting its West Coast premiere next Monday will be Remembrance of a People by Columbia University composer and theorist Jonathan Kramer. The four-movement work, for string quartet plus bass (or string orchestra) and piano, dates from 1996. It deals with memory—of the unspeakable events of the Holocaust, of the lives lost, of a rich culture destroyed. "Memory is our strongest weapon against future holocausts," Kramer writes, "and music is one form of expression that can deal powerfully with memory." The music strains at the expressive limitations of the art: Kramer included evocative titles and phrases in the score to further inform the musicians about the appropriate expression. He also commissioned poems by Roger Goodman to preface each movement. Musically, the piece "exists in the crack between tonality and atonality," Kramer writes, "so that the two are not opposed but are part of the same world."
The concert falls on the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), an organized, nationwide orgy of destruction of Jewish religious, personal, and commercial property and a turning point in the Nazis' anti-Jewish campaign. Following the concert will be a discussion with Kramer and Seattle composer Gerhard Samuel, who as a teenager in Bonn survived the destruction of his home and property that night.