Thursday, September 1, 2011

Holocaust musicology

I had a fascinating meeting with Bret Werb, the musicologist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I sought him out for guidance in planning and preparing for our Dolce Suono Ensemble's upcoming concert commemorating the Holocaust. "A Place and a Name: Remembering the Holocaust" will feature music by composers who were murdered in the Holocaust - Gideon Klein, Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Ilse Weber, and composers who reflect on the Holocaust in their music - Tzvi Avni and André Previn, who escaped Germany as children, and Shulamit Ran, our 2011-2012 Composer-in-Residence and Artistic Co-Curator. Lucy Shelton, soprano will join us as guest artist.

Bret's knowledge of his field is extensive. As I sat with him in his office, he pulled books and recordings off the shelves, grabbed copies of archival material from files, and extemporized on dozens of composers, works, and historical information. There are very interesting Soviet composers who are not very well known in the West. I left excited about new musical areas to research and repertoire to perform.

I'm always attracted to artistic communities or milieux, where artists of different disciplines - music, visual art, theater, dance - inspire each other in their creative endeavors. That's why my curiosity was particularly aroused when Bret told me about the circle of Mieczysław Weinberg, who was one of the most important Soviet era composers. A Jew born in Warsaw, he managed to escape to the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II, but the rest of his family perished at the hands of the Nazis. Weinberg married the daughter of Solomon Mikhoels, a Jewish actor and director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater. Marc Chagall designed costumes and sets for the theater before he emigrated to Paris and joined another rich artistic community. Stalin had Mikhoels murdered in his purges of intellectuals and Jews after the war. In addition to the great talents of these artists, it is inspiring how they pursued their art despite the oppression they faced.

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