by Hillary Fletcher, Marketing Assistant, Institute for Holocaust Education
The Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) is excited to announce Remembrance, Creativity and Transformation, a weeklong artist-in-residency and concert series that will take place in Omaha from Oct. 21 through Oct. 28.
In partnership with the Terezín Music Foundation, Remembrance, Creativity and Transformation will feature performances by the Hawthorne String Quartet (members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) with Omaha Area Youth Symphony’s Strings, Omaha Public Schools’ Holocaust Remembrance Choir, and the Omaha Symphony Chamber Orchestra with Thomas Wilkins conducting. Two of the engagements will include noted landscape painter, Jim Schantz. The second concert, Silenced Voices of Terezín, is a benefit concert for the IHE as it enters its 13th year of service to the community.
As IHE Executive Director Beth Dotan explains, this program really began when “Ellen Scott of The Bookworm suggested that the IHE host a concert with the Hawthorne String Quartet. Her cousin is the cellist. Quartet director Mark Ludwig suggested more than a single concert. Things just blossomed from there.” The emphasis of the concerts is the preservation of music and remembrance of composers murdered in the Holocaust – many of whom died in Terezín.
The Terezín (Theresienstadt) concentration camp operated as a transit and ghetto-labor camp, but it eventually developed an additional role as a propaganda camp. Jews -elderly, World War I veterans, intellectuals and artists- were transferred there under the pretense that they would not be sent for resettlement to labor camps. Terezín’s purpose was to be the benevolent face that the Germans would show a doubtful world. Following the 1944 deportation of Danish Jews to Terezín, the Nazis allowed a site visit by the Red Cross. In preparation for this visit, a mass “beautification” project was launched. When completed, thousands of weak and elderly Jews were transported out of the camp to their death to falsify the reality of starvation, overcrowding and illness. Remarkably, the Jewish artists imprisoned in Terezín continued producing works of art. There were lectures and performances. Although forbidden, children attended a covert school and wrote poetry and musicians played for prisoners. Artists also lent their time to teaching children their craft. At Terezín, Hans Krása’s opera Brundibár was reworked by Krása during his internment and performed by fellow prisoners.
Of the approximately 140,000 Jews sent to Terezín, 90,000 were deported to almost certain death, nearly 33,000 died in the camp, and of 15,000 children, 13,500 did not survive. However, 4,500 pieces of their artwork did.
To continue to create, to look for beauty or to record grief- these small acts inspired prisoners to carry on. Forty years later, the work and stories of Krása and others became an inspiration for Boston Symphony violist, Mark Ludwig. In 1991, Ludwig created the nonprofit Terezín Music Foundation (TMF) to preserve and revive the music of Terezín composers. Remembrance, Creativity and Transformation explores the music of these composers and others.
Ludwig’s enthusiasm for the music and the Omaha program is contagious. When asked how he became interested in the Terezín composers, he explained that in the late 1980s, while reading a biography on Terezín prisoner Rabbi Leo Baeck, he was intrigued by the chapters that detailed accounts of performances at the camp and of music composed by interned musicians. Ludwig went on, “Here I am, a professional musician –I have never heard of these composers– my network of composers and musicians had never heard of them! It became a lifelong mission to preserve and play this music. These are composers of high pedigree. There is no mystery to the significance of this music.”
Most of the musicians in Terezín had successful careers prior to the Holocaust, but as Jewish composers, their music was often dismissed. Ludwig finds it indisputable that, had these artists survived, they would have inspired and influenced many more generations of composers and musicians. Ludwig, again, “In the west we have been so unaware of this body of music. This was the focus of my Fulbright Scholarship. The TMF has evolved into not only preserving but finding ways to use it as an homage by commissioning works from current composers – using the older compositions as the inspiration and using the voices of Terezín to guide the voices of today. We select internationally renowned artists, we commission a work, they perform on the greatest stages in the world, they have a chance to be heard, and Terezín has a chance to be heard.”
The program that Ludwig and Dotan created for Omaha is a chance for community members of all ages and interests to be inspired.
Workshops that introduce the history of the Holocaust and the artists of Terezín to students include five after-school programs in Omaha. Participants will listen to poetry, hear music, and see artwork from Terezín. The students will keep a journal and produce their own works of art guided by local artists and guest artist Jim Schantz. Their work will be displayed at the final concert in the series.
The series opens with a performance by the Hawthorne String Quartet with the Omaha Youth Symphony’s Strings and the Omaha Public Schools’ Holocaust Remembrance Choir. Their program includes the TMF commissions of: David Post’s, Fantasy on a Virtual Chorale, Stephen Feigenbaum’s, Songs of Sorrow and Hope, and Thomas Oboe Lee’s, Flowers of Terezín.
The second concert is a benefit for the IHE. During Silenced Voices of Terezín, the Hawthorne String Quartet will perform works composed in Terezín, as well as Hans Krása’s String Quartet (1923). As the Quartet performs the Krása composition, painter Jim Schantz will create a new post-impressionistic piece. This is a very special event. Schantz has produced artwork with the Quartet less than a dozen times over the past eight years. They work together only occasionally to keep the work original, but Ludwig considers it an integral part of Omaha’s upcoming program. Schantz’s take on the Quartet’s performances allow for another way of expressing and demystifying the music.
The third and final concert of Remembrance, Creativity and Transformation, is a performance by the Omaha Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Hawthorne String Quartet, conducted by symphony Music Director Thomas Wilkins.
The Symphony and Quartet will perform two Holocaust-related works, including Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Orchestra by Erwin Schulhoff, a composer who died in the Wulzberg concentration camp. In keeping with the TMF’s commitment to new artists, the orchestra will also debut award-winning composer Clint Needham’s Voices, commissioned by the TMF, the IHE, and the Holland Foundation. This will be the first concert in the new Symphony Joslyn series.
Ludwig offers a bit of advice, “I want to give a warning. We come up with images, ‘Ugh, Holocaust music’. Not true! This series is alive! It involves a wide range of emotional elements –the despair of the time, of course, but it’s also hopeful and defiant, and very lyrical! Those who attend this series will be amazed at the wide range of content and emotion. Beth and I have worked many, many hours over the last year, and I am very excited about seeing this all come to fruition and opening up the palate for people!”
Tickets are available for all performances. Performances are as follows:
Omaha Area Youth Symphony’s Strings and Omaha Public Schools’ Holocaust Remembrance Choir to perform with the Hawthorne String Quartet, Sunday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m. at Dundee Presbyterian Church
Benefit Concert for the Institute for Holocaust Education – Silenced Voices of Terezín, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center
Omaha Symphony and Hawthorne String Quartet Debut Commissioned Work, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m. at Joslyn Art Museum, Witherspoon Concert Hall.