by Diane Axler-Baum, for Omaha Chamber Music Society
For its fifth annual concert at the JCC, Sunday, April 10, at 7 p.m., the Omaha Chamber Music Society will present the Amernet String Quartet, Ensemble-in-Residence at Florida International University, whose repertoire includes works by composers who were silenced or ignored because they were Jewish or of Jewish descent.
Titled Heritage: Chamber Music from Prague to Terezín, the concert and reception afterward will be free, and open to the entire Omaha community, thanks to generous support from the Sokolof Javitch Music Fund. Based on the past four years, a standing-room-only audience is expected.
A “sneak preview” will take place on April 10, from 11:30 a.m. to noon, in Temple Israel’s Community Court. The preview event, also made possible by the Sokolof Javitch Music Fund, will highlight passages from the concert enhanced by remarks by the musicians: Misha Vitenson, violin; Tomas Cotik, violin; Michael Klotz, viola; and Jason Calloway, cello.
The Amernet String Quartet has toured in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East and will tour Israel this coming May into June. Last year in Miami Beach, a series exploring the rich musical heritage of the Diaspora was inaugurated by the Amernet in collaboration with Florida International University, the Jewish Museum of Florida, Florida Grand Opera and distinguished guest artists.
“The Omaha Chamber Music Society is proud to bring to the JCC an internationally acclaimed ensemble offering a unique program,” said Stacie Haneline, OCMS executive director. “We are especially excited that Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, a favorite of Omaha audiences, is represented alongside important but lesser known composers. All offer beautiful examples of ways that musical works express a composer’s life experience and heritage.”
The concert will feature Dvorak’s Quartet in D-minor, opus 34; Viktor Ullmann’s Quartet #3; Ernest Bloch’s Paysages; Leo Smit’s Unfinished Quartet; and Aleksandr Zhitomirskii’s Dem Rebens Nigun.
Dvorak, who composed in Prague, had a strong interest in Slavic music, often incorporating folk melodies and dances into his work. While classical in form, his String Quartet in D-minor exhibits strong influences of his Czech homeland. Ullman, also Prague-based, was a leading composer of the interwar period before being interned at Terezín, where he wrote his third string quartet, the only one that survived, before his deportation to Auschwitz.
Bloch was born in Switzerland to Jewish parents but moved to the U.S. in 1916. He is regarded as the best of the Jewish composers who devoted considerable effort to Jewish identified music. Leo Smit enjoyed a place in the musical circle that included Milhaud and Poulenc before he was sent to Sobibor, where he perished. He left behind an example of his original voice in the first movement of an unfinished string quartet.
Zhitomirskii, a Russian Jew, played a vital role in the dissemination of Jewish music during the early part of the 20th Century. His Dem Rebens Nigun transforms a Hasidic melody into a classical string fantasia.
With the JCC concert, the Amernet String Quartet will culminate a three-day residency of performing, teaching and outreach made possible by the cooperation of numerous schools and groups committed to nurturing classical music in Omaha.