Although the series of Music of Remembrance concerts are presented as a tribute to those who died and suffered during the Holocaust, the highlight of the Nov. 4 concert probably will be the performance of a modern piece by a living composer whose connection to the Shoah was indirect.
Osvaldo Golijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” composed in 1994 and named after the Kabbalist rabbi of Provence, isn’t about the events of World War II. “But it teaches us the lessons of the Holocaust,” explains music director Mina Miller. “The theme of the piece is tikkun olam [repairing the world]. That really needs to be the theme of Music of Remembrance concerts. We do this so we can repair…and remember artistic voices that couldn’t be silenced by fanaticism and terror.”
Golijov was born in 1960 in Argentina. His parents and grandparents fled Eastern Europe because of the Holocaust. He grew up sharing a bedroom with his great-grandfather, to whom the composer speaks in “Dreams and Prayers.” Golijov says he always wondered what his great-grandfather, who lost three of his children in the Shoah, was thinking about when he prayed, which he did regularly in their room. According to Miller, Golijov’s grandfather always carried screws in his pocket and went around fixing things, repairing his own world.
“Hope is present,” Miller says, adding, “Repairing the world is forever breaking down…. This question does remain unanswered.”
She describes Golijov’s piece as “very accessible.” It was recorded by the Kronos Quartet and Golijov has become an important, popular American composer, who now lives in the Boston area.
Another highlight of the concert will be its beginning, when Martin Goldsmith, author of “The Inextinguishable Symphony,” will present a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m. He will discuss the role of the Jewish Culture Association (Judische Kulturbund), drawing on vivid examples from the experiences of his parents, two courageous Jewish musicians who struggled to perform in Nazi Germany. “They survived by making music,” says Miller, who asked Goldsmith to speak at the concert after being touched by the story he told in the book published last year.
Music of Remembrance helps the work of Holocaust-era composers survive by presenting these concerts. Another way Miller hopes to fulfill the non-profit agency’s mission is by raising money to record the works they perform. “Because they’re not exactly the Top 10. We can help disseminate these pieces through recording. Instead of playing to 540 people, we would play to 5 million people,” she says.
The first half of the concert will feature music by German émigrés Erich Korngold and Herman Berlinski, as well as music composed in the Terezin concentration camp by Pavel Haas. Haas’ “Four Songs on Chinese texts,” which involve Czech choral tunes and Chinese poems, were composed a few months before he perished in Auschwitz.
The story of Korngold’s survival of the Holocaust is so amazing it would make an interesting movie. Korngold was a child prodigy who came to the United States in 1934 after the rise of the Nazis. He became incredibly successful as a film writer, but returned to Vienna in 1937, almost oblivious of the political situation. In January 1938, he received a telegram from Hollywood inviting him to write the music for the movie “Robin Hood.”
That Oscar-winning assignment saved his life, but because he was never able to return to his home to rescue his work, some of his earlier works were lost. His music that will be performed in Seattle on Nov. 4 involves tunes from his American films with text from German poets. Miller calls them beautiful and accessible.
The first half of the concert closes with a cello suite by Herman Berlinski. Miller said he had been considering attending the concert until his death at age 91 this past Yom Kippur. His story of survival also was marked by luck and fate. Berlinski left Germany with his family 1933 and went for a short period to Poland. He left Poland to go to Paris to further his craft, where he worked until 1941. When he fled to New York in the 1940s, he left without his compositions and began a new life involved with Jewish music. Berlinski became the music director of Temple Emmanuel and Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C.
The 1938 piece, “From the World of My Father,” that will be performed at the Music of Remembrance concert is actually a rewrite of a piece he lost during the Holocaust that was rewritten 10 years later with the knowledge of what had transpired. “It’s tinged with the knowledge of history. That’s a very powerful statement,” Miller says. “It’s very beautiful and has lots of Jewish folk elements in it. They really are embodied in the soul of the music.”
The performers at the Music of Remembrance concert include members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (violinists Mikhail Shmidt and Jeannie Wells Yablonsky, cellist David Tonkonogui, clarinetist Laura DeLuca), joined by violinist Joseph Gottesman, baritone Erich Parce, mezzo-soprano Julie Mirel and pianist Mina Miller. The concert at Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission or $15 for students and seniors. For more information, call 206-365-7770 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.