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Holocaust music speaks louder than words
Arlene Fine, Cleveland Jewish News, Wednesday, April 4, 2012

There are many ways to honor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust – lighting a yellow memorial candle or attending a community memorial service.

But for some people, music is the most meaningful form of expression.

This year The Cleveland Chamber Music Society and CityMusic Cleveland have orchestrated concerts to commemorate the six million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish community – who died at the hands of the Nazis.

“In recent years, there have been remarkable discoveries of the music that was composed during the Shoah, that was performed in the concentration camps as a way of affirming light in a time of darkness, goodness in the face of unutterable evil, and the power of life to vanquish death,” said Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple’s Cantor Sarah Sager. “As each new piece is discovered, as each previously lost piece is played, we pay homage to the courage, creativity, sheer talent and artistry of all those who perished. As each piece receives the performances it deserves, we serve as witnesses to and custodians of their legacy. We recognize anew how much was lost, and we help to make their spirits live again.”

Pavel Haas, a Czech composer who continued to write while interned in the Theresienstadt camp (also known as Terezin), before he was killed in Auschwitz in October 1944 at age 45, wrote at least eight compositions during his internment, a few of which survived. A concert of his works will be performed by the Pavel Haas Quartet in the Brickner Auditorium at Fairmount Temple on Tuesday, April 17. The quartet is being brought to Cleveland by The Cleveland Chamber Music Society.

“We are so fortunate to have the quartet come to Cleveland during the time we commemorate the Holocaust and hear Haas’s music performed so expertly,” said Charlene Price, a Chamber Music Society board member.

Although Haas’s work, which utilizes elements of folk music and jazz, was little-known to the general public, it is considered important in the musical world. “Despite the harshness of his life, Haas’s work is not somber,” said Price.

CityMusic Cleveland will honor the memory of those killed in the Shoah by coordinating area concerts. “CityMusic addresses, discusses and examines social issues each year,” said executive director Eugenia Strauss. “This year we focused on the Holocaust and the symptoms that led up to it, including oppression, discrimination, bullying, and cultural and racial profiling – all of which persist today.”

On Wednesday, April 11, CityMusic Cleveland is presenting a “Concert for Yom Hashoah” at the Maltz Museum in Beachwood to illustrate the devastating effect of the Holocaust through the work of six composers who were interned at Theresienstadt. The CityMusic String Quintet and Woodwind Quintet will perform the works of Paul Cox, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása, and Viktor Ullmann.

And from Saturday, May 1, to Tuesday, May 5, CityMusic Cleveland will feature the children’s opera “Brundibár.” Brundibár (Czech for bumblebee) is the work of Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister. It was originally performed by the children of the Theresienstadt concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia.

That production was filmed for a Nazi propaganda film “Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives the Jews a City).” The film helped perpetuate the Nazis’ characterization of Theresienstadt as a model concentration camp, where prominent and educated Jews were well treated and encouraged to create art and engage in cultural activities. As soon as the filming was over, all of the participants in the Theresienstadt production were herded into cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz. Most were gassed immediately upon arrival, including the children, the composer Krása (age 44), the director Kurt Gerron (age 47), and the musicians.

The concert will be held at John Hay High School in Cleveland and will include morning performances for schools and evening performances for the community. Conducted by Ryan McAdams, the chorus includes students from the Cleveland School of the Arts and The Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus.

“It is one of the miracles of Jewish life that, even when our people have found themselves in the direst of circumstances, the Jewish spirit has soared above whatever current realities may have oppressed it and found avenues to express its vitality, determination, perseverance, and anguish, certainly, but always with a view towards a better time, a time of redemption, a time of hope,” said Sager. “Part of the story of the cruelest period in our history, the Shoah, consists in recognizing the cultural flowering that occurred despite the hardship, deprivation, and constant fear of death.”