Semer Records, a label started by devoted to publishing the music of Jewish Berlin, survived just six years before the Nazis burned its records, murdered most of the contributing artists, and sent its founder, Hirsch Lewin, to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. For decades, it was assumed that the music of Semer Records vanished in the ashes of Kristallnacht.
But as Jordan Kutzik writes in The Forward, the music has been preserved. And thanks to a new group of Jewish musicians called the Semer Ensemble, audiences can once again hear the remarkably cosmopolitan sounds of Jewish Berlin.
The Strad called the ARC Ensemble’s recent album of Polish-American composer Jerzy Fitelberg’s chamber works “first-class music, well played and recorded.” The Boston Globe named it one of the top classical albums of 2015.
And now, the album is recognized in the 2017 Grammy’s category of Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.
The album includes Fitelberg’s String Quartet No. 2 (1928), which the ARC Ensemble performed in Pro Musica Hebraica’s Spring 2015 concert at the Kennedy Center, Before The Night: Jewish Classical Masterpieces of Pre-1933 Europe.
Pro Musica Hebraica’s concert at the Kennedy Center came more than six decades after Fitelberg’s death and a long period when his work was virtually ignored. (You can read the Playbill notes on him here.)
As the ARC Ensemble’s artistic director, Simon Wynberg, explains in Mosaic, the neglect of Fitelberg had much more to do with ideological politics than artistic merit:
In the case of Jewish composers banned during the Hitler years, exclusion generally had nothing to do with the nature or quality of their music. It was the Reich’s unhinged racial ideology that defined them as artistically worthless and—in daring to participate in a tradition to which they allegedly had no right to belong—fraudulent as well.[…]
But the work of first-rate composers like Jerzy Fitelberg, whose journey into oblivion was the direct result of nothing but ideological politics, speaks for itself, and deserves its rightful place in the firmament of musical art.
Thanks to Wynberg and the ARC Ensemble, Fitelberg’s rightful place in the firmament can no longer be questioned.
On Monday, August 22, 2016 at 9 pm (EST), WETA’s Front Row Washington will broadcast Pro Musica Hebraica’s Fall 2015 concert, Piety and Passion: The Musical Legacy of Jewish Spain.
In the first-ever exploration of this unique legacy, Pro Musica Hebraica presented a concert of Sephardic and Spanish Jewish music. Audience favorites the Amernet String Quartet, Ensemble-in-Residence at Florida International University, returned with friends, mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway and guitarist Adam Levin, to explore medieval Sephardic ballads and modern masterpieces by composers Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Joaquín Rodrigo, Carlos Cruz de Castro, and Alberto Hemsi.
To listen to the concert on Monday night, Washington-area residents can tune in to WETA 90.9 FM. If you live outside of the DC area, you can tune in live on WETA’s website.
Amy Qin writes about the musical revival in Harbin, a city in the northeastern region of China:
During the 1920s, the city was home to as many as 20,000 Jews. Some were refugees who wanted to escape czarist pogroms in Russia and, later, the Bolshevik Revolution and World War I. But unlike the Jews in Shanghai and other China cities with large Jewish communities, many in Harbin were also merchants and entrepreneurs who had come from Russia and Europe seeking economic opportunities.
“In a sense, the Harbin Jews were more wealthy and aristocratic than the other Jews in China,” [said Dan Ben-Canaan, director of the Sino-Israel Research and Study Center at Heilongjiang University in Harbin]. “They built a much richer and stronger foundation for culture.”
Read the rest in the New York Times.
Via Norman Lebrecht, a memoir of Elie Wiesel by the Czech-born composer Alexander Goldscheider:
Elie Wiesel died yesterday and I shall leave to others to disseminate and fully appreciate his unique legacy.
But hardly anybody will know that Elie Wiesel would have died already back in 1945, had he not been, like so many others, saved from being sent to death in Buchenwald by a Czech co-prisoner, Jiří Žák.
Read the rest.