Arts

The modest audience size did not diminish the significance of the music. Photo: CC, Pexels.

Visiting musicians performed music tied to German death camps

On Friday Jan. 26, the University of Ottawa’s Freiman Hall was graced with a multimedia music performance entitled “Und der Regen rinnt: Music of the Holocaust.” The program—which featured music, images, poems, and biographical text—celebrated the art of four Jewish composers whose beautiful songs were born of the ugliest of circumstances.

The concert featured works by Ilse Weber, Marius Flothuis, Srul Irving Glick, and Vally Weigl—who were all either detained in Nazi concentration camps, or created music that was directly inspired by the Jewish Holocaust.

Mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber, flautist Ulrike Anton, and pianist Anna Ronai began the concert with a performance of music by multidisciplinary artist Ilse Weber.

Weber—who wrote her music while imprisoned in Theresienstadt—had the unofficial role of nurse and surrogate mother in the concentration camp.

Before performing Weber’s composition, “Wiegala,” Barber explained the context of the piece to the audience. “Weber went voluntarily to her death with her children, and … while they awaited execution, she sang ‘Wiegala’ to them.’”

The musicians then immediately began performing the piece, and the audience was stilled with awe as the music filled the hall.

“There are moments (in the concert) where you feel darkness and somberness and sadness,” said Anton, “but there are many moments where (the music) is escaping into a happier place. When they performed the pieces in the camp, that was probably the highlight of the day or the week—(it is) when they were able to escape the reality (of the Holocaust).”

The fact that this music has the ability make audiences feel like they are being transported away from their immediate surroundings was evident from Friday’s performance. The combination of Kimberly Barber’s sweet and powerful voice, Anna Rogai’s dynamic and rhythmic piano, and Ulrike Anton’s delicate and robust flute inspired a standing ovation from the audience.

Freiman Hall was full of students, university staff, and other members of the public. The hall’s modest size was ideally suited to the music, creating an intimate environment where both performers and audience could feel connected by the compelling content of the concert.

While the context of the music is a profoundly sad chapter of recent history, Barber was quick to stress that the concert was not meant to dishearten audiences. For her, “it (was) just this really deep reminder in our hearts and souls that we need to be compassionate always.”

Indeed, one of the program’s aims was to combat the erasure of these important artists from the popular canon.

“A lot of the composers were successful in the 1920s and the early 1930s before the Nazis came. The works were forgotten, they were banned, (and) they were erased from the public platform” Anton explained.

By performing these works in universities, the performers hope to inspire young musicians to become interested in these works, and to hopefully one day have a new generation of musicians performing these pieces.

More information about artists who were exiled and killed in the Holocaust can be found on Ulrike Anton’s website. Future musical performances at the U of O will be made available on the music department’s website.