Our latest newsletter is now out. To read it click here
The annual York Festival of Ideas returns from 6 to 18 June 2017 under the banner of The Story of Things. This year’s Festival programme includes two free events – A Comedy of Us Jews and Children, Conflict and the Arts of Hope – produced by the Performing the Jewish Archive project.
A Comedy of Us Jews (Mon 12 and Tues 13 June): A light-hearted short musical about a Jewish clothing merchant who falls in love with his Parisian mannequin. Written in 1940 by Jac Weinstein of the Helsinki Jewish community and performed by University of York students.
Children, Conflict and the Arts of Hope (Sat 24 and Sun 25 June): The arts were a lifeline for young people during the Holocaust, helping them both to express their experiences and escape temporarily from their surroundings. This performance, a collaboration between Bootham School, the Anne Frank Trust and Performing the Jewish Archive, is inspired by children’s art of the past and present.
One of the largest free festivals in the UK, the York Festival of Ideas offers a huge range of events including talks, exhibitions, theatre, music, film, guided walks, children’s activities and workshops, all designed to educate, entertain and inspire. Be among the first to hear about the full 2017 programme by going to the York Festival of Ideas website yorkfestivalofideas.com and subscribing to the mailing list. The full programme will be available online from the end of April.
By Libby Clark
I love working as the Project Manager for Performing the Jewish Archive – there is never a dull moment on this vast, varied and challenging project and I am learning all the time. One thing that has given me great enjoyment and pleasure is the overlap between work and one of my main passions and hobbies outside of work – singing soprano with the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds (CCL) who have been involved in performing at a number of PtJA events.
It is not often that professional and personal life come together in such harmony and it means I have been able to play my part in planning and organising events such as the Leeds and York and Czech Festivals and have then gone on to perform in them too. This gives me a unique perspective on the project and has created many happy professional and personal memories – the opening Czech Festival concert at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague, for example, will long stay in my mind as both a wonderful singing opportunity and an excellent showcase for the project.
Recently, the opportunity to sing at two high-profile Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations came up and, as a singer, I leapt at the chance. The first of these was for Music on the brink of destruction at London’s Wigmore Hall on 4 January and the second was the UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day on 26 January at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster (for a full report on these events, and other HMD commemorations involving PtJA please see Project Consultant David Fligg’s article here).
As a singer, there was much to gain from taking part in these events. Learning new repertoire, especially repertoire away from the mainstream in languages that I am much less proficient at singing in (Hebrew and Yiddish), was challenging and interesting. Performing in a small, a cappella group with only one or two singers per part is something I am experienced at, but singing new repertoire, in prestigious venues, for large and distinguished audiences certainly focuses the mind in this regard! The chance to perform at Wigmore Hall and sing for the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t come up every day for the average amateur performer, and I certainly felt excitement and nerves in equal measures. Last, and by no means least, was the honour and privilege I felt playing a part, however small, in the HMD commemorations.
With my Project Manager hat on, I was interested and intrigued by the back stage arrangements at both venues. Slick professionalism and attention to detail were evident at every step of the way, leaving artists free to focus solely on performing. I have been involved in event organising for a number of years, but I am always on the lookout for new tricks of the trade and different ways of doing things and I certainly came away with ideas for my own professional practice. PtJA will hopefully be the recipient of these ideas over the coming months as we move ahead with plans for a number of big events of our own. See here for the next PtJA event involving the Clothworkers Consort.
Dr Joseph Toltz
Two team members from Performing the Jewish Archive (Dr Simo Muir and Dr Joseph Toltz) joined a special seminar session at the annual Association of Jewish Studies conference, held in San Diego from 18-20 December. Organised by Professor David Shneer (University of Colorado, Boulder), this “conference within a conference” was structured so that presenters would submit papers a month early, read each others’ work, and give a 5 minute summary before a robust discussion around the table.
The topic of the seminar was “Post Holocaust Cultures: The Many Ways of Bearing Witness”. The brief was to explore cultural responses to the Holocaust and its relation to testimony. Two participants were sadly absent during the conference (David Shneer and Polly Zavadivker); the panels were chaired by Gabriel Finder (University of Virginia) and Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto). In the first session, Rachel Deblinger (University of California, Santa Cruz) gave a fascinating presentation on post-Holocaust survivor narratives on American Radio. Anna Shternshis gave an equally engaging paper on the way in which Soviet Russian and Yiddish folk music testified directly during the catastrophic years of 1941-1945. PJA researcher Joseph Toltz presented on two early material accounts of Holocaust song making – a 1945 songbook printed in Bucharest, and the 1946 expedition by David Boder to the DP camps of Europe. The second session began with Marat Grinberg (Reed College) demonstrating the hidden witness bearing of Jewish science fiction writers in Soviet Russia, while Victoria Khiterer (Millersville University) presented on the remarkable flourishing of Jewish culture in Kiev during a brief burst from 1944 – 1948. The panel concluded with Naya Lekht (UCLA) and a fascinating approach to measuring Holocaust subject material in Soviet literature.
The final session opened with PtJA researcher Simo Muir’s presentation on his discoveries and revival of the post-Holocaust Finnish Holocaust tableau, Muter Rokhl un ire kinder (Mother Rachel and Her Children). Carol Zemel (York University) provided the seminar with the first presentation on the visual arts, a fascinating survey of survivor works in the immediate decade. The concluding paper by Nadya Bair (Ryerson Image Centre) conveyed the moving legacy of David “Chaim” Seymour, a founder of the prestigious Magnum photographic cooperative. Chaim captured memorable portraits and photographic essays dealing with refugee children in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.
All panelists agreed: this was one of the most intellectually rewarding and meaningful experiences we had encountered at a large conference.
Twenty students from the Gymnasium Heide-Ost in north Germany attended a day of seminars delivered by PtJA Project Consultant David Fligg. It was hosted by the Terezín Initiative Institute (TII) in Prague on 14 February, and was part of the ‘Jewish music in concentration camps’ project that the students are currently engaged in. As part of it, on the following day, the students visited Terezín, after being prepared for their visit by David.
“We looked at a whole range of subjects, from music-making in the camps, especially Terezín, to the ways in which some musicians in Nazi occupied Europe collaborated with the Nazis, via the fate of Prague’s Jewish musicians under occupation,” David explains. “There was an immense amount of lively debate, and I was struck by the maturity of these students, and their emotional involvement with some of the issues we discussed.”
The venue for the seminars, now home to the TII and other Jewish communal organisations, was the former premises of the Jáchymova Street Jewish school. From August 1940, after Jewish pupils were expelled from regular schools, Jáchymova became a place of refuge for Jewish pupils and teachers alike, and was one of only three schools in the occupied Czech lands where the Nazis permitted children to be taught. At end of the 1941/42 academic year, the school was closed down, and the pupils, along with their parents and teachers, were deported. Only a small number of them survived.
When David showed the Heide-Ost students the propaganda film that the Nazis made about Terezín, he explained, as was confirmed by one of the TII staff, that some of the children on the film would have been Jáchymova pupils. “I think it was at that point,” says David, “that the students realised that we were dealing with real people who probably sat in the same classroom where they were now sitting. And the room fell silent.”
Berndt Steincke, Honorary Chairman of the Heide-based Foundation Against Extremism and Violence, which is working with the students, attended the seminars. He said afterwards, “David captivated us with challenging short videos, archival documents and musical extracts. We were able to recognize the lies of the Nazi era. We sincerely thank David for coming and will continue to process his findings in our project.”
By Teri Dobbs
This past January, PtJA team member Professor Teri Dobbs, University of Wisconsin-Madison, spent two weeks in Israel and Jordan. During her time there, she was a guest at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, together with colleagues from UW-Madison’s Mosse-Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies. In addition, she conducted research in the Yad Vashem Archives, met with musicology/music education colleagues to discuss the possibility of future projects within Israel, and met with the family of piano prodigy and composer, Josima Feldschuh (d. 1943).
Professor Dobbs will present several conference papers this coming semester, most of which pertain to her work with Performing the Jewish Archive. Her paper, “Music Education and the Holocaust: So What?” was heard at the New Directions in Music Education Conference: Musicking Equity: Enacting Social Justice Through Music Education,” Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, February 17.
Further, professor Dobbs has been invited to present two papers, one in collaboration with soprano and PtJA performer Elizabeth Hagedorn of Vienna, at the 25th European Association for Music in Schools/6th European International Society for Music Education regional conference, JOINT (AD)VENTURE MUSIC: Network as a Challenge for Music Educators, at the University Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria, April 18 – 22, 2017.
Tell us about your role in PtJA?
I am a co-investigator on the grant, and am responsible for the research involved in examining how audiences respond to the different PtJA performances. Along with Lisa Peschel, I co-supervise Richard Oakes, a PhD student, who also works on this aspect of the research programme.
What were you doing before working on PtJA?
I am a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of York. My research group investigates how we perceive and understand other individuals’ actions and behaviours. We use a range of different techniques to achieve this aim including neurophysiological testing, neuroimaging, and behavioural testing.
What’s the best thing about working on a project like PtJA?
It’s educational! It has stretched me out of my comfort zone, and pushed me to think how my research knowledge and skills can be used to address new questions with colleagues with diverse interests in different, non-lab environments, where it can be extremely hard to control random and confounding factors
What do you get the most satisfaction from professionally?
Solving problems by designing experiments to generate informative data
What’s the biggest challenge for you on this project?
Obtaining good quality data without ruining the audience members’ experience of the performances at our festivals; and dealing with variable and sparse data when we eventually get it
Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?
I play polo at the White Rose Polo Club and compete in tournaments across Yorkshire. A lot of my spare time is spent looking after my horses, but also playing with my 2 year old son. The horses are going to get a couple of lambs in with them this spring, so I am becoming a sort of amateur farmer too.
Outside of work, what are the top things on your ‘bucket list’?
Becoming good enough at polo so that I could get paid to play! Climbing all the ‘Munros’; visit more countries than my age.
If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would you want with you?
Knife, fishing equipment, boat
The PtJA team was heavily involved in, and deeply committed to, a number of high-profile Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in January, reaching a total audience of thousands.
For what is the culmination of the UK’s HMD events, Stephen Muir conducted the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds as part of the UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day on 26 January at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster. It was held in the presence of 200 Holocaust and genocide survivors and around 1,000 guests. Attended by the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury, and with special addresses by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid MP, and Holocaust survivor Hannah Lewis, Stephen and the Choir performed Mogen owos, by Josef Gottbeter. A full report, and videos, can be seen here: http://hmd.org.uk/news/uk-commemorative-ceremony-holocaust-memorial-day-2017
Commemorative events for this year’s HMD, with its theme of ‘How can life go on?’, commenced earlier than in previous years, starting with a prestigious concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, Music on the brink of destruction. Curated by Shirli Gilbert (Associate Professor of History at the University of Southampton), the sold-out concert, recorded by the BBC, launched the ORT Marks Fellowships to support continued research on music connected with the Holocaust.
The concert opened with the Clothworkers Consort, under Stephen Muir, performing a selection of songs from the Nazi ghettos, reflecting research undertaken by PtJA’s Joseph Toltz. Also performed was Dovid Ayznshtat’s cantata Chad gadya, discovered in South Africa by Stephen Muir, and featured in previous PtJA-related concerts. Receiving its UK premiere was Gideon Klein’s Topol (‘The Poplar Tree’), a melodrama for narrator and piano, uncovered by David Fligg in the Prague Jewish Museum archives. It was narrated by David, accompanied by the pianist Vera Müllerová, who premiered it in Pilsen as part of the PtJA’s Czech festival in September, and who travelled from the Czech Republic specially for this concert. Vera also performed a collection of solo piano works by Josima Feldschuh. PtJA’s Teryl Dobbs is currently leading on research connected to Josima, the 12 year-old pianist-composer prodigy of the Warsaw Ghetto. These piano pieces, as well as the choral items, were later broadcast on Radio 3 on 23 and 24 January, and Klein’s Topol is scheduled for later broadcast. Linked to, and with the same name as, the Wigmore concert, was Shirli Gilbert’s Radio 3 documentary on 22 January which featured David Fligg discussing Gideon Klein. The Podcast of the programme can be downloaded here from the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qh6jd) The full report of the concert is available on the Jewish Chronicle’s website (https://www.thejc.com/culture/music/melodies-saved-from-the-ashes-1.431324)
The grandly ornate Leeds Town Hall was the setting for the Leeds Civic Holocaust Remembrance Service on 22 January, at which, as in previous years, members of the Clothworkers Consort, with Stephen Muir, provided the music. This year they performed Baruch Gutman’s beautiful Jisgadal. The service was opened by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Gerry Harper, with a keynote address by Leeds North East MP, Fabian Hamilton.
For the Royal Northern College of Music’s respected Sir John Manduell Research Forum, HMD was marked by a special seminar, Performing a Holocaust Archive, on 25 January. Lisa Peschel presented the Purimspiel finale by Walter Freud that she discovered in Israel, wonderfully performed by RNCM students Rachel Fright (piano) and singers Rachel Speirs, Stuart Orme, Matthew Nuttall and Jacob Newsham. David Fligg discussed his dramatisation, Gideon Klein – Portrait of a Composer, whilst RNCM’s Head of Composition, Prof. Adam Gorb, who has previously collaborated in PtJA activities, talked about his forthcoming, and as yet untitled, opera which will have a Holocaust-related story-line, and which will be premiered in Leeds next year.
Meanwhile, on 29 January, over a thousand miles north east from the UK, at Finland’s Limmud in Helsinki – the country’s largest Jewish cultural learning event – Simo Muir was interviewing Holocaust survivor Nena Kafka, and talking about his book No more letters from Poland (http://www.bonnierrights.fi/books/no-more-letters-from-poland-fatal-years-for-a-jewish-family/4). Mrs Kafka, native of Kozigłowy, Poland, survived the death marches and Bergen-Belsen and settled in Finland after the war. She was an honorary guest of the national Holocaust Memorial Day event held at the House of the Estates in Helsinki.
The final HMD event to involve the PtJA was the Leeds Jewish Community’s own commemoration, a joint event between the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue and the Leeds Jewish Representative Council. Theatre in the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto: The Survivors Speak, was the title of Lisa Peschel’s fascinating and often moving talk, preceded by David Fligg presenting an overview of PtJA activities to the capacity audience. The evening was attended by Jonathan Arkush (President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews), and the Board’s Vice President, Marie van der Zyl. Rabbi Jason Kleinman recited the El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, and Rudi Leavor who, along with his family, escaped Berlin in 1938, lit the Yahrzeit (memorial) candle.
Reviews about the Wigmore Hall concert:
PtJA members will be part of several Holocaust Memorial Day events. Here are links to them:
Leeds Holocaust Memorial Day event on 22 January, Leeds Town Hall
Stephen Muir and members of the Clothworkers Consort
Music on the Brink of Destruction on 22 January, BBC Radio 3
Stephen Muir, David Fligg, Lisa Peschel, Simo Muir
Performing a Holocaust Archive on 25 January, Royal Northern College, Manchester
Stephen Muir, Lisa Peschel and David Fligg
Theatre in the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto: The Survivors Speak
on 29 January, 399 Street Lane, Leeds
Interview with Nena Kafka on 29 January, Helsinki
By Anna Picard
The Times, 6 January 2017
A survey of works written and performed in Terezin and the Warsaw Ghetto
Songs sentimental and satirical, string trios and duos of brazen beauty and wistful waltzes by a tubercular child prodigy. Pulled together in little more than five weeks by musicians from the Leonore Piano Trio and the Belcea Quartet, postgraduate students at the Guildhall and a consort from Leeds University, and programmed by the historian Shirli Gilbert, Music on the Brink of Destruction was a survey of works written and performed in Terezín and the Warsaw Ghetto. Of eleven featured composers, only three survived the Holocaust.
Read the whole review here