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Music on the Brink of Destruction at Wigmore Hall

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

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Newsletter issue 7

newsletter-7Our latest newsletter is now out. To read it click here

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‘Out of the Shadows’ triumphs in the Czech Republic

“Thanks to the project Performing the Jewish Archive, this music and theatre will now ‘step out of the shadows’ and again occupy its rightful place in contemporary history. It bears witness to the failure of the monstrous plans to wipe from history a whole nation and its culture.” (Michael Žantovský, Festival Patron)

In September, Prague, with its rich, yet poignant, Jewish history, became the stunning backdrop for the third of the PtJA’s international festivals. Though centred in Prague, this iteration of Out of the Shadows, or Ze stínu, as it was billed in Czech, also used historic venues in Pilsen, and an attic in the former ghetto of Terezín, to bring to light recently discovered, and neglected, Jewish music and theatre.


Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

The interest in the Czech Republic for reanimating this repertoire, and for celebrating Jewish culture, attracted an impressive list of festival partners and sponsors. Such was the high-profile support from numerous organisations and individuals, and widespread publicity, that audience numbers were often at, or close to, capacity.

The festival’s official opening took place in the magnificent Spanish Synagogue, with the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds performing music by Hans Gál, himself displaced by Nazi persecution. Earlier in the day, the opulent Jerusalem Synagogue hosted the Consort, this time performing synagogue music from pre-war Prague, alongside songs arranged by Daniel Dobiáš based on texts by children imprisoned in Terezín.


The Loos Apartments, Pilsen

The Gál concert was repeated the following day in Pilsen’s restored Old Synagogue. That afternoon, the Musical Conservatory of Pilsen provided the lovely venue, and fabulous musicians, for ‘Fate and Fairytales’, which included world premieres of music by Gideon Klein, and by Josima Feldschuh, the young pianist incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto. That evening, a restored apartment designed by the celebrated architect Adolf Loos, and once owned by the Jewish Kraus family, was the intimate setting for ‘Jewish Cabaret from Helsinki to Terezín’.

The following evening, ‘Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer’ was performed in a fully-staged version directed by Kateřina Iváková, at the Prague Conservatory. It was especially appropriate and moving, staged at the institution where Klein studied, and performed by Conservatory students the same age as Klein when he was a student there. The Conservatory also hosted the following day’s performance of Finnish-born Jac Weinstein’s powerful response to Jewish suffering, ‘Mother Rachel and Her Children’, directed by Holocaust survivor Helena Glancová.


Attic theatre, Terezin

The festival’s final public event was held in the Attic Theatre at Terezín, a performance of The Fireflies, a musical originally created for children imprisoned in Terezín. Lauren McConnell from Central Michigan University reconstructed the original work, performed by students from her university. In what was one of the most moving events of the festival, it left a deep impression to see this piece return to the place where it was first staged, and to have a post-performance discussion with Terezín survivors.

There were a number of invitation-only events. The Maisel Synagogue saw the premiere of a new work specially commissioned for the festival, Daniel Chudovsky’s compelling Mikva, in a concert of ‘The Czech Musical Tradition: Persecution and Inspiration’, performed by David Danel and the wonderful Fama Quartet. The Prague Jewish Museum was the venue for an academic symposium, ‘Performing the Jewish Past’, whilst David Fligg led a guided tour of Gideon Klein’s Prague. In association with the Institute of the Terezín Initiative, the fourth annual Yom HaShoah competition for schools was held at the Gymnázium a Hudební škola.

Ze stínu involved a massive effort from many people, not just the PtJA team in the UK, USA and Australia, but also Czech-based partners. Its undoubted success, however, was in no small measure the result of the wonderful and deeply appreciated work of the festival’s co-ordinator, Zdenka Kachlova.


Click here to see videos of the performances.

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Out of the depths – the first collection of Holocaust songs


Cover of Mima’amakim, image courtesy of the Silberfeld-Sapera families

By Dr Joseph Toltz

On 19 October, Dr Joseph Toltz presented at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Musicology Colloquium Series. The title of the talk was Out of the depths: complexity, subjectivity and materiality in the first collection of Holocaust songs.  The talk focused on the first post-Holocaust songbook Mima’amakim, compiled by Yehuda Eismann in Bucharest in June 1945, a copy of which recently appeared in a private collection in Sydney, Australia. The tiny pamphlet contained songs that would become part of the canonic memorialising repertoire of the Shoah, songs that disappeared from all other written accounts, clues to the contributors and places of origin of the songs and a testimonial introduction by the compiler. In the talk, Toltz questioned the nature of a material object to open further conversations on the place of music inside and outside testimony. He also delved into the issue of the process of canonisation of a body of testimonial songs.  Toltz will be travelling to Israel in January 2017 with Dr. Anna Boucher (Department of Government and International Studies), to research contributors to the songbook.  The two scholars will work in archives at Yad Vashem, Bet Hatefusot, Bet Leyvik and the Ghetto Fighters House Museum.


Linda Dessau AM, pictured with Dr. Joseph Toltz

On 8 November, Dr Joseph Toltz was special guest at the Dunera Association Reunion in Melbourne. The Dunera Association represents the remaining survivors and descendants of the men, women and children forcibly deported from the UK on the SS Dunera in 1940, and from Singapore on the Queen Mary later that year. These people held German and Austrian papers, but many were Jewish, of Jewish descent, conscientious objectors or anti-Nazis. Despite such obvious mitigating factors, the British Government declared them all to be “hostile enemy aliens” and decided to forcibly deport them to internment camps in rural Australia.  The “Dunera Boys” as they came to be known, were released in 1942. Many returned to the UK, some migrated to the USA, but many also stayed in Australia and made enormous cultural and social contributions to the country. Toltz is researching the music of four Dunera Boys: Werner Baer, Boas Bischofswerder, Felix Werder and Walter Wurzburger, and he will present their compositions as part of the Sydney Out of the Shadows festival. The keynote speaker at the Dunera Association’s dinner was Her Excellency the Governor of Victoria, the Honourable Linda Dessau AM, who spoke about her connection to various Dunera boys in Melbourne.  The lunch also heard from trustees of the Hay Internment and Prisoner of War Camps Interpretive Centre and the Tatura Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum. Hay was the first internment camp site, an exceptionally isolated town in the Riverina district, in between Sydney and Adelaide.  Tatura was the site of the second internment camp, and is in the Goulburn Valley, 167km north of Melbourne.

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Archiving Sounds of Memory

By Katia Chronik

Cantos Cautivos (Captive Songs) is a digital archive that compiles memories of individual and collective musical experiences in centres for political detention and torture in Chile under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). Conceptualised, edited and directed by me, at its inception it was developed in collaboration with the Chilean Museum of Memory and Human Rights and as part of my broader Levehulme research project ‘Sounds of Memory: Music and Political Captivity in Pinochet’s Chile’, hosted by the University of Manchester in 2013-16.

Cantos Cautivos is the first online resource on music and dictatorship in Latin America. First launched in 2015 in Spanish, since 2016 the complete archive has been available in English too. The project uses crowdsourcing as the main method to compile content, and was created with the purpose of speeding up the process of collecting oral sources, which until then I had conducted via face-to-face interviews. Factors that make crowdsourcing challenging include ex-prisoners’ technological gaps and limited IT access, and the range of psychological barriers imposed by the archive’s format. The above highlights the need to continue engaging with contributors on an off-line basis.

At present Cantos Cautivos contains circa 130 testimonies relating to thirty political detention and torture centres, of which approximately 30% refer to songs that were partially or fully written under detention. Most entries narrate activities initiated by the inmates; a small number recount uses of music by the agents of the State. Whilst the majority of accounts are testimonies from ex-prisoners, some are voiced by their descendants, exemplifying inter-generational memory.


Chacabuco concentration camp.

The repertoire referred to in the testimonies originated in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, the former Yugoslavia, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the Ukraine, the UK, Uruguay, the US and Venezuela, covering a range of popular genres including tango, bolero, cueca, cumbia, ranchera, ballad, easy listening, rock, pop, blues, chanson and cabaret, film music, anthems, marches, religious music and conservatory-tradition pieces. Among the archive’s most unique materials are recordings from Chacabuco concentration camp in the Atacama Desert, made while the musicians were detained, and accounts from Dawson Island concentration camp at the southern tip of Patagonia.

Each Cantos Cautivos entry is linked to the Museum of Memory’s website Recintos, which provides details of the 1,132 political detention and torture centres that operated under Pinochet; entries referring to the disappeared and executed are also linked to the Museum’s website Víctimas. Cantos Cautivos users are thus able to access information about the precarious conditions and repression under which musical experiences took place.

Hailed as “extraordinary” by The New Yorker critic Alex Ross, Cantos Cautivos has received wide print, radio, online and TV press coverage in the UK, USA, Spain, Chile, Argentina and Guatemala. The project is endorsed by various associations of former political prisoners, the Víctor Jara Foundation, the University of Chile’s Pro-Vice-Chancellorship for Engagement and Communications, and the Historical Memory Project (CUNY). A growing number of volunteers and Advisory Board members have contributed to the project, advising on strategies, conducting interviews, translating entries, providing copy-editing and IT support, among other tasks. Future plans include conducting ethnographic research in the regions that are still unrepresented in the archive, strengthening our media strategy, and developing school-level lesson plans around selected entries.

Visit the archive at Follow the project’s news on Twitter (@cantoscautivos) and Facebook (

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My Visit to Leeds

By Peter Martens

After an 11 and a half hour flight from Cape Town South Africa, I touched down at Heathrow Airport early on the morning of 15 November. The British winter greeted me not too coldly and a few hours later Dr Stephen Muir picked me up from the train station in Leeds. No rest for the wicked they say, and after dropping my things at the hotel I ventured onto the campus of the University in search of the School of Music.

peter-2I was immediately struck by the charm of the red brick houses clothed in leaves from the late autumn trees and although the obligatory black umbrella did duty from time to time, the scene was soothing and most beautiful. That afternoon I met Libby Clark and Simo Muir after which an evening rehearsal of sonatas by Peter Klatzow and Shostakovich followed with pianist Richard Casey. The next three days were very full and included a lecture on my PhD research – Beethoven Cello Sonatas, meetings with Clive Brown and George Kennaway, a recital of the aforementioned 20th and 21st century sonatas and daily planning meetings for the Cape Festival – Performing the Jewish Archive.

Had I been asked to write a longer article, I might have gone into detail about the individual events, the beautiful concert hall, the even more beautiful singing of the chamber choir I heard in rehearsal or perhaps the architecture of Leeds University with some quite large and imposing (dare I say unattractive) modern buildings between a number of exquisite old Victorian houses (the concert hall looks like an old church) situated on a hill making for most interesting perspectives.

Instead I should like to say something about the people I interacted with. What struck me most is that without exception, all were incredibly humble. I was warmly engaged by musicologists of international repute, performers of exceptional musical ability, and an administrator that kept all of us in step in the most unassuming but efficient way. Leeds University is indeed a very special place and this is because of its wonderful people.

Performing the Jewish Archive has been a tremendous success thus far and it will culminate in a great Festival in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, South Africa after which it will be my great pleasure to repay some of the hospitality afforded to me in Leeds. Thank you Steve for involving me in a project revealing the little known artistry of an illustrious citizenry. My wish is that it touches many South Africans in the way that I have been touched by the kindness, dedication and humanity of the people in Leeds.


Click here to see Peter Martens’s cello concert at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall 18 November 2016.


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‘Getting to know you’ PtJA film crew

SG: Simon Glass
OT: Olivia Thomas
SLF: Stefan Fairlamb


Simon Glass

Tell us about your role in PtJA
All: We are the Film Team (aka Krewe de film). We shoot all the performances, edit them and put them online.

OT: I operate the vision mixer as part of the film crew editing together footage from the cameras to create videos of the various PTJA concerts

SLF: I am a member of the ‘Film Crew’, along with Simon and Olivia, for ‘Performing The Jewish Archive’. We are filming the performances of theatre and music that are being brought ‘out of the shadows’ by the research project and our role is to document and preserve these performances of extremely rare martial.

SG: I look after the cables.

What were you doing before working on PtJA?
SG: I’d made a few films exploring religious identity and culture, including The Last Tribe (2011), Dogspotting (2012) and Yakov, My Boy (2009). See or visit your local BFI Mediatheque.

OT: I work freelance on feature films, TV commercials and other film projects.  The last feature I did was the football hooligan film ID2: Shadwell Army so quite a change of content between that and PTJA

SLF: I worked with both Simon and Olivia on a documentary about the UK Jewish community ‘The Last Tribe’. I was cinematographer and editor for Simon who was the director and producer. I believe that Stephen (Muir- Principal Investigator of Performing The Jewish Archive) saw the film and then got in touch with us about the film element of Performing the Jewish Archive- and now we are here….    Also you can check out The Last Tribe here:


Olivia Thomas

What’s the best thing about working on a project like PtJA?
SG: Preserving these performances for posterity. Also, the air miles.

OT: It’s easy to say the travel but what I’ve enjoyed most has been the privilege of seeing some truly spectacular music

SLF: When we first started filming on this project I was shocked by the comedy plays that had been written at Terezin – I don’t think you know how to respond to them. Being involved with the project has completely challenged my preconceptions from the ‘history books’.  I consider myself fortunate to be involved in this project- the materiel we are filming is constantly challenging.

What do you get the most satisfaction from professionally?
OT: You know instinctively after finishing filming if you have done a good job.  If you have then you can go enjoy a drink afterwards, if not then you drown your sorrows

SLF: From a filming perspective it is always the end result as that is what the audience will be experiencing. When the shots, sound, editing and performances come together and work in a way that ‘pulls’ the viewer in. Hopefully we manage to get this right!

SG: Completing my annual tax return. It’s either right or wrong.

What’s the biggest challenge for you on this project?
: Working with my colleagues (laughs).

OT: Not knowing what to expect when you get to a venue half way round the world.  You have to think on your feet to get the job done

SLF: Again form a pure filmmaking perspective I would say the logistics- shooting on an international scale with numerous venues- the set ups, the sound and getting the best shot is a constant challenge. The scale and ambition of the project is huge. Hopefully we are reflecting that in our work and doing it some kind of justice.

Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?
: I’m lucky that to a large extent my work IS my hobby. When I’m not working you’re likely to find me at the cinema

SLF: Watching films, reading about films, making films (well, trying to…)….. I am not sure I really understand this question.

SG: Single Malt and Radio Four. But not at the same time.


Stefan Fairlamb

Outside of work, what are the top things on your ‘bucket list’?
: I’m not sure I’m grown up enough yet to have a bucket list

SG: Live long enough to have a midlife crisis, or witness the apocalypse. Whichever comes first.

SLF: Well, finishing this feature film I have been working on for the last 4 years would be a good start…. Hmmm… this is probably not the answer you are looking for.

If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would you want with you?
OT: Simon, Stefan and a well stocked bar

SG: Pen, paper and a return ticket.

SLF: My camera, my favourite lens and plenty of film ….. Oh wait maybe I should have gone with food, or a phone to get off the island… Nevermind, I will get some good shots! Hey, if the rest of the crew are there we could even make a film- Simon is a pretty good actor you know?

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Conney Conference on Jewish Arts

From the Center of Jewish Studies (University of Wisconsin-Madison), PtJA’s project partner.

conney-conferenceDeadline extended until December 21st:

In light of the post-election turmoil we are extending the deadline for proposals to the 2017 Conney Conference on Jewish Arts.  The new deadline will be December 21st.  Please send us your proposal for papers, panels and/or other presentations that address this year’s theme:
50 Years After Harold Rosenberg: Is there a Jewish Art (Yet?)

Please see the full text of Rosenberg’s seminal essay at:

Please see the Conney Conference website at:

For further information please contact Douglas Rosenberg at:

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In Record Time

By Henry Sapoznik from the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a PtJA project partner


Henry Sapoznik. Photo: Cookie Segelstein

“In Record Time” is a series of short documentaries featuring some of the over 9,000 Yiddish 78s and cylinders in the collection of the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture shared several “In Record Time” podcasts with the Performing the Jewish Archives project as part of our shared mission to explore, preserve, and celebrate lost stories from Jewish life. “In Record Time” is a series of short audio tours of the hidden gems of Jewish history,  drawn from the Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recordings and other sources. Click through to hear institute director Henry Sapoznik recount the biography of pioneering Cantor Isaiah Meisels, the history of the millennial Christian cult The Israelite House of David, and the story of the almost-famous aviator Charles A. Levine.


1) Birchas Kohanim (Blessing of the Priests)
Cantor Isaiah Meisels
Victor 16793

Perhaps the first commercial Jewish recordings made at the end of the 19th century were cantorial recordings corresponding to the wide popularity of the emerging class of star cantors. Among those, was Isaiah Meisels.  Born in Warsaw, Meisels (1869-1948), like Alter Yechiel Karniol, exemplified the older cantorial style known as Zogekhts (talking). From his only recording session, this features Meisels in full control of his high, clear voice, accompanied by his choir from the First Hungarian Congregation, Ohab Tzedek, in New York City. The Birchas Kohanim (Blessing of the Priests) comes from the prayer to the congregation by the Kohanim (descendants of the former Temple Priests). The Kohanim’s tradition of cupping hands in congregational benedictions was appropriated by actor Leonard Nimoy in his Star Trek role as Mr. Spock for his Vulcan salutation, “Live Long and Prosper.”

2) House of David Blues
Fletcher Henderson and His Connie’s Inn Orchestra
Brunswick 500191

Clayton McMichen, Riley Puckett
Columbia 143090

The end of the 19th century in America saw the popular emergence of Christian utopian cults inspired by aspects of Jewish life, tradition or religion. One of these, the Israelite House of David, is among the most colorful. Sporting long beards and long hair, (evoking references to Leviticus) and certain aspects of kashrus and Shabbos (kosher laws and Sabbath observance) the Benton Harbor group was perhaps the first religious cult to become a pop culture sensation. Their compound in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which included a synagogue and re-enactments and tableaux vivants of scenes from ancient Jewish life, invented the modern concept of the “theme park” while the House of David popularly sponsored excellent men’s and women’s touring and jazz bands and even baseball teams. The House of David dwindled away after a scandal in the mid 1920s.  The music of the House of David bands was influential outside of the religious worlds with mainstream dance bands, jazz groups and even country performers recreating songs from their repertoire.

3) Levine and His Flying Machine
Charles Cohan
Victor 79434

In 1927, having made millions selling World War I surplus, Charles A. Levine fulfilled a single-minded dream to be the first plane to fly nonstop from New York to Paris and purchased a state of the art monoplane by Italian builder Giuseppe Bellanca.  After a long, public and very messy search for someone to pilot the plane, (even turning down Charles Lindbergh who wanted the Bellanca), Levine eventually hired Clarence Chamberlin to fly.  Thanks to court injunctions Levine had caused, the plane was grounded and he missed beating Lindbergh. With the lifting of the court injunction, Levine and his pilot Clarence Chamberlin finally took off, beating Lindbergh’s distance and speed record flying into Germany.  While Levine enjoyed momentary popularity for his feat––he was even the subject several Yiddish 78s commemorating the flight––he was eventually forgotten and it was only the rediscovery of those 78s that recovered this lost moment in Jewish history.  The song, unusual in Yiddish and English (the lyrics do not match) was written by Sam Coslow, who would later go on to write such American popular standards as “Cocktails for Two” and “My Old Flame.”


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Performance sheds new light on life and work of Gideon Klein

PtJA Project Consultant Dr David Fligg’s interview by Ruth Fraňková on Radio Praha, 20 September 2016. Listen to the interview here

Gideon Klein has been known mainly as a Czech Jewish composer who was interned in Terezín and later died in Auschwitz. A new international performance, which has its Czech premiere at the Prague Conservatory on Tuesday evening, wants to present Klein in a new perspective: as a fascinating young individual who was very much part of the pre-war vibrant Prague music scene.


David Fligg, photo: David Vaughan

The project called Gideon Klein, Portrait of a Composer, is part of a festival called Out of the Shadows. I met with its author, the British musicologist David Fligg, just a few days ahead of the premiere, and I first asked him to tell me more about the festival itself:

“The festival is one of five international festivals. All of them are called Out of the Shadows. The first one was in Madison, Wisconsin. We have had one in the UK, in Leeds and York. This is our third. So in many ways it is our flagship festival. And then next year, we are going to be in South Africa, Cape Town and in Sydney, Australia.

“In all of the festivals, the main aim is to re-animate and perform music and theatre which was once lost and which has recently been discovered, and its’s almost inevitable that focus of that will be lost works which were hidden because of the Holocaust.

“And that is part of a big international research project called performing the Jewish Archive based at the school of music in Leeds, but we have got a number of international partners.”

And you are actually one of the co-founders of this project…

“I am one of the co-founders of the project and the project’s consultants and we have a number of scholars in the UK and beyond who are involved. And it has been generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Council in the UK.”

One of the main topics focuses of this year’s Out of the Shadows festival is Gideon Klein, a Czech musicians who was interned in Terezín and was later murdered in Auschwitz. Why have you decided to focus on Gideon Klein?

“My specific research area is on Gideon Klein. I am writing a critical biography on him. I have done a lot of research and a lot of it has been based here in the Czech Republic, in particular in the Jewish Museum archives here in Prague.

“Gideon Klein has been almost totally referenced by his imprisonment in Terezín and by his murder in Auschwitz. But it is important to realise that Klein was also part of a very exciting, modernist, avant-garde cultural scene, which was very much based in Prague before WWII.

“One of the things that I have been doing is to try and win Klein back first and foremost as a Jewish musician but as a Czech musician as well. One of the things I have been doing is to research how he was engaging with the Czech avant-garde immediately before the War but also close to the outbreak of war, so that we don’t reference him as a victim but as a very fine young musician.”

“One of the things that I have been doing is to try and win Klein back first and foremost as a Jewish musician but as a Czech musician as well.”

This is I guess the image you want to present in the programme called Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer, which is part of the Out of the Shadows festival. Can you tell me more about it?

“This presentation was premiered in Madison, Wisconsin, and it’s been performed in the UK, so this is its third performance, but in many ways, this is the most important one, because we are bringing Gideon back to Prague, a city he adored for obvious reasons. It was and still is such an important cultural centre.

“So I have put together a narrative: personal reminiscences and testimonies from his family and friends to create this portrait of a very active and exciting and fascinating musician and individual, who was very much part of Prague music scene at that time.

“And we will have actors performing the roles of Gideon and his sister, and members of his family and friends and associates. We’ll have a string quartered performing music by Gideon and music which he would have been familiar with, which helped to shape him as a musician.

“Significantly it is being performed at the Prague Conservatory, where for a while Gideon was a student, so also we are taking Gideon back to his conservatory and I think it is tremendously important and a very powerful thing to do.”

How long have you actually spet researching his life?

“That is really a leading question, because, as I mentioned before, he has been referenced by Terezín and to a certain extent by Auschwitz. But when I started to evaluate the archive in the Jewish Museum here in Prague where his estate is, I found there was so much information which really haven’t been looked at at all – correspondence, photographs, music which hasn’t yet been performed.

“One of the surprises for me was that although he was very young – he was born in 1919, so he was 20 at the outbreak of war, yet even in his teens he was so involved in music-making in this city.

Terezín, photo: Denisa Tomanová

Terezín, photo: Denisa Tomanová

It was quite remarkable, the sort of people he was coming into contact with. And even in his teens he was part of the vibrant café society. And all of these things have been forming and feeding him as an artist. I have to say that that is the most exciting thing that I have discovered about him. And to a large extent, because I have been researching him so intimately, in a sense he became part of our family as well.”

Have you actually met any witnesses, any people who knew him?

“Most definitely and that’s a real challenge nowadays, of course. But there are people still alive who remember him. And that type of personal testimony is hugely important because in some cases they have spoken about or written about their encounters with Gideon before.

“But it has been very interesting meeting these people and asking: what was he like? Who were his friends? Who did he mix with and so forth? Almost exclusively these people remember him from Terezín but nonetheless there is a certain amount of testimony from people who remember him here in Prague.”

Gideon Klein died when he was of 25. How big is the volume of work he managed to produce by this age?

“Well, his output is fairly small, he left many incomplete compositions. He was a wonderful starter but he wasn’t all that good at finishing, I think the reason being that because he had so many fantastic ideas he wanted to get them down on paper and quite often for one piece of music there are a number of iterations of it and it has been quite a challenge untangling all of that; finding out what is the definitive score.

“Almost exclusively all his compositions are chamber works, so we are talking about small ensembles for strings or winds, for solo piano, vocal pieces, there are some sketches of orchestral works. Some of the works are increasingly being performed, for instance the String Trio, which is being performed in our festival, that’s now part of the standard repertoire to a large extent, his Piano Sonata also to a certain extent.

“The interesting thing of course is to see this incremental maturing of his style from his mid-teens to his final years written under captivity. It should also be pointed out that he heard hardly any of his music performed, very little of it.”

What were among the biggest influences on his music?

“Across one of his scores he wrote in large writing: long live Janáček and long live Schoenberg, so that sort of gives the game away. And I think if you were to listen to his music then quite clearly He feels himself part of this 20th century Czech tradition and of course inevitably that is Janáček because he is such a towering and overwhelming figure in that respect.

“But also his looking at European modernism, Schoenberg, and I suspect he came into contact with Stravinsky and Bartok as well, so he was very much influenced in that modernist style. The music he composed in Terezín was in style perhaps a little more conservative, because he was at the mercy of perhaps amateur performers. He wanted to make his music accessible. So his Terezín works are different again.”

The festival Out of the Shadow is also hosting a world premiere of one of Gideon Klein’s compositions…

“One of the surprises for me was that although he was very young – he was born in 1919, he was so involved in music making in this city.”

“This is very interesting. It is called Topol, or The Poplar Tree. There is a copy of the manuscript in the archives of the Jewish Museum here in Prague. The piece is complete, it is a melodrama for narrator and piano, so the voice part is spoken rather than sung. We don’t know who the words are by but I suspect the words are by Gideon Klein himself.

It is very interesting pieces and very dark as well. It is surprising that it was never published, it has never been recorded and that gets performed in Pilsen as a world premiere. There will also be the Czech premiere of a little harp piece he wrote when he was 15, and that was actually performed in the US in June.”

Going back to the programme Gideon Klein, Portrait of a Composer, that has already been performed in the US and in Great Britain. What was the reaction of the public?

“The reaction was astounding, because many people in the audience knew either nothing or next to nothing about Klein. What they found was that here was a composer who we have taken out of the shadows, in a sense.

“If we define Gideon’s shadow as imprisonment and incarceration, we are sort of winning him back as a musician who wasn’t under imprisonment. And certainly people found it very moving as well, because it is a tragic story but at times it is also touching and humorous as well.

“So we are trying to give voice to this individual who was loved by all, and one of the reasons he was loved is because he was a bit quirky as well and I think people liked that. And people have told me that that really comes out in the performance.”

Have you been in touch with the director and the actors who have been preparing the Prague performance?

“Yes, I met with the director, Kateřina Iváková, for the first time last month here in Prague. We have been emailing and skyping furiously, as you can imagine. And she is bringing to the performance something which is very interesting.

“I wanted her to be as experimental as she wanted, but it is not just experimentation for the sake of it. She has done it in a very creative and a very moving way. And without giving the game away it is going to be a very interesting performance and I am so excited.”

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