Performing the Jewish Archive

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Sydney 2017

5-12 August 2017

In this section:


sydney-uni-logoOut of the Shadows: Rediscovering Jewish Music and Theatre, was held in Australia from August 5-12 2017 at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music



Out of the Shadows in Sydney featured symphonic music for modern dance, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s ballet chanté The Seven Deadly Sins, a witty children’s opera based on the Red Riding Hood tale, searing social commentary in two cabarets from the Terezín Ghetto and Depression-era Helsinki, profound chamber music composed in the Terezín Ghetto and Soviet Russia, sacred and secular choral music and organ music by Jewish émigré and refugee composers, songs joyous and thoughtful for voice and clarinet, and virtuosic works for violin and piano from Scandinavia, all presented by some of Australia’s best musicians, actors and dancers: the Goldner String Quartet, Sydney Symphony Fellows, VOX Choir, Sydney Children’s Choir, Three’s Company (Deborah De Graaff, Tonya Lemoh, Narelle Yeo), Ole Bøhn and Daniel Herscovitch and Luminescence Chamber Singers.  

New works were presented by Sydney Conservatorium of Music composers Daniel Biederman, Solomon Frank, Josephine Gibson, Katrina Kovacs and Victoria Pham, as well as new arrangements by Aidan Rosa and Ian Whitney. World premiere performances of works by Wilhelm Grosz, HA Peter and Georg Tintner sat beside  Australian premieres of works by Simon Parmet, Moses Pergament and Mieczesław Weinberg, all performed in Verbrugghen Hall, the same space where so many Jewish refugee composers and performers first gave recitals in Sydney in the 1930s and 40s.


International Symposium

International Symposium: Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive

Conference Abstract:

As an intellectual focus of the major AHRC-funded research project ‘Performing the Jewish Archive’, this symposium reflects on some of the urgent ethical and intellectual questions raised by the performance of often lost, forgotten or neglected Jewish artworks from the long twentieth century. In undertaking performances of these works from Madison to Prague, Sydney to Cape Town, as well as in the UK, the PTJA project has been motivated by a complex set of concerns about the role of art ‘after testimony’, the ways in which audience responses to such performances can be ethically tracked, the function of empathy in engaging with this art, and the central importance of an ethical, historically-informed approach to such performance. Yet troubling ethical questions remain with us: For instance, the performance of a lost play from the Terezín ghetto in the site of a massacre of York’s medieval Jewish community, the adaptation of a Zionist oratorio written in the direct aftermath of the Holocaust for contemporary audiences in several different social and political contexts, the role of empathy in engaging with these artworks, or the place of performance in Holocaust education raise questions pertaining to the ethics of artistic production of traumatic and deeply affective material.

Questions we ask potential contributors to reflect upon include:

• How can performance engage respectfully with the gaps to be found in archives, and with the losses inherent to Jewish history of the twentieth century?

• How can co-textual information ethically inform audiences about complex and often difficult knowledge? How can performance, by contrast, provide a form of knowledge inaccessible through archival research alone?

• What role can historical authenticity play in such performances, not least given the long debates about the limits of representation that surround artwork associated with the Shoah?

• To what extent is the contemporary emphasis on empathy as a desired outcome of engagement with difficult histories and artworks itself ethically problematic? How might we rethink the relationship between empathy, trauma and the archive?













Travelling Exhibition

Performing the Jewish Archive – Travelling Exhibition

Our travelling exhibition complements our Festival performances, giving an insight into the work of our research team. It tells the stories of Jewish artists and their works of art brought out of the shadows of the archive.

By engaging with the exhibition, you—our audiences—can become part of those stories. We challenge you to think through the questions we ask ourselves:

  • How does reading stories and seeing performances help us understand the musicians and writers who created them?
  • How does knowing these stories affect our experiences?
  • What about stories never completed, artworks lost forever? Can we understand them more through performance?
  • How can we honour fragmented stories, mourn such human and artistic losses?
  • Can empathy help us understand these artists’ experiences?

We look forward to hearing your responses!

The exhibition will be on display in the foyer at the Conservatorium of Music, and on Opening Nights for Performances at The Seymour Centre and East Sydney Arts and Culture Centre.



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