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Newsletter Issue 10

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‘Out of the Shadows’ in Cape Town and Stellenbosch: a truly lekker experience

By Stephen Muir

Before I begin my report proper, I should put my cards on the table: I’m biased! I was born in Zambia, spent quite some time in South Africa as a young child, have family in Durban, and have spent the last nearly ten years visiting South Africa regularly, researching the history and place of music in the country’s Jewish world, and meeting some extraordinary people along the way. In fact, for me personally, this is where the seeds of the whole Performing the Jewish Archive project were planted, even though the project has subsequently expanded across the globe to become something far bigger. So I apologise if I am somewhat more effusive in my recollections of this particular PtJA festival; the others have been equally brilliant.

Personal disclaimers aside; the last of the five ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals of rediscovered Jewish music and theatre took place in the Western Cape province of South Africa, 10–17 September 2017. Thirteen performances, two academic symposia, twelve venues, eleven world premieres, and total audience numbers approaching 2200 made this among the most well-attended and diverse of the five festivals organised by Performing the Jewish Archive.

Festival opening concert in the Garden Synagogue

The ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals have all featured engagement with local communities at their heart, be they communities of performers, scholars, religions, or audiences. The Cape Festival brought to fruition partnerships forged over a number of years with major organisations in the region, most prominently (but by no means exclusively) the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Holocaust Centre, the Jewish Museum, Stellenbosch and Cape Town universities, the Gardens and Green & Sea Point Synagogues, and significant individuals such as Aviva Pelham, Matthew Reid, Richard Freedman, Gavin Morris, Cantors Ivor Joffe and Choni Goldman, and the leaders of various synagogue communities. Underpinning these groups have been the remarkable first-, second-, and third-generation Cape-based survivors of the Holocaust and the war more broadly, whose support and close interest has always been overwhelmingly positive.

And special tribute must be paid here to the remarkable two-man team of Peter Martens and Charl van Heyningen, without whose unending hard work and good humour (and team of excellent helpers!) this festival could never have taken place.

To provide an adequate review of each event during the festival would occupy many more words than I have here. I hope this brief survey will help to put across the sheer range of performances (and responses to them) that the Cape Festival represented.

The atmosphere of excitement and heightened emotion for the Festival Opening Concert at the Gardens synagogue was palpable. This was this the first time in living memory that the Cape’s two remaining full-time synagogue choirs had performed together non-competitively; the iconic ‘Mother Synagogue’ was buzzing with some 421 audience members; and those present heard instrumental, choral and cantorial music composed in 1920s and ’30s Russia and Poland, but rediscovered in recent years in Cape Town itself.

Miriam Lichterman

Above all, however, was a feeling of immense warmth, of a community hungry for knowledge of its past, and greatly anticipating a week’s celebration of Jewish music and theatre that survived, often against all odds. Performances from Ivor Joffe, Choni Goldman and their respective shul choirs were accompanied by strings and piano, whilst pianist Pieter Grobler previewed music composed in the Warsaw ghetto by child prodigy Josima Feldschuh, later explored in more detail in his concert Fractured Lives.

The opening day concluded with a reception at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, hosted by the Director of South Africa’s Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, and a true friend to our project, Richard Freedman. The PtJA project exhibition provided a fitting backdrop to a series of mini-performances drawn from the festival programme, concluded by a powerful and intensely moving talk on music in Warsaw before and during the ghetto years. This was delivered by the remarkable Warsaw-born Miriam Lichterman, who survived a series of concentration camps, a death march, and unimaginable suffering before rebuilding her life in South Africa.

A Comedy of Us Jews

Theatre featured prominently in the Cape Festival, represented by three very different productions. A Comedy of Us Jews (1940), by Finnish–Jewish author Jac Weinstein, satirizes the Jewish clothing trade and the consequences of heavy rationing. PtJA researcher Simo Muir’s initial English translation of Weinstein’s Yiddish script had been skilfully adapted by fellow researcher Lisa Peschel and finalized by South African opera legend Aviva Pelham. Rounded off by clarinettist Matthew Reid’s song arrangements and inspired performances from a cast including Michelle Maxwell and Nicholas Ellenbogen, the musical comedy played to two capacity audiences in the old synagogue at Cape Town’s Jewish Museum.

One of PtJA researcher Lisa Peschel’s research outcomes was Prince Bettliegend. This musical revue was created at Stellenbosch University out of an original fragmentary script written by Czech–Jewish prisoners in the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto, drawing also upon surviving Terezín actors’ memories of the song lyrics and plot highlights, and an earlier (and somewhat different) version created for the Sydney Festival (August 2017). The revue received two brilliant performances by students from Stellenbosch’s music and drama departments, and was a disarmingly amusing and satirical reminder that war and involuntary confinement can breed corruption, and challenge even the most fundamental moral norms of society.

Prince Bettliegend

An even greater contrast, the children’s opera Red Riding Hood by Austrian émigré composer Wilhelm Grosz and English author Rose Fyleman featured the highly accomplished Kensington Chorale Girls Choir and Kenmere Primary School Choir in a spirited performance at Parow’s magnificent Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium. The production demonstrated how significant local cultural and societal circumstances can be: The traditional costumes, idyllic woodland setting, and underlying atmosphere of threatened innocence encapsulated in the opera’s excellent Sydney Festival production were here marvellously transformed into sassy characters dressed in onesies and foresters hilariously brandishing pistols instead of old-fashioned shotguns. In the end the wicked yet ‘seriously misunderstood’ wolf gets his comeuppance just the same, to the delight of an enthusiastic audience and PtJA researcher Joseph Toltz, who has tirelessly championed Grosz’s music for a number of years.

One of PtJA’s priorities has been the fostering of new musical and theatrical creative talent. New songs from the Jewish Archive consisted of new pieces (based upon the research of the PtJA team) composed by students of Professors Hendrik Hofmeyr (UCT) and Hans Roosenschoon (Stellenbosch Konservatorium) and featuring singers Minette du Toit Pearce and Jolene McClelland. Highly diverse in style and source material, each song encapsulated an aspect of historical experience interpreted anew for audiences to contemplate within the context of modern conflict and political instability.

The two performances of New songs from the Jewish Archive were paired with two academic symposia, Looking forward through the past. We were honoured to welcome distinguished Professor of Composition Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph (Wits University), whose insights into the individual songs, as well as the whole notion of music that reflects narratives of suffering, were fascinating, informative and challenging all at the same time.

The Baxter Concert Hall

Chamber music was strongly represented in a concert of works by Wilhelm Grosz, Walter Wurzburger, and Werner Baer, all interests of PtJA researcher Joseph Toltz. These composers fled their German/Austrian homes for refuge variously in England, Australia and the United States; and all three continued to experience varying degrees of discrimination at the hands of fellow musicians and broadcasters in their new homelands. The concert brought to light exquisite songs and chamber works that were sidelined primarily because of their composers’ Jewish identity, including world premieres of Wurzburger’s first String Quartet and Grosz’s String Quartet in D Major (Op. 4). The Baxter Concert Hall, with its history of challenging repression and upholding the rights of the oppressed, was a highly appropriate venue for the reintroduction of these unjustly neglected pieces.

The tragically short but artistically remarkable life of child prodigy Josima Feldschuh was placed in close proximity with that of the more established but equally tragic figure of Viktor Ullmann in Fractured Lives: Music of the Holocaust, part of Stellenbosch Konservatorium’s highly regarded Endler Concert Series. Whilst inevitably a little naïve in style, the seven short pieces by the 12/13–year–old Feldschuh revealed the confident and individual musical personality, full of unrealized potential, that had also emerged via performances at earlier ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals. The subject of PtJA researcher Teryl Dobbs’ research, Feldshuh’s music was rendered sensitively by pianist Pieter Grobler, who described the experience as extremely stimulating, despite knowledge of the circumstances of the music’s composition.

The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Wilhelm Grosz composed his Serenade early in his career in Vienna, and its enormous and rather unusual scoring is perhaps one reason that it has dropped from the orchestral repertoire, though Grosz’s personal experiences of exile and discrimination are surely rather more pertinent. The work (edited by Joseph Toltz, with assistance from myself and one of my students) features a double string section, two harps, celeste, piano, large woodwind and brass sections, and even two mandolins (though curiously no trombones), and was performed magnificently by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Conrad van Alphen, alongside Richard Strauss’s equally extravagant tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra and Schumann’s A minor Cello Concerto.

The final concert of the Cape Festival, and indeed of the whole ‘Out of the Shadows’ series of festivals, was particularly poignant for me personally. Journeys in Jewish Choral Music represented almost a homecoming, in that the choral and cantorial works featured in the concert were mostly the outcomes of research that I undertook in Cape Town between 2012 and 2016. I should pay tribute to the Worldwide Universities Network, the British Academy, and of course the AHRC, whose support has been vital to this work. But equally the families of the composers whose music I conducted with the superb Cape Soloists Choir have been generous beyond measure. These composers fled persecution under the Russian Empire, ending up in Cape Town, and bringing with them their own music manuscripts and those of colleagues and friends left behind. Froim Spektor’s hauntingly beautiful setting of Habet mischamajim ureh, Morris Katzin’s cantorial tour de force rendition of the Kaddish prayer, and works by Spektor’s Rostov-on-Don organist colleague Josef Gottbeter all stand out for me, alongside Eyli, eyli by Finnish composer Simon Parmet (with thanks to PtJA researcher Simo Muir). The concert ended with the work whose discovery amongst Spektor’s papers in 2012 formed the seed that grew into Performing the Jewish Archive: Dowid Ajzensztadt’s extraordinary four-movement Passover Cantata Chad Gadya, composed in Warsaw around 1920, performed with orchestral accompaniment in the city’s Tłomackie Street Synagogue in 1931, but then almost completely forgotten until the early choral draft of the work, retained by Spektor, came to light in Cape Town in 2012.

From left: Stephen Muir, Emma Dolby, Lisa Peschel, Joseph Toltz, Olivia Thomas, Libby Clark, Stefan Fairlamb and Simo Muir.

Despite its relatively low profile and fairly small audience capacity, Rondebosch’s Erin Hall seemed absolutely fitting for this final performance. As the research team, performers and audience emerged into the slowly setting sunlight to celebrate their success in the courtyard afterwards, the concert hall, embedded within the local community and sustained by volunteers and charitable donations, represented for me all that Performing the Jewish Archive stands for: the emergence of all these precious artworks by Jewish musicians and writers—once hidden and nearly forgotten through discrimination, war, even genocide—out of the shadows and back into public light via the agency of dedicated local performers within their own communities.

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‘Getting to know you’ Simo Muir

Tell us about your role in PtJA
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the project, and my research topic has been artistic and cultural reactions to the Holocaust in Finland. Besides my own research, I have been updating the project website, editing our newsletter, and planning and implementing with my colleagues a database that will contain all the research material and results from the project. I have also been a member of our festival committees, and I have assisted our film crew in finalizing videos for our website. 

What were you doing before working on PtJA?   
I was working in a three year Academy of Finland funded research project called ‘Silences of History’ at the University of Helsinki. This project was about Finland’s relation to the Holocaust, how the Holocaust has been dealt with in Finnish history writing during the Cold War. Before that I was working at the National Archives of Finland cataloguing the Finnish Jewish Archives. 

What’s the best thing about working on a project like PtJA?
There are many excellent things in a big project like this: you get to know many new researchers and make international contacts. I have had wonderful colleagues from whom I have learned many new skills. Besides, the funding has made it possible to prepare a lot of performances, to have my own research material performed on several continents by various fantastic artists and students, which is quite extraordinary.

What do you get the most satisfaction from professionally?
I like working on topics that haven’t been researched earlier, finding historical documents that no-one has seen before. I really get satisfaction from working on such documents and seeing the results of it, be it an article, a book or a performance. In PtJA it has been fantastic to see the whole process, how an artefact from an archive has made it to theatres and concert halls in Sydney, Prague, Madison, Leeds, York and Cape Town. 

What’s the biggest challenge for you on this project?
I think the biggest challenge has been multitasking, trying to concentrate on research, to ponder various new theories, and at the same time plan festivals and produce material for performances, and to try to keep up with the daily routine of reading and writing emails and practical administrative work. 

Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?
I like doing things with my hands, like woodworking and painting. This is something that I have learned from my father, who worked as an antique restorer. It has been a bit challenging for the last few years because of not having proper facilities and space to do that. I am also interested in family history and I can spend hours studying old registers and documents.   

Outside of work, what are the top things on your ‘bucket list’?
I have already for a long time done research about my Scottish side of family, and I would like to visit the villages where my family has lived in Ayrshire, and generally to explore more of Scotland. I would also like to mend an old Georgian grandfather clock from Montrose which I bought when I moved to UK. It still needs quite a lot of work, starting with restoring the clock face with a painting of Queen Mary of Scots fleeing from Loch Lomond.   

If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would you want with you?
The three things I would like to have would be a surfing board, a wet suit and sun cream. I took a surfing course with my colleagues at Bondi Beach in Australia, and I would really like to have another go at learning surfing.   

And finally, the PtJA team are very sad that you are leaving the project at the end of December 2017.  Tell us, what amazing opportunity has tempted you away from the joys of working on PtJA?! 
I have been granted an Honorary Research Fellow post at the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies. During 2018 I will be working on a Finnish Academy funded project called Roma and Nordic Societies. I am really pleased that the University of Leeds has grated me a reward under the University’s Recognition Scheme for my contribution for the project. The three years in Leeds have been amazing and I will miss my PtJA colleagues.

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The Future of the Archive

Libby Clark (PtJA Project Manager) talks about the final major Performing the Jewish Archive activity, The Future of the Archive conference, taking place at the British Library, London from the 14-16 January 2018.

Plans are currently in full swing for the final major Performing the Jewish Archive project activity – our project conference, The Future of the Archive, which is taking place at the British Library in London from the 14-16 January 2018.

Old ManuscriptsThe conference aims to act as a beacon for further research and builds on three years of activity, based on the premise that performing Jewish archives specifically helps shed light on a host of wider cultural, scientific and political concerns.  We have a packed programme of exciting talks and panel sessions with delegates attending from over the world and representing a wide range of organisations.  Members of the Performing the Jewish Archive team are looking forward to showcasing a range of outcomes from the project, and are looking forward to networking with delegates and hearing more about their research and work. The full programme is available here         

We are delighted to welcome Professor Michael Berkowitz as the conference keynote speaker.  Michael has been a key supporter of Performing the Jewish Archive project activities over the last three years and so we are very pleased that he can be a part of our final conference.   

We are also looking forward to an evening concert of music by Mozart, Klein and Pavel Fischer which will be performed by the Cassia Quartet on Monday 15 January.  The Cassia performed two concerts back in June 2016 at the Leeds & York at the ‘Out of the Shadows festival’, and we are delighted to welcome them back to our final project event.     

As we lead up to the Christmas break, the conference committee are busy finalising arrangements for what we hope will be a very successful and fulfilling three days.  Do look out for messages from the committee over the coming weeks with information about the practical and logistical elements of the conference.  We are extremely grateful to the British Library for working in partnership with us to host the conference. Particular thank must go to Dr Rupert Ridgewell, Curator of Printed Music at the British Library, for working so openly and collaboratively with us to ensure the success of the conference.

We look forward very much to welcoming you to London in January 2018.  

Libby Clark

Project Manager and Future of the Archive conference committee member

November 2017          

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Wilhelm Grosz on three continents – September and November, 2017

On Thursday 14 September 2017, Wilhelm Grosz’s first large work for orchestra, Serenade Op. 5 was performed by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Conrad van Alphen.  Having received its premiere with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Franz von Hoeßlin in January 1921 and a repeat performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Felix Weingartner in the same month, we believe this to be only the third time that the work has been heard.  It was immensely exciting to hear this work in Cape Town, and I am especially grateful to our Principal Investigator, Dr Stephen Muir, for the countless hours he contributed in assisting with score preparation.  Some work still remains to correct minor issues in parts, but interest has now been expressed for more of Grosz’s orchestral repertoire.

Soon after my return to Australia, I participated in an important Symposium at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, entitled “Best Practice in Artistic Research in Music”. Many excellent papers were presented from outstanding research-practitioners across Australia.  My paper, entitled “Family ties: Negotiating ethics in researching and performing private archives”, focused on my work with the Forman-Grosz family in bringing holdings of their archive back to the listening public, through the many performances of Grosz’s work during our five performance festivals.

On Friday 24 November I took part in another Symposium, this time by Skype.  Part of a mini-festival entitled “Entente musicale: Wilhelm Grosz Wien – London – New York”, the symposium was a collaborative initiative of the the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna and the Instituts für Wissenschaft und Forschung der Musik und Kunst Privatuniversität der Stadt Wien (MUK).  The evening prior to the Symposium saw students from the MUK directed by Dr Andreas Stoehr in a performance of Grosz’s Bänkel und Balladen Op. 31. According to Dr Michael Haas, Senior Researcher, exilArte Center at the University for Music and the Performing Arts (MDW), the performance was superb. Also included on the program was Schönberg’s Bänkl Lieder and Hanns Eisler’s 14 Ways of Describing the Rain. My paper the next day was entitled “Imperative Aesthetics: the life and stylistic range of Wilhelm Grosz”. Despite concomitant Skype issues, the paper was well received, and I had excellent technical assistance from Philipp Gutmann in showing excerpts from Grosz performances in our various festivals, demonstrating the extraordinary range of aesthetic interests explored during the composer’s life. Enthusiasm and interest in Grosz is building around the world, and this would not have been possible without the performances presented by Performing the Jewish Archive.

The Australian icon Barry Humphries AO CBE was recently featured in a late November documentary on Sky Arts.  Entitled “Passions | Barry Humphries on The Music Hitler Banned”, the documentary explored Humphries’ enthusiasm for music, art, film and theatre of the interwar period in Germany and Austria, including his love and enthusiasm for the music of Wilhelm Grosz. In August we welcomed Mr Humphries at two of the Sydney performances for Performing the Jewish Archive, and we hope to work with him in bringing Grosz to many more audiences in the future. In this endeavour we are incredibly grateful to Jean Forman Grosz, custodian of the family archive, along with Dr. Michael Haas, Professor Gerold Gruber and the ExilArte Zentrum at the MDW (University of Music and the Performing Arts, Vienna).

Dr. Joseph Toltz

Sydney Conservatorium of Music

The University of Sydney


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Uncommon Responses to the Holocaust

Left to right: Aurimas Svedas, Eliyana Adler, Rachel Feldhay Brenner, Teri Dobbs, Jennifer Tishler.

PtJA team member, Teri Dobbs, organized a panel of scholars to discuss “Uncommon Responses to the Holocaust” at the recent Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies Conference held November 9 – 12, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.

Presenting papers were Professor Rachel Feldhay Brenner, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Professor Aurimas Svedas, Vilnius University, Lithuania; and Dobbs. Dr. Jennifer Tishler, Associate Director of the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA), University of Wisconsin-Madison, served as moderator and Professor Eliyana Adler, Pennsylvania State University, served as the panel’s discussant. The following provides a brief description of the panel’s approach:

The Holocaust is often perceived in terms of total extermination of Jews and the predominantly indifferent witnessing bystanders. Particular and often unusual responses of resistance complicate the accepted generalizations. Teryl Dobbs’s paper analyses the case of a young girl, a piano prodigy and composer, Josima Feldschuh, who wrote music and performed in the Warsaw Ghetto but died while in hiding on the Aryan side of Warsaw. Rachel Brenner discusses the case of Zofia Kossak, a rabid antisemite, who not only addressed Poles in an underground leaflet urging a compassionate attitude toward the Jewish victims, but who also established a Council for Aid to Jews. Aurimas Svedas presents the case of Kovno survivor and one of Lithuania’s leaders for intercultural tolerance, Irena Veisaite, who helped to initiate dialogue between Lithuanians and Jews, which were divided in two different ‘memory societies’ after the collapse of Soviet Union. (ASEEES program, 2017)

Dobbs’s paper, “Josima Feldschuh: The Music Behind the Ghetto Walls,” is one of a series of papers that is a direct result of Dobbs’s work with Performing the Jewish Archives and the first to set forth preliminary findings from her investigations of Feldschuh’s compositions and their PtJA performances as socio-cultural musical texts.

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Secrets and Codes Revealed at Leeds Limmud

David Fligg (PtJA’s Project Consultant) represented the project team at the Leeds Limmud Conference, which took place at Weetwood Hall on 29 October.

David debating with some of the Limmud delegates.

‘Music from the Holocaust: Spiritual Resistance, Secrets, Codes and Messages Revealed’ was the title of David’s presentation. He discussed music written under German occupation and imprisonment by Czech Jewish composers within the context of other examples of deliberately-hidden testimonies and evidence during the Holocaust, including Emanuel Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabbes archive from the Warsaw Ghetto, and what have become known as the Scrolls of Auschwitz.

Leeds Limmud is now one of the major regional Limmud conferences in the UK, with this year’s attracting more than 300 delegates, and five parallel sessions containing 56 lectures and workshops. Since the start of the PtJA project, team members have contributed to various Limmud events both in the UK and abroad. “The fact that our sessions seem to attract sizable audiences, demonstrates that there’s a thirst for investigating and engaging with our innovative research,” says David.


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Newsletter Special Issue (October 2017)

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

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Down, Under, and Out of the Shadows

August 5-14, 2017

The fourth Out of the Shadows festival took place in Sydney in early August, the second week of second semester. Over three hundred musicians, actors and academics came together to present research work from Performing the Jewish Archive. Two exciting local cross-faculty collaborations involved Associate Professor Ian Maxwell (Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, SLAM) and Dr Avril Alba (Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, SLC). Ian directed one of the cabarets in the festival, Prince Bettliegend, while Avril was co-convenor for an international symposium held at the Sydney Jewish Museum, Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive.

Performance of Bertold Brecht’s and Kurt Weil’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ at the Vebrugghen Hall. © 2017 University of Sydney. Photograph by David Goldman.

Performances were exceptionally well attended, with over 2,100 people viewing 15 events, including four free concert presentations and two free guest lectures by exceptional international academics.  Local composers from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music were commissioned and represented throughout: arrangements for chamber orchestra (Aidan Rosa and Ian Whitney), settings of poetry by Nelly Sachs for large choir (Katrina Kovacs and Victoria Pham), and original compositions based on Jewish refugee material with which the composers themselves were working (Daniel Biederman and Solomon Frank).


Geoff Sirmai and Doron Chester in the ‘Merchants of Helsinki’. © 2017 University of Sydney. Photograph by David Goldman.

Programs represented Jewish artists who had sought refuge in Australia. A significant range of compositional styles were represented through the works of Werner Baer, Boas Bischofswerder, George Dreyfus, Marcel Lorber, George Pikler, Georg Tintner, and Walter Wurzburger. The Festival was especially pleased to perform George Dreyfus’s Trio in the presence of the composer. We also heard personal reminiscences from the pianist Rachel Valler OAM, and the contralto Lauris Elms AM OBE, both of whom had working relationships with Jewish refugee composers. 

Katia Molino and Yana Taylor ‘in Prince Bettliegend’. © 2017 University of Sydney. Photograph by David Goldman.

The quality of performance across the festival was extraordinary.  Rave reviews were given for the opening night orchestral and dance event (conducted by Roger Benedict) and the exceptional Prince Bettliegend. Audiences were particularly appreciative of the local talents of Geoff Sirmai and Joanna Weinberg in The Merchants of Helsinki. Cabarets were musically directed by Dr Kevin Hunt and an ensemble from the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Unit, with expert guidance in scripting and music from Simo Muir (Merchants of Helsinki) and dramaturgy from Lisa Peschel (Prince Bettliegend).

Two brilliant international guests gave keynote speeches as part of the festival, addressing the place of cultural expression in the lives of Jewish refugees.  Dr Anna Shternshis’s talk, sponsored by the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC) and the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (FASS), discussed songs created by Yiddish speaking Jews in the Ukraine during World War II, only rediscovered in the late 1990s.  Dr Brigid Cohen’s talk, sponsored by the Sydney Conservatorium’s Alfred Hook Lecture Series, explored the repertories created by refugee Jewish artists in flight or in the camps, bringing them into dialogue with crucial philosophers of the period (especially Hannah Arendt) who were addressing questions of responsibility, reality, facticity and truth-telling in the wake of the Holocaust.  The two international guests moderated sessions for a special symposium, Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive, held at the Sydney Jewish Museum in the final two days of the festival.  Over twenty participants explored questions such as the role of historical authenticity in creative production, especially pertinent given the long-standing debates about the limits of representation that surround artwork associated with the Holocaust. They also addressed whether and how the contemporary emphasis on empathy as a desired outcome of engagement with difficult histories and artworks might itself be ethically problematic. Their contributions engendered far-reaching and stimulating discussions and are currently being prepared for publication.

By Dr Joseph Toltz

Research Fellow, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney

Curator, Out of the Shadows: rediscovering Jewish Music and Theatre (Sydney, August 2017)

Co-Convenor, Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive, 13-14 August, 2017

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Newsletter Issue 9

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

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