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Music in Captivity

a lecture recital by Ronald Senator,
with Teresa Gobel and Miriam Brickman


The role of music in the Holocaust and its contribution to survival were issues raised in a stimulating and inspiring lecture-recital on 'Music of the Holocaust' given by the British composer Ronald Senator, with musical performances by Teresa Gobel, mezzo soprano, partnered by Miriam Brickman, the American pianist and wife of the composer. The event, on Thursday 29 June 2006, part of the monthly lecture series at Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London NW3, UK, featured a lecture in which Ronald Senator, who is currently enjoying a busy 80th birthday season of concerts and recordings, delved into the moral maze surrounding music of the Holocaust, both music that was composed as a memorial to the victims, and music which was performed within the ghettos and Nazi concentration camps.

The paradox that any aesthetic experience could coexist with the inhuman conditions at Auschwitz was highlighted, as Senator related the tale of the six Auschwitz orchestras that played for prisoners in forced labour, and prisoners being led to the gas chambers. Many of the players had committed suicide or were themselves murdered by the Nazis, yet some musicians survived along with other inmates, one of whom was Senator's first wife. In her memory he published a book, Requiem Letters (Marion Boyars), and composed a large scale oratorio, Kaddish for Terezin. Dedicated to the million and half children who perished in the Holocaust, the work sets Psalms and children's poetry from Terezin, the showcase city which had a remarkably flourishing musical life, and where many of its composers and musicians who produced operas, performed recitals and composed music, were deported to Auschwitz. The work was premièred in 1986 in Canterbury Cathedral, and has since been performed all over the world, including in Terezin itself, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1995, a performance attended by many international political and religious dignatories.

One of the most powerful arias from Kaddish for Terezin launched the concert, a dramatic expressionistic setting of poem by Nelly Sachs, in which Teresa Gobel projected the wide ranging lyrical melody with silvery resonance over the delicate cluster tremolos, creating an evocative and elusive harmonic aura. The influence of Senator's teacher Egon Wellecz, one of the émigré European composers who found refuge in Britain, was evident in the Schoenbergian idiom, especially the ambiguous ending, left hanging in questioning atonality.

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Copyright © 8 July 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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