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Jewish composers tell haunting stories at Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Journal Staff

Miriam Khalil will perform at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport on June 15.

JUNE 7, 2018, ROCKPORT – In front of sweeping ocean views, there will be revolution.

Or rather, there will be “r:EVOLUTION,” a month-long concert series starting June 15 at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival that will focus on how war and revolution drive the evolution of music. Many of the pieces were written by Jewish composers, and are reflections on their experiences during World War II. There will also be films and plays either by or about Jews that focus on war, revolution, and exile.

“A hell of a lot of good art is created during times of adversity,” said Barry Shiffman, artistic director at Rockport Music. “Emotions run high. Life experience runs high. What’s good is heightened, and art reflects heightened senses.”

The festival at the Shalin Liu Performance Center will open with “Ayre,” a mélange of Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, and Sephardic melodies and texts, some from as far back as the 12th century, compiled by Osvlado Golijov, an Argentine-Jewish composer who lives in Boston and is the composer-in-residence at Rockport Music. Golijov collaborated with celebrated movie composer Gustavo Santaolalla, whose original work is also featured in the suite, to weave together and reinvigorate the disparate works. Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil will sing the songs, accompanied by 11 instrumentalists. Translations of the songs will be provided.

The following night (Saturday, June 16), there will be a play written by and starring Canadian-Jewish playwright Alone Nashman called “Kafka and Son,” which is based on a letter that Franz Kafka wrote to his domineering father that had a profound effect on the iconic writer’s life.

On June 22, a screening of World War II footage set to American-Jewish composer Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” will be shown. During the war, Reich’s parents divorced and his father moved to the opposite side of the country. Reich took many trains back and forth between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942 to see his parents.

Years later, it dawned on him that had he been in Europe during the same time period, the trains would be taking him to concentration camps. In 1988, he composed “Different Trains,” comprised of three movements that evoke different experiences. The first is inspired by the train rides he actually took across America; the second by imagining the doomed train rides he might have taken in Europe; and the third by the fast social transformation brought about by the end of the war.

The Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport.

To add to this celebrated piece, Spanish filmmaker Beatriz Caravaggio took hours of film footage from the war years and created a montage set to Reich’s score. “I always felt the work would benefit from video,” said Shiffman, “so I was very happy to discover this incredible film. It’s an incredibly powerful to see images of time.”

On July 8, the ARC Ensemble, based in Toronto, will perform its “Music in Exile” repertoire, which features the work of composers expelled by Nazi Germany. On July 16, there will be a screening of the documentary “Exit: Music,” which tells the stories of five prominent Jewish composers who fled Nazi Germany, and whose work faded into obscurity after the war. The ARC Ensemble’s renditions of the composers’ works plays throughout the film. Simon Wynberg, ARC Ensemble’s artistic director, will host a talk following the performance.

On July 13, the Dover Quartet will perform Viktor Ullmann’s “String Quartet No. 3,” written in 1943 while the Austrian composer was a prisoner at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The following year, he was sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz.

“There’s a lot of baggage that goes along with this repertoire,” noted Shiffman. “It transcends the circumstance in which it was written. We owe it to Ullmann to recognize him as a composer in his own right, not just one who died in the camps.”

Shiffman, who is himself Jewish, was humbled by the experience of assembling all these works by Jews, some in tragic circumstances.

“It’s incredible to think that the celebration of culture during such adversity was such a part of Jewish culture,” he said.

Tickets can be reserved at rockportmusic.org

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