A Time to Remember
[by] Dr. Jonathan F. Dzik
[passages in brackets were cut by Editor]
"Holocaust Memorial Program." Music composed and arranged by Leonard Lehrman. The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus/ Lehrman. Temple Judea, Manhasset, L.I., NY. April 3, 2003.
The Holocaust has spawned many artistic creations in the past 60 years in art, drama, film and music. Musically these efforts have proceeded in two directions. One has been to discover and resurrect forgotten, little known or heretofore unpublished works by composers who perished under the Nazi regime. A recent such example was the performance by Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra of The Emperor of Atlantis by the late Viktor Ullman, who perished in Auschwitz in 1944. A second type of Holocaust music has been written in more recent times by contemporary composers in reflection and observation of that horrific era.
The program of the Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus, under the direction of Dr. Lehrman, was presented to a near capacity and rapt audience. All the works on the program were written by or arranged by Dr. Lehrman and performed by a 13-voice choir with important contributions from various soloists within the chorus. Many of the selections reflected specific events or places, such as "Legacy and Perpetual Reminder: Mauthausen"-referring to the concentration camp located there, and others were works of social consciousness such as "To Live in Germany" or "The So-Called "Jewish Problem," inspired by contemporary writings in Germany today. Dr. Lehrman lived, studied, wrote and performed in Germany for many years and has direct first-hand knowledge of contemporary life, Jewish and otherwise in Germany. When he asked Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of the late anti-Semite composer Richard Wagner, if he could perform a program in Yiddish at the famous Wagner shrine in Bayreuth, Wagner paused for a moment and answered, "Warum, nicht!" ("Why not!").
[To summarize the entire program last Thursday, one might say that from pain, suffering and tragedy, came growth renewal, values and ideals and ultimately the triumph of the human will, not just survival.]
Herein is one listener's observation of specific selections from Dr. Lehrman's memorial program:
1. "Conscience," for chorus with mezzo-soprano and tenor soloists. The piece opened with a type of cantus firmus line stating the text and exquisitely sung by mezzo-soprano Tara Venditti- "Conscience is not a leaf in the wind to be shaken at a gust, but a deep root, holding fast because it must." This text was then repeated as additional counter-melodies were added one by one, gradually creating a rich harmonic texture. A descending melodic line reflected the phrase "deep root, holding fast...." This opening selection set the serious, probing mood for the entire program to follow. It should be noted that this composition, set to a text by Lewis Allen (pseudonym of Abel Meeropol, who adopted the sons of the late Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, [who were convicted and executed for supposed espionage almost 50 years ago. This selection was the winner of the 2002 Sunrise/Sunset Composition of the Brookhaven Arts Council]).
2. "From Six Million Nameless Graves." Helene Williams was the elegant soprano soloist in a melody composed by Edith Segal (1902-1997) that had a real yiddisher ta'am (Jewish flavor). It was like a folk song from the old shet'l. Her rendition was made more poignant with subtle dynamic shadings.
3. "Adonai, Ma Adam." Gregory Mercer, a tenor with a strong, stentorian voice replete with cantorial style melismas, intoned the text of the Yom Kippur liturgy with organ accompaniment. [(It should be noted that Dr. Lehrman placed all accompaniments, mostly on the piano set directly in front of the chorus in the sanctuary of the temple, with occasional forays to the organ set stage left.)]
4. "Legacy and Perpetual Reminder: Mauthausen." An atonal, bleak, sparsely accompanied piece with wide angular intervals and pungent dissonances was performed with great aplomb by the chorus followed immediately by...
5. "A Brown Wolf," - a metaphor for Hitler himself. [The German word for wolf is "welse" and Wagner used that name to refer to Wotan, king of the gods in his monumental 4-opera Ring cycle.] A rapid-tempo 6/8 time created a propulsive momentum with an exciting, active, acerbic accompaniment. Mr. Mercer again performed with impeccable accuracy and powerful projection. His careful enunciation and precise articulation added to the power of the text. [A slight over-amplification in the sound system created a bit of distortion on some of the louder notes. This was corrected in subsequent solos by distancing from the microphones.]
6. "Zelophehad's Daughters." Not exactly Holocaust inspired, but dealing with the contemporary issue of women's inheritance rights was appropriately sung by a quintet of 5 women. It should be noted that[unlike other Biblical inheritance rivalries such as Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers, the five sisters were all equal. Their names are mentioned three different times in the book of Numbers, each time in a different order.] This selection was like a mini-concert opera with alternating and consecutive lines at first, ultimately concluding in a paean of rejoicing for victory and justice for all Israel and for all humanity.
7. "Jewish Voices in Germany" - Part 2 of the concert was devoted almost entirely to the 14 short movements of this cantata. The texts are distillations of the experience of Dr. Lehrman's seven years of working as a Jewish composer in Germany from 1979 to 1986. Have the Germans changed? Would any Jew want to live in Germany again? These are some of the issues in this taut, tightly assembled series of vignettes. Dr. Lehrman conducted this difficult, sometimes atonal work from the keyboard, giving visually clear cues and maintaining tight control over his vocal forces. There were only occasional minor imprecisions in some of the unison texts. Especially powerful was the 7th selection, "People Are Not Buttons" (text by Itzak, a pseudonym of a survivor).
The quality of the occasional solos varied from professional operatic to amateur choir, with Lehrman wisely allocating the longer, more exposed solos to the professionals. After much atonality and dissonance, a final tonic chord brought this imposing, riveting work to its conclusion.
Having opened with "Conscience", Lehrman closed the concert with a kind of book-end, another text setting by Lewis Allen (aka Meeropol), called "Lost Forever," an optimistic, hymn-like homophonic affirmation of life. It was an evening with music for thought and reflection and confirmation. One only regrets that the audience consisted almost solely of an older generation that either lived through the Holocaust or was only slightly removed from it. How powerful and educational it could be if such a program could be presented to sensitive, inquisitive youngsters of the next generation who must be made to feel, reflect, question, analyze and understand the Holocaust through powerfully poignant presentations such as these.
Dr. Dzik, a retired music teacher, is currently Educational Consultant to the Metropolitan Opera educational website, www.operaed.org