Requiem Aeternam

The choral season of the San Francisco Symphony comes to a close with performances this week and next of the Verdi Reqiuem.

Requiem Aeternam - Rest Eternal.

To perform this piece, and the Mahler 8, and the Shostakovich Babi Yar, and Carmina burana - all under the leadership of chorus director Vance George is why I returned to the San Francisco Symphony Chorus this season after a 7 year absence. I was delighted to perform in the rest of the choral program as well. But those four pieces, and most especially the Requiem, are why I've at times twisted my travel schedule (and at times even that of the OASIS ODF Accessibility Subcommittee).

This is Vance George's last year with the Symphony Chorus. After 23 years leading our chorus, he is retiring. I first met Vance when he was guest preparing the U.C. Berkeley Chorus in what was my first performance of the Beethovan Ninth Symphony. When I graduated from Berkeley, I immediately joined the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, under Vance George. This Verdi Requiem we perform this week and next is the last one Vance is preparing. This is our, my, goodbye to him.

Two of the choral pieces this year hold another, special meaning for me. Shostakovich' Symphony No. 13, Babi Yar is a setting of several poems by Russian poet Yevtushenko, the first of which tells the story of the murder of 100,000 Ukranian Jews in the Babi Yar ravine in World War II. By the end of our performances (and by the end of most of the rehearsals) I was quietly weeping through my singing.

And it is the same for me with the Verdi.

During World War II Teresienstadt was the "Red Cross show-off camp", a concentration camp that was presented by the Nazis to the outside world as a model Jewish settlement (and that the Red Cross were allowed to visit). In reality it was where many Czech Jews - especially those who were culturally known - were housed en-route to the death camps like Auschwitz. Some of the many fine musicians among those in Teresianstadt took to organizaing musical and cutural activities - notably Karel Schwenk and Rafael Schaechter - using occasionally smuggled instruments and of course voice. In September 1943, after some months of preparation Rafael Schaechter put on a performance of the Verdi Requiem, with a chorus of 150 voices, the 4 soloists Marion Podolier, Hilde Aronson-Lindt, David Gruenfeld, and Karen Berman, and piano accompaniment. A second performance by this group wasn't realized - a transport train to the East wiped out most of the chorus. But another chorus was assembled of similar size, and again the Requiem performed. And again the another transport demolished the ensemble. And again, Schaechter assembled another chorus.

In all, Schaechter put on around fifteen performances of the Verdi Requiem. One of these was a command performance for the Committee of the International Red Cross, hosted by Adolf Eichmann, during one of their visits to Teresienstadt.

My mom never heard any of these performances. Schaechter was gone by the time she had arrived. But she was enriched by the bits of culture he and others had started there.

Libera me - Deliver me.

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Peter Korn

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