Music and theatrical works of Jewish refugee artists fleeing fascist persecution in the 1930s and 1940s will be rediscovered in a one-off festival staged by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Seymour Centre in August.
Out of the Shadows: Rediscovering Jewish music and theatre is part of a three-year British Arts & Humanities Research Council funded project for the Performing the Jewish Archive that is uncovering and reviving hidden or lost works.
Dr Joseph Toltz, Festival Artistic Curator and Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music, said: “During the catastrophes of the 20th century and the darkest moments of oppression, people sought solace or distraction in culture. In the aftermath of war and genocide, refugees who found safe haven brought with them cultural works about exile, diaspora and flight.
“As lives were rebuilt in new lands, this cultural material was stored in archives, hidden in attics, or bequeathed to family. Many of these objects lay forgotten, waiting for their reawakening in performance. The festival brings to life many of these objects created by Jewish artists during desperate times.”
The fourth of five international festivals, Out of the Shadows features more than 15 Sydney performances by some of Australia’s best musicians including the Goldner String Quartet, Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) Fellows Ensemble, Sydney Philharmonia’s VOX Choir, and the Sydney Children’s Choir.
Kicking off the festival is a gala performance of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins, directed by Chryssy Tintner who is the daughter of the late Austrian composer, conductor and refugee Georg Tintner; and dance and orchestral music written by Jewish refugee composers in Australia.
Australia’s premiere chamber music ensemble, the Goldner String Quartet, named after Richard Goldner, the Viennese Jewish refugee and founder of Musica Viva, will close the festival with rare vignettes and masterpieces by Jewish composers, as well as Mendelssohn’s beloved String Quartet in A minor.
Two cabarets will be presented at the Seymour Centre featuring scathingly searing social commentary: Prince Bettliegend, a satirical fairy tale written by prisoners in the Terezín Ghetto; and The Merchant of Helsinki penned in Finland during the Helsinki depression of the late 1920s.
Red-Riding-Hood, the witty children’s opera based on the famous tale that was written in 1938 by Austrian-Jewish refugee and composer Wilhelm Grosz in London, will be presented by the Sydney Children’s Choir accompanied by the SSO Fellows, with catchy tunes and a camp joyous sensibility appealing to all ages.
A collection of sacred and secular Jewish choral works will be sung by three young, premier Australian choirs: VOX Ensemble, Luminescence Chamber Singers and the Sydney Conservatorium’s Chamber Choir.
International guest speakers, Dr Brigid Cohen from New York University and Dr Anna Shternshis from Toronto University, will present two keynote lectures that address responsibility and truth-telling in the wake of genocide, and the amateur Yiddish singers silenced by Hitler or Stalin, who sang in the face of the unthinkable violence and injustice.
Four lunchbreak chamber music concerts featuring compositions by Jewish refugees will also be held in the Con’s Verbrugghen Hall where many Jewish refugee composers and performers had their first recitals in Sydney in the 1930s and 40s.
“Many people today live in a new era of mass displacement and refuge, where millions are clamouring to escape threats and find freedom and safety. Compassion itself appears to be retreating from our common discourse. In such times, it is good to remind ourselves that back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, hope flickered among the oppressed and unjustly detained, and that is something worthy of reconsideration,” said Dr Joseph Toltz.
“We are celebrating the resilience and creativity of those artists as Out of the Shadows appears for one time only in Sydney and Australia,” he added.