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During World War II, the Nazis deemed countless works of art and music “degenerate.”

In 1933, the Civil Service Restoration Act initiated an era of censorship, granting Nazis the right to forbid non-Aryan musicians from teaching or performing. Sensing the imminent threat to their creativity and their livelihood, many Jewish musicians fled Germany. After the implementation of this act, the Nazis overtook the national broadcasting system and banned jazz. They established the exclusive Reich Chamber of Music and dictated that musicians had to obtain membership to the group in order to make money as an artist. Naturally, membership was determined by loyalty to Nazi-ism and Aryan blood.

In 1938, the Nazis created the Reich Music Days, a convention that brought together a number of music organizations to celebrate a newly determined definition of acceptable “German music.” At the Reich Music Days, the Nazis created a Degenerate Music exhibit, vilifying jazz, modern music and works by Jewish and Bolshevik artists. The Nazi propaganda poster seen here depicts an unflattering image of a black musician performing jazz music, wearing a Jewish star. This image was meant to represent an amalgamation of all races, creeds and music considered “degenerate.” Soon after the Reich Music Days, the Nazis targeted non-Aryan musicians and sent many to concentration camps.

This fascinating article in Time magazine from May 1938 provides an American perspective of the Reich music conference.

Among those whose music was forbidden were the three composers whose works will be performed at LACO’s Hope concert this weekend. The Hope concert is a celebration of the power of music to transcend adversity. And during the Holocaust, many Jewish concentration camp inmates used music as a mental escape, a fleeting sense of uplifted spirits.

Originally, Jewish musicians were not allowed to play their instruments in the camps. So they practiced and performed in secrecy. But as time passed, the Nazis began to realize that music might be a diversion to prevent the Jews from organizing and uprising. They also exploited the musically inclined Jews, using photographs of the inmates performing, to portray the concentration camps as culturally rich communities.

At one concentration camp in particular, Theresienstadt, or Terezin, the joy and culture of music thrived. The inmates performed together, wrote music together and entertained their fellow inmates. Historian Joza Karas poignantly interpreted that in this particular camp, where there was not food for the body, there was food for the soul. One of the prominent composers whose music survived his time in Terezin was Viktor Ullman. An excerpt from the final entry of his journal is below.

“Theresienstadt was, and for me still is a school of form. Earlier, and in other places, the burden and the compelling force of material life were not so noticeable because they were repressed by comfort, this magician of civilization; in those places it was easy to create beautiful form. Here, where one has to overcome matter through form just to get through another day and where everything of an artistic nature is in total opposition to the whole environment; this place is the true master-school (in Schiller’s sense), who sees the secret of a work of art to be the destruction of substance/matter by form — which is presumably the mission of the human being in general — not only the aesthetic human being but the ethical one as well.”

“I have written quite a bit of new music in Theresienstadt, mostly to satisfy the needs and wishes of conductors, directors, pianists and singers as well as the demands of organizing and occupying my leisure time in the ghetto. It seems pointless to me to count them all up, just as there is no point in stressing that it was impossible to play the piano in Theresienstadt as long as there were no instruments. Future generations also will not be interested in hearing about the appreciable lack of manuscript paper. The only thing worth emphasizing is that Theresienstadt has not hampered my musical activity, but has actually encouraged and supported it. In no way have we merely sat lamenting by the rivers of Babylon; our cultural will has been adequately proportional to our will to live. And, I am convinced that anyone who is striving to wrest form out of resistant matter, both in life and in art, will agree with me.”

A Terezin survivor, violinist Dr. Herbet Mandel recounted the following about his time in the camp.

“Culture in Terezin taught me one thing – you can learn from history. In this case you can learn that the human spirit, if you keep it at peak activity, can help you to survive. It is incredible, but listening to Bach’s Chaccone can help you overcome hunger, which, when it reaches life-threatening dimensions, displays all the characteristics of a deadly mental illness. This was, of course, valid not only in Terezin, which had an impressive number of cultural institutions by 1943; it is a valid finding with reference to all other camps, jails and all the situations the characteristic of which is the lack of freedom.”

Several organizations now exist to preserve and celebrate the music of Terezin. Learn more about the composers and the preservation efforts.

The music created in the concentration camps was relegated to performances in these spaces, forbidden for public performance. But the prolific creation of this music is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of music to heal and to inspire hope.

Join LACO this weekend as we pay tribute to the composers whose music was banned by the Nazis and the musicians who, against all odds, still found a way to create beauty in a time of incredible horror.

4 years ago | |
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As a program annotator, I’ve written notes for over 200 pieces. Often, I’m already familiar with the pieces I am assigned, but if I haven’t heard one of the works on my list, chances are, I’ve heard of the composer. Sometimes I write about music that has only recently been composed, and I must go straight to the source to ask the composer for information about a piece for which the ink is barely dry. Program annotating is a wonderful job because it deepens my learning about already well-known composers, and keeps me abreast of new compositions coming down the pipeline.

Every once in a while, however, something truly magical happens: I discover a piece that has been there all along, but which has escaped my attention. It’s amazing to me that I made it through my studies of twentieth century musical literature and never heard of Erwin Schulhoff. Born in Prague in 1894, Schulhoff was an accomplished pianist, arranger, and composer. For a while, Schulhoff’s life and career seemed to be going very well. While touring around as a pianist he got to meet Debussy, who influenced the young composer greatly. Schulhoff got into jazz, proving himself to be incredible at improvisation, and he was one of the first composers to really work in a neo-classical idiom in the 1920s. One of things he really wanted to do was connect popular music and classical music.

Unfortunately, as the next decade dawned, things started to go downhill for Erwin Schulhoff, and none of it was his fault. First, Schulhoff was Jewish, and being Jewish in Prague in the 1930s was not a good thing. The second strike against the composer was his love for popular music, the same music labeled “degenerate” by the Nazis. Schulhoff became a Soviet citizen and planned to move to escape the Nazis, but he was arrested before he got a chance to leave. He died in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1942.

I wish I could say that Schulhoff’s story is unique, but many composers and artists lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. The world, in turn, was deprived of the work of these men and women. Part of me can’t stand the fact that Schulhoff is mostly remembered—if he is remembered at all—as a footnote in the history of the Second World War, but I suppose it’s impossible to tell his story without addressing his tragic death. The thing is, Schulhoff’s music is amazing. When I first heard the Double Concerto on the program, it absolutely blew my mind. I have been counting the days until this concert because this work is simply incredible and I can’t wait to hear it live. It’s energetic. It’s fun. It sounds like film music at times, painting pictures in the mind.

This music is what we should remember Schulhoff for. This should have been his legacy, not his death at Buchenwald. After hearing this work, I found myself imagining an alternate ending for Erwin Schulhoff. I imagine that he escaped the Nazis by moving to the United States (as many composers did). I imagine he found work in the film industry, writing scores to popular movies while still writing for the concert hall. I imagine that he lived to a ripe old age, maybe having an Oscar or two under his belt. A life well lived. An artist who fully reached his potential. I wish this were the reality of Erwin Schulhoff’s life, but it is not. Luckily, his music lives on, and in a small way, he lives through it.

4 years ago | |
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I hadn’t known until I was driving home from work on Tuesday night, but March 9 was the 100th birthday of one of my favorite composers, Samuel Barber. And I only learned this because NPR aired a very nice tribute that evening during All Things Considered. I adore Barber’s work because it organically brought the European Romanticism of the 19th century into modern American composition. Reinvigorating the musical language with his own harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities, Barber unapologetically produced music along a very human emotional spectrum. Unfortunately, it was exactly for these reasons that his music wasn’t considered “serious” in some quarters during his lifetime. Fortunately for us, however, performers and audiences were and are unabashed about taking pleasure in playing and listening to it.

LACO’s next Westside Connections concert at The Broad Stage includes Barber’s breezy and colorful wind quintet, Summer Music. While you’re at the website, check out the Westside podcasts with series curator Margaret Batjer and our special guest for the March 25 program, playwright David Rambo.

4 years ago | |
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The LACO office is a varied group – from singers and flautists to composers and violists, we have most families of the orchestra covered. And we all seem to have divergent tastes in what our “favorite” music is, and what we choose to listen to in our spare time.

In order to delve more deeply into the LACO psyche, I have performed a highly (un) scientific survey of our office’s musical taste. I asked staff members, a few board members, and a few musicians the following question:

If you had to pick just one classical work, what piece is your favorite? What is that one work you never tire of listening to? And if you have time and have strong feelings about your choice, feel free to explain yourself.

I wasn’t sure how many responses I would receive . . . well, I shouldn’t have been worried. There were too many great answers to include in just one blog post. So consider this merely the beginning of learning about the LACO family. Feel free to draw whatever conclusions and sweeping generalizations you choose about the staff and what our musical choices say about each of us. And please feel free to add your own choice in the comments!

Michelle

You might expect an opera or other vocal work, right? I chose Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4.

My love for this piece is actually tangentially related to vocal music. I first heard in when I was in graduate school and performing with the combined choirs and orchestras in a collage concert. The choirs were assembled, mostly on risers, behind the University Symphony Orchestra. I was in the first row of altos and standing immediately behind the trombone section. When the orchestra played the final, triumphant movement my whole body vibrated from the power of the music coming up through the floorboards, and I was absolutely blown away (so to speak). A week later, when the USO played the entire work at one of its own concerts, I made sure to get a seat down front.

I never tire of hearing Tchaik 4, and it’s one of those pieces that I can’t turn away from when I come across it randomly on the radio. It has everything: melancholy, struggle, whimsy, humor, and an uplifting finale. There are incredibly gorgeous, heart-tugging melodies and perfectly-stacked harmonies, transparent string passages and color-saturated, rhythmic outbursts all around.

As the kids say these days, it’s made of WIN. I know very little about Tchaikovsky’s life or how he worked, and absolutely nothing of this Symphony’s background or genesis, but because it’s so immediately accessible to the heart and the brain, no context is needed. For me, Symphony No. 4 is the ultimate example of how a piece of music can utterly infiltrate the human soul.

Nick
This is tough. I could list five or six that would be hard to choose between as a favorite piece of classical music, but I think I’ll try to make it easier and go for the one that I’ve never stopped loving since I was 8 or 10 years old, and can always come back to and find something new, and that’s Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

It’s so expansive, and hits so hard both viscerally and intellectually, there’s just very little that can compare to it. Looking at the music it inspired others to write, from Charlie Parker to Refused, shows how far reaching the piece’s influence has been, and for good reason.
I once saw the Philharmonia Orchestra do something neat with it that I think is worth mentioning. They used Ligeti’s Atmospheres as a prelude, and went straight into the ¬Rite without pausing. It was a near crossfade, with opening bassoon line seeming to float in over the lingering brushed piano strings at the end of Atmospheres, and, well, wow.

Addie
I would have to say my all-time favorite piece of music is Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and the best part is the trio and subsequent duo at the very end. Three sopranos and some of the most exquisite ensemble writing ever – what could be better?

And, I think I have to add a favorite piece by Bach that, no coincidence, is also a favorite work for my instrument. It is Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, particularly the recording by Emmanuel Pahud. My favorite part is the Badinerie movement, because his ornamentation is so fluid and beautiful.

Evan

Copland’s Third Symphony. This is a piece I listen to every few months, and no matter where I am or what is going on around me or what my state of mind is, it always affects me. For whatever reason, this symphony more than any other work taps into something and always moves me. I’ve heard it live only once – the NY Philharmonic a few years ago, in a meh performance – but the Bernstein/NY Phil recording is amazing. The symphony contains some of Copland’s most precise and direct writing, as well as his most uplifting and “American;” the last movement starts with a version of his own _ Fanfare for the Common Man_, and the rest of the material is extrapolated from its motives and ideas, culminating in a triumphant and deeply satisfying expression that can’t help but overwhelm you. In a good way.

Kristy Morrell
I don’t really have a favorite kind of music. Truthfully, I love any great music.
To me it comes down to genuine expression. This can take many forms, any genre. There are things that are not possible to express with words, to me this is where music begins.

4 years ago | |
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Today’s required reading: an essay by Roger Scruton, writing for the blog of the American Enterprise Institute. It’s a fascinating (and occasionally dumbfounding and infuriating), if long-ish read that argues for moral absolutism in music. Fear not, this isn’t a Classical Music GOOD/Pop Music BAD screed at all. Rather, Scruton puts a new – and specifically musicological – spin on the classic fear that today’s music is at the root of our moral and societal decay.

Give it a read and tell us what you think. Will the soullessness of certain “product” ultimately lead to the downfall of our species, or will the vapid eventually fall away without leaving a lasting mark on humanity?

4 years ago | |
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Daniel Hope is an inspiration himself. Not only a virtuoso violinist, Hope is also an author, a blogger, a musical activist, a humanitarian and a producer. He has performed with renowned Orchestras all over the world and artists from a multitude of genres. He has demonstrated a steadfast determination to commemorate the music banned by the Nazi regime and organized a commemorative concert on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport.

On March 20 and 21, Hope joins Jeffrey Kahane and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in a concert that pays tribute to three great composers whose music was suppressed by the Third Reich. In anticipation of this reflective concert, Hope shares his musical inspirations below.

The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto has been a constant source of inspiration to me for as long as I can remember.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents taking me to a concert in London. I was five years old. The soloist played Mendelssohn. During those twenty five minutes, time stood still as I let its magic seduce my ears and my soul for the first time. Even before we left the hall, I was nagging my father telling him I wanted to play ‘The Mendelssohn’ too.

The Mendelssohn has absolutely everything that a violinist and musician could wish for: the most beautiful melodies, the Romantic struggle of violin against orchestra, a Sturm und Drang quality which at times is close to Beethoven, and that incredible skittish scherzo writing unique to Mendelssohn. It has both virtuosity and lightness, and is a wonderfully happy work, even though there are moments of great poignancy. It’s the most perfect concerto because it touches people wherever you play it. The reaction you get from a performance of it is really unlike any other.

It was the first concerto I ever heard live, the first one I ever learned, and the one with which I made my debut at the age of fifteen. There’s also a story attached to it. When I was eight and a student at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England, I desperately wanted to learn it, but wasn’t advanced enough and wasn’t allowed near it. I became so frustrated that after several months I secretly borrowed the score, but then I was caught and was sent to the Director of Music’s office – it was a very serious matter to be caught practising the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto….. without permission! Shortly after that I left the school…...
Since then I have recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon, and in LA will be playing the original version, the version which came directly from Mendelssohn’s pen, before he modified it at the suggestion of the violinist Ferdinand David.

My taste in music is extremely varied, from classical to jazz, indian musik, folk and rock. What interests me is great music, and this can be found in a variety of genres.

Visit Daniel Hope’s website to learn more about him, then hear him perform Mendelssohn’s wonderful violin concerto and more with LACO on March 20 and 21st!

4 years ago | |
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Head over to our podcast page to listen to two new podcasts from our Westside Connections series!

In the first, recorded at the most recent concert in the series, film composer Bruce Broughton fields questions from an excited audience. If you missed the concert, this is the place to catch up and be ready for the next one, featuring playwright David Rambo.

Not only is special guest David Rambo a critically-acclaimed playwright, he is also the supervising producer for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. CSI Files, a blog and forum for devoted CSI fans, posted about David Rambo’s appearance with LACO. Remember, our student rush is good for all college students with a valid student ID.

That brings us to today’s podcast, cut from our broadcast on KGIL Radio, in which concertmaster Margaret Batjer discusses David Rambo’s choice of Sibelius’s Quartet in D minor for the concert, and how she chose the pieces to accompany it. Listen now, and you’ll be in the know for Westside Connections 2, March 25 at the Broad Stage.

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In our newest podcast, posted today, LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane discusses our upcoming Hope concert on March 20 and 21 with KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen. The concert commemorates composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazi regime. Listen to the podcast here or to view or subscribe to all of our podcasts, click here.

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In a review of the February 20 Baroque + concert at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, Bill Peters writes, “Conductor Jeffrey Kahane stepped aside in order to allow the depth of talent in the principal chairs from the string and woodwind sections to take the spotlight.

Showing their phenomenal skills were Concertmaster Margaret Batjer, Assistant Concertmaster Tereza Stanislav, principal second violin Josefina Vergara, associate principal second violin Sarah Thornblade, principal cello Andrew Shulman and principal oboe Allan Vogel.

...[Shulman] demonstrated not only exceptional command of his instrument but an alarming ease as he parsed each phrase in a full and gorgeous sound. Shulman performed the Vivaldi Cello Concerto in C-minor, a 1728 work that has all the elements of the composer’s famous “Four Seasons” but looms with dark and somber tones in the second movement.

...Stanislav, Vergara and Thornblade put on what could only be called a sparkling display of virtuosic performance. Vogel, longtime, and really celebrity oboist with the orchestra, put his well-known artistry up for all to enjoy playing on the very difficult oboe d’amore, an instrument used briefly during the Baroque period, but abandoned due to a number of difficulties, including players not being able to play in tune. Vogel suffered none of those issues, as he gave his usual exquisite performance.”

To read the full article, visit the Burbank Leader online.

Listen to the three solo violinists, Tereza Stanislav, Josefina Vergara and Sarah Thornblade, talk with Executive Director, Andrea Laguni before the concert, visit the LACO Podcasts.

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Before last weekend’s Baroque+ concert LACO executive director Andrea Laguni sat down with violinists Tereza Stanislav, Josefina Vergara and Sarah Thornblade to discuss the evening’s program. If you unfortunately had to miss the talk, or want to learn more about the music of Bach, Vivaldi, Purcell and Mendelssohn (who puts the plus in Baroque+), you can listen to the podcast of their conversation here.

4 years ago | |
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