The Israel Conservatory of Music Tel Aviv
Friday July 13, 13:30
Watch, listen and learn how one of today's foremost and important conductors works with our young artists in language, style and stage deportment. Learn the secret of what a great conductor looks for in a professional singer.
This master class is not to be missed.
Recovered Voices - A musicological discussion
Tursday July 12, 19:30
Free admission with advance registration
Maestro James Conlon, the music director of LA Opera, will discuss his professional experiences as an advocate and performer of music by composers suppressed during the years of the Nazi regime in Europe.
Recovering a Musical Heritage:
The Music Suppressed by the Third Reich
by James Conlon
“Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate… Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?” - Siegfried Sassoon
After 1945, those who performed, wrote or taught classical music worked in a culture scarred by omissions. These were not of their making, but were part of the legacy of atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. With its racist and genocidal ideology and systematic suppression particularly, although not exclusively, of Jewish musicians, artists and writers, the Third Reich silenced two generations of composers and, with them, an entire musical heritage. Many, who were murdered in concentration camps, and others, whose freedom and productivity were curtailed, were fated to be forgotten after the war. Their music seemed to have passed with them, lost in endless silence.
However, more has survived than was at first thought, and though much remains to be done, much has been accomplished. It has taken decades of dedicated work to recover, publish and perform some of these works. We must now mitigate a great injustice by working to revive and perform the music of those whose “crime” was to be Jewish, or to be opposed to, or deemed offensive by, the authoritarian Nazi regime.
I believe that the spirit of this “lost generation” needs to be heard. The creativity of the first half of the twentieth century is far richer and varied than we commonly assume. Alongside Stravinsky, Strauss and other major and more fortunate figures, the varied voices of composers from Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest, whether Jewish, dissident or immigrant, reveal much about the musical ferment of their time. Their music, I believe, is accessible and relevant. Further, American musical culture owes an enormous debt to those who emigrated to Hollywood and Broadway, bringing their distinctive personalities with them, and creating a style that has since evolved into a characteristic American one.
The cliché “there are no lost masterpieces” reveals our own ignorance. Entire civilizations, along with their masterpieces, have been destroyed by war since the beginning of human history. Multiple forms of censorship have repeatedly affected artists and their works, and continue to do so.
The suppression of these composers and musicians caused the greatest single rupture in what had been a continuous seamless transmittal of German classical music. This centuries-old tradition, dating from before Johann Sebastian Bach, was passed on from one generation to the next. It was nourished by the free expression of an often contentious creative exchange between conservative traditional artistic expression and competing currents of innovation and iconoclasm. The policies of the Third Reich destroyed the environment in which this exchange could flourish, uprooting a centuries-old garden, with its creative polemics and dialectics, forcing those who survived to scatter all over the world, where comparable artistic milieus in which to live and create were scarce. This immense self-destructive act seriously damaged one of Germany’s greatest cultural traditions, accomplished by killing and dispersing many of its caretakers, burying a “lost generation” along with its spirit.
There are three fundamental aspects to be taken into consideration when approaching the revival of this music: moral, historical and artistic.
Moral: Undoing injustice, when and where one can, is a moral mandate for all citizens of a civilized world. We cannot restore to these composers their lost lives. We can, however, return the gift that would mean more to them than any other: that of performing their music.
Historical: Our perspectives on the history of twentieth-century classical music are incomplete because an enormous quantity of works has remained unplayed, and the lives of its composers largely ignored. History is not only made by its “big names,” its warrior kings, dictators. Nor is the Zeitgeist of any era only about its most famous artists. It is also a cultural concretization of those who lived in a given era. Our understanding of twentieth century classical music needs re-examination. Part of the mandate of the historian is integrate new information as it becomes available, and perhaps to offer a more comprehensive view of the past. In this case that reassessment can only be fairly accomplished after we have significantly acquainted ourselves with the voluminous music cast out by the Nazi suppression.
Artistic: Moral or historical considerations would not be reason enough for revival were it not for the artistic quality of what was lost. This cannot be judged by a single hearing of tokenistic or uncommitted performances. Judgments, if indeed they must be made at this time, should only be made after those performing and listening over the course of years have given the varied voices and its attendant spirit sufficient time to be fully digested.
For more than two decades now, I have integrated many of this suppressed music into my symphonic and operatic repertory and programming. During that time, I, others have followed suit. I have worked tirelessly with young musicians, taken every opportunity possible to speak with the general public, and have written as much as I can, all in the hope that the music will find its place in the standard repertory. I have created the Orel Foundation (wwworelfoundation.org) as a resource on the Internet for the music lovers, musicians and those who are simply curious, to inform itself. I initiated the Recovered Voices series at Los Angeles Opera and, borrowed this umbrella term to describe and present the two generations of composers whose lives and productivity were cut short or radically altered. I have sought to disseminate their names and music. The list is long: Walter Braunfels, Hanns Eisler, Pavel Haas, Karl-Amadeus Hartmann, Vitezslava Kapralova, Gideon Klein, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Hans Krasa, Ernst Krenek, Bohuslav Martinu, Franz Schreker Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann and Kurt Weill are to name just some. Last and certainly not least, it was the music of Alexander Zemlinsky that opened up this entire domain to me.
The revival of this music can serve as a reminder for us to resist any contemporary or future impulse to define artistic standards on the basis of racist, political, sectarian or exclusionary ideologies.
By keeping alive the music of the Recovered Voices composers along with that of other victims of totalitarianism, we deny the Nazi regime a posthumous victory which, as long as the damage is still not repaired, it can still claim. That victory should not be allowed to stand and I, for one, will not rest until it no longer does.
The answer to Sassoon’s question is: it is we, now, who can work to “absolve the foulness of their fate.”
James Conlon New York, October 2006, revised 2018
James Conlon, one of today’s most versatile and respected conductors, has cultivated a vast symphonic, operatic and choral repertoire. Since his 1974 debut with the New York Philharmonic, he has conducted virtually every major American and European symphony orchestra and is one of classical music’s most recognized interpreters.
Mr. Conlon is Music Director of the LA Opera and Principal Conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Torino, Italy, where he is the first American to hold the position in the orchestra’s 84-year history. He served as Music Director of the Cincinnati May Festival has also served as Music Director of the Ravinia Festival. Principal Conductor of the Paris National Opera , General Music Director of the City of Cologne, Germany where he was Music Director of both the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne and the Cologne Opera; and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic .He has conducted performances at the Metropolitan Opera ,Teatro alla Scala, Wiener Staatsoper, Mariinsky Theatre, Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, Teatro del Opera di Roma, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.
As Music Director of LA Opera, Mr. Conlon has led more performances than any other conductor in the company’s history, with more than 50 different operas by more than 20 different composers to his credit.
In an effort to call attention to lesser-known works of composers silenced by the Nazi regime, Conlon has devoted himself to extensive programming of this music throughout Europe and North America. His work on behalf of suppressed composers led to the creation of The OREL Foundation, an invaluable resource on the topic for music lovers, students, musicians and scholars, and the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School. His appearances throughout the country as a speaker on a variety of cultural and educational topics are widely praised.
Mr. Conlon is among the five initial recipients of the Opera News awards and was honored by The New York Public Library as a “Library Lion.” His other honors include the Sachs Fund Prize from The ArtsWave Organization for his artistic achievements and outstanding contribution to the cultural life of Cincinnati, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Los Angeles, the Music Institute of Chicago’s Dushkin Award, the Medal of the American Liszt Society and Italy’s Premio Galileo 2000 Award for his significant contribution to music, art and peace in Florence .He holds four honorary doctorates. Mr. Conlon was named Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and, in 2002, he received the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest distinction, from then-President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac.