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  • Mikhail and walter 2 photo by ben vanhouten

Gifted Russian-born composer Polina Nazaykinskaya’s Haim (Hebrew for “life”) is a musical tribute to David Arben, a survivor of three concentration and four labor camps as a young boy who was saved by his violin when he was pulled from a crowd of 105 prisoners waiting to be shot or buried alive by the SS. After the war he came to America, penniless and barely speaking a word of English. Eventually he joined the Philadelphia Orchestra for 34 years, more than a dozen as Associate Concertmaster. In Arben’s words, “Music is Life. Music is Hope. Music is Peace.”

The program’s other composers have different stories about starting new lives in adopted homelands. Austrian-born composer and scholar Hans Gál became a vital part of Britain’s musical life, but only after enduring internment as an “enemy alien” by the wartime British government in camps that threw Jewish refugees together indiscriminately with actual Nazi sympathizers. Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů, a creative free spirit, left in 1923 for Paris, where he was influenced by trends that included jazz, neoclassicism and surrealism. With the German invasion of France in 1940, Martinů was forced to flee because of his involvement with the Czech resistance, and eventually reached the United States. He remained deeply engaged with events in Europe, and in 1943 he composed Memorial to Lidice in remembrance of the Czech town destroyed by the Nazis in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Polish-born composer Mieczysław Weinberg bears the unfortunate distinction of persecution at both Nazi and Soviet hands. With the German invasion of Poland soon after his graduation from the Warsaw Conservatory, he fled eastward to the Soviet Union. After the war, Weinberg fell prey to Stalin’s renewed wave of anti-Semitic purges. While Weinberg’s music was never officially banned, he was ignored for years by the Soviet musical establishment, yet he continued to write a prodigious output of serious music. While Weinberg didn’t consider himself a “Jewish composer,” a number of his works reflect Jewish themes and several contain Holocaust allusions.

Featuring MOR’s stellar instrumental ensemble drawn from the Seattle Symphony: Violinists Mikhail Shmidt and Natasha Bazhanov, violist Susan Gulkis Assadi, cellist Walter Gray, clarinetist Laura DeLuca and pianist Jessica Choe. Guest artists: pianist Craig Sheppard, violinist Rachel Lee Priday and cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir of the University of Washington School of Music.

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