Review: The Shoah Songbook; Part Two: The Kovno and Vilna Ghettos in Lithuania.

by Lynn on January 28, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

On Line, presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, Thursday, January 27, 2022 at 7:30 pm. Available for viewing until Feb. 6, 2022

Soprano and curator, Jaclyn Grossman

Pianist and curator, Nate Ben-Horin

Creative directors: Ilan Waldman & Madison Matthews
Audio Engineer, Ryan Harper.

Curated, researched and performed by Jaclyn Grossman, Soprano and Nate Ben-Horin, pianist, arranger, both of whom comprise Likht Ensemble.

To commemorate and honour International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), the Harold Green Jewish Theatre presented this filmed concert of The Shoah Songbook; Part Two: The Kovno and Vilna Ghettos in Lithuania, that was curated and performed by Likht Ensemble, aiming to shine a light on great Jewish composers silenced before their time.

Likht means light and it’s fitting that Likht Ensemble illuminates the little-known works of Jewish composers who wrote these songs but whose lives were cut short in the Holocaust.

Before the filmed concert began Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s Co-Artistic Directors, David Eisner and Avery Saltzman interviewed Jaclyn Grossman and Nate Ben-Horin about how they curated the concert. Their scholarship and diligence in discovering these songs is impressive. They did research in Yad Vashem in Israel and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. They found the music to the songs, which Nate Ben-Horin arranged, and they also organized translations of lyrics. Some of the songs are in Yiddish. Jaclyn Grossman offered the historic context of how many millions of European Jews spoke Yiddish before the Holocaust and how fewer speak it today.

While reviewing theatre and not music is my forte, one certainly can appreciate the rich soprano voice of Jaclyn Grossman and her gifts in interpreting the songs. Nate Ben-Horin is a graceful pianist, a gifted arranger of the music to best serve the song and an attentive but unobtrusive accompanist to Jacklyn Grossman.

From the press information about the recital: “The recital runs the gamut from the haunting pre-war nursery rhyme “Oyfn Pripetchik,” to the adventurous harmony and pungent imagery of Edwin Geist’s “Three Lithuanian Songs”, to the captivating tango melodies of “Ein Traum” and “Friling.” With recurring motifs of springtime, dreams, suffering, and lost love, beautiful melodies are a vehicle for biting irony and devastating truth. This musical journey is a revealing snapshot of the inner creative life of Jews detained in these Lithuanian camps: their hopes, tragedies, and above all their defiant engagement with life itself.”

The concert began with the poignant reading of a letter a father wrote to his children who safely escaped, saying he would always hold them in his heart. His love was fierce and his message to them was heart-squeezing. The songs were interspersed with historical information that happened in 1941 and 1942. There were dictates from the Gestapo that ordered every Jew to wear a yellow Star of David on the left lapel of their clothing. There were orders for every Jew to leave their dwellings on a certain day on a certain hour and gather in the square. Those not obeying would be shot. Startling stuff. But the intension of this information was not to startle, I don’t think. It was to offer context. That in this horror, these composers wrote songs of love, dreaming, springtime and beauty. Astonishing.

Here are the songs and their composers:

“Oyfn Pripetchik” by Mark Washowsky (this lullaby will be very familiar to many).

“Schwerer Abend” by Edwin Geist

“Seeballade” by Edwin Geist

“Zingt un Transt in Ridelekn” arranged by Nate Ben-Horin

“Ein Traum” by Percy Haid

“Dynamik des Fruhlings” by Edwin Geist

“Friling” by Abraham Brudna, Shmerke Kaczerginski, arranged by Nate Ben-Horin

The concert is available to watch until Feb. 6 on the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company website. It was beautifully done.

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