Bourgie Hall recital will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Montreal

Celebrated Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair will perform with pianist Olivier Godin, Bourgie Hall’s artistic director, Jan. 27.

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A Montreal recital centred largely on works composed in the Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp during the Second World War will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The recital, presented by Bourgie Hall of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Montreal Holocaust Museum, takes place the evening of Saturday, Jan. 27 at Bourgie Hall. The celebrated Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair will perform with pianist Olivier Godin, Bourgie Hall’s artistic director.

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Holzmair, who has performed throughout Europe, North America and Asia in both opera and concert, is on tour in Canada and the United States with the support of the Austrian embassy. Saturday’s concert will also be presented in New York, Washington and Edmonton.

Jan. 27 was designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005.

Profile photo of Wolfgang Holzmair
Wolfgang Holzmair, a celebrated Austrian baritone, will give a recital on Jan. 27 at Bourgie Hall to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo courtesy of the Montreal Holocaust Museum

The Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp was established in 1941 by the Gestapo in the fortress town of Terezín in what was then Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Living conditions were dire, with up to 60,000 people at once crowded into a town whose pre-war population was 7,000.

By the time it was liberated in May 1945 by Soviet forces, more than 150,000 Jews had passed through Theresienstadt, including 15,000 children. Although it was not a death camp, about 33,000 people perished there — mainly due to overcrowding, malnutrition and disease. Nearly 90,000 were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. Fewer than 150 children survived.

Among inmates were prominent academics, scientists, artists, writers, actors and musicians, some of them internationally known, as part of “a calculated propaganda ploy” by the Nazis to present Theresienstadt as a sort of “model camp … with all the embellishments of an effervescent cultural life,” states the Bourgie Hall program.

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(In an inspection by the international Red Cross and the Danish Red Cross in June 1944, inspectors were shown “a carefully choreographed … facade for the Nazis’ brutal system of extermination.” Inspectors followed a pre-planned route and met prisoners who had been told what to say. To reduce overcrowding, the Nazis had moved 7,500 Jews to a holding camp in Auschwitz, which they would liquidate in July.)

The irony was that there was a vibrant cultural life in Theresienstadt between 1942 and 1944, with concerts, opera performances, theatre and cabaret, lectures and literary soirées, the program says. Music played “a central role.”

The music in Theresienstadt “largely mirrored pre-war musical tastes and styles, albeit adapted to new circumstances and contexts.”

Written by professional musicians, amateur musicians and intellectuals, music became a symbol of solidarity and hope — “a means of holding on to one’s own identity, to family, community, to humanity and to life.”

Viktor Ullmann, an established composer before the war, quickly assumed a leading role in that musical life, according to the program. During his two years in Theresienstadt, he completed more than two dozen works. He viewed the camp’s musical culture as a form of spiritual resistance, writing that “our will to create culture was as strong as our will to live.”

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Saturday’s recital will feature music by composers Ilse Weber (1903-1944), Pavel Haas (1899-1944), Ullmann (1898-1944), Gideon Klein (1919-1945), Hans Krása (1899-1944), Carlo S. Taube (1897-1944), Adolf Strauss (1902-1944), Felix Porges (1913-1982), Karel Švenk (1917-1945), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953), Hermann Leopoldi (1888-1959) and Otto Skutecky (1907-1944).

Almost all the Theresienstadt composers on the program were murdered soon after being deported to death camps, “but it would be doing their lives an injustice to relegate their music to a victims’ ghetto,” the program says.

“These works are a surviving testimony to once-vibrantly creative human lives that are best honoured by hearing, enjoying and being moved by what they wrote in response to horrors we can scarcely imagine.”

AT A GLANCE

The 70-minute recital Music in Theresienstadt begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27; there will be no intermission. Tickets cost $46, $39 for members of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and $23 for those 34 and younger. Bourgie Hall is at 1339 Sherbrooke St. W. Tickets can be ordered by phone at 514-285-2000 or online.

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