2015-11-11 / Voice at the Shore

Stockton Kristallnacht concert: Symphony premiere creates beauty out of tragedy

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


JED GAYLIN JED GAYLIN As a high school student in Philadelphia, Daniel McCarter recalls hearing Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences.

“It stuck in my mind that the land itself, the country that they loved, turned against them,” McCarter recalled.

Two years ago, when McCarter was asked to write a symphony about a farming community destroyed by the Holocaust, this recollection came back to him.

In McCarter’s Symphony No. 1: A Memorial to Gross Breesen, which will premiere at Stockton University on November 17, Germany’s betrayal and attack of its own inhabitants is transformed into a dramatic 40-minute symphony that includes a solo by renowned soprano Ah Young Hong. Performed by the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, the premier of the Gross Breesen work is part of a special Kristallnacht concert that will also feature Tragic Overture, a powerfully moving piece by Johannes Brahms. Tickets to the concert are free but must be reserved through the Stockton Box Office. Seating is limited.

The back-story about why this symphony was written— and why it is premiering at Stockton— underscores the incredible inspirational power of tragic historical events like the Holocaust and Kristallnacht. It also shows how the initiative of a few individuals can make things happen.

Last year, Stockton University’s Sam Azeez Museum featured a special exhibit on Gross-Breesen developed by acclaimed New York City photographer Steve Strauss. Strauss was moved to create the exhibit after seeing a photo album depicting Gross- Breesen, an agricultural training school in Germany that was raided by Nazis on Kristallnacht. The school helped hundreds of young Jews escape Nazi oppression by giving them skills that enabled them to emigrate to other countries.

In developing the exhibit, Strauss learned that a muchloved piano had been destroyed during the Kristallnacht raid on Gross Breesen. This knowledge affected the photographer so deeply, said McCarter, that Strauss asked McCarter— a composer whom he knew through a mutual friend— to write a musical piece expressing the story of the broken piano. McCarter came up with a symphony with three movements that expressed both the story of the broken piano and the idea of the land rising up against the farmers-in-training.

Enter Jane Stark, Azeez Museum director: When Stark found out this symphony had been written, she was determined to see it performed. Stark came up with the idea of doing a Kristallnacht concert. She then approached Stockton colleague Gail Rosenthal, director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, and her long-time friend Jed Gaylin, conductor of the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, to see about making the concert happen. “I believed it was a unique opportunity for our Jewish Community as well as for the Bay Atlantic Symphony.”

Both Rosenthal and Gaylin signed on to the project. Although Gaylin had never heard of McCarter, he liked the music as well as the idea behind the project. “I’m looking forward to the project—it’s very worthwhile and it’s a beautiful piece of music. It’s a very ambitious work, very powerful. There are moments of great tension coupled with beautiful release.”

The 40-minute symphony has three movements. “The first movement takes you on a journey to a comforting place. It opens with an invitation from the piano to the students to find refuge at the school,” said McCarter.

The second movement starts with music that evokes students’ efforts to work the land, using a fox trot theme. Then comes Kristallnacht. Crashing chords are heard as the land rises up against the farmers and the beloved piano is violently axed by Nazis.

According to McCarter, the piano is more than just a piano; it represents the spirit of the school as well as the victims of the Holocaust. “On another level, it represents anyone who has ever experienced injustice,” he added.

“The third movement is essentially a funeral procession for the piano,” said McCarter. Yet there are uplifting moments as well. As students from Gross- Breesen emigrate to the new world, the spirit of the piano is reborn there.

The final movement also includes Ah Young Hong’s soprano solo—a musical rendition of Psalm 74. According to Gaylin, she sings “‘Let not the oppressed return dishonored…Arise God and plead your own cause.’ There is beautiful ambiguity in this,” he noted.

For more information or to reserve seats for the Kristallnacht concert, which will be performed 7 p.m. November 17, contact Stockton’s Performing Arts Center Box Office at (609) 652- 9000. .

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