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A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League.  Lily E. Hirsch. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-4721-1710-9

Reviewed for Musica Judaica Online Reviews by Barbara Milewski

During the last two decades a formidable number of excellent studies have appeared in English and German that have given us an ever fuller picture of the compromised, politicized reality of Germany’s musical culture during the National Socialist period. Lily Hirsch’s book, A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League, is a valuable contribution to this body of knowledge.

Hirsch draws on previous scholarship published in Germany—notably Henryk Broder and Eike Geisel’s Premiere und Pogrom: der Jüdische Kulturbund 1933-1941, and Geschlossene Vorstellung: Der Jüdische Kulturbund in Deutschland 1933-1941 published in conjunction with a 1992 exhibit at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste, which houses the Kulturbund archives—and significantly expands on this material through interviews with League members and subsequent archival investigations. In so doing, she makes available to Anglophone readers for the first time a comprehensive and nuanced telling of the origins and activities of the Jüdischer Kulturbund, or Jewish Culture League, the self-imagined, Nazi sanctioned, Jewish cultural organization that staged musical and theatrical performances for Jewish audiences in Nazi Germany between 1933 and its disbanding in 1941. As Hirsch’s study makes clear, the League’s history remains one of the more poignant examples of the complex, ever-narrowing field of choices Germany’s Jews were forced to navigate after the Nazis assumed power and enacted anti-Jewish exclusionary legislation (intended to protect the purity of Aryan culture) that restricted all aspects of their public and private lives.

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The Pope’s Maestro. Gilbert Levine. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 456 pp. + DVD. ISBN 978-0-4704-9065-5

Reviewed by John T. Pawlikowski

The Pope's Maestro (Hardcover) ~ Gilbert Levine (Author) Cover Art

At the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, a Brooklyn-born Jewish orchestra conductor had an honored seat in the audience. How this came to be for a traditional Jew with little prior contact with Catholic religious leaders is the basic narrative of this volume told from a first person perspective by Levine.

Levine’s grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland. His mother-in-law is a survivor of Auschwitz.  He has been a distinguished conductor who has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Israel. In 1987 Levine was invited to serve as a guest conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic for one week. This is where his story begins. Read the rest of this entry »

Music in Terezín 1941-1945. Joža Karas. 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NY:  Pendragon Press, 2009.  ISBN 978-1-5764-7030-5

The Wonder and the Grace of Alice Sommer Herz:  Everything is a Present. Dir. Christopher Nupen. DVD and Liner Notes. Allegro Films, 2009.

Reviewed by Shirli GilbertMusic in Terezin

Shortly before his death in December 2008 Joža Karas completed the second edition of his book Music in Terezín 1941-1945, the culmination of a life’s work. When the book was originally published in 1985 it was path-breaking, documenting a largely unknown chapter in the history of the Holocaust: the lively and wide-ranging musical life in the “model ghetto” Terezín (in Czech, Theresienstadt in German). When Karas began his work as a “modest summer project” in 1970 (ix), very little music from the ghetto had been uncovered, and even less had been written about it. Karas, a Czech researcher and musician based in Connecticut, devoted the rest of his life to passionately researching the subject, conducting interviews across Europe, Israel, and the United States, undertaking archival research, and transcribing scores. In addition to publishing his book, he lectured widely on the subject, produced performing editions, and tirelessly promoted Terezín compositions in performances with his own string quartet, established expressly for that purpose. Karas himself conducted the American premiere of Brundibár in 1975 and the world premiere of the English version (in his own translation) in 1977. In short, the subject of music in Terezín has become well known among Western audiences thanks in large part to Karas’s pioneering efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

Jewish Music and Modernity. Philip V. Bohlman.  New York:  Oxford University Press/AMS Studies in Music, 2008.  xxxiii + 280 pp.  ISBN 978-0-1951-7832-6

Reviewed by Lisa ParkesJewish Music and Modernity

Discourse about “Jewish music” has traditionally raised complex questions about the identity of “Jewishness” in music. The ontology of “Jewish music” in modern Jewish history is as elusive as the nature of music itself. The reason for this, as Philip Bohlman argues in Jewish Music and Modernity, is that Jewish music in modernity exists not within a definable space or time, but rather at moments of disjuncture – in between regions, amid moments of transition and transformation, and at the border of ethnic, religious, and social boundaries. Jewish music, as an aesthetically autonomous object in Jewish society, was conceived of for the first time at the modernist moment, when Jews entered the public sphere of modern European society, broadening the purely ritualized devotional function that music formerly served. But the structural transformation that modernity brought about in musical culture had the paradoxical effect of confounding the very notion of “Jewish” music. Exposed to modern musical practices and genres in the non-Jewish public sphere during a period of political and aesthetic transformation, Jewish music became “Jewish” precisely in its confrontation with non-Jewish genres, forms, languages, and performers. Bohlman demonstrates that Jewish music, in responding to the political and aesthetic challenges of modernity, is inherently hybrid, unstable, and dynamic. It represents a dynamic site where national, ethnic, and gender identities are constructed and contested. Thus, borders between Jewish and non-Jewish became permeable, so that “musical repertories that for some were entirely Jewish—say, cabaret at the turn of the twentieth century—were not the least bit Jewish for others” (xvii). In other words, music participated in the transformation of modern Jewish identity itself.
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