Giving voice to silenced works

July 17, 2014 by Stephen Gibbs
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A Wellington concert in August this year will  feature for the first time anywhere in the world music written 78 years ago in Germany.

Richard Fuchs

Richard Fuchs

The world premiere of Vom Judischen Schicksal by Richard Fuchs is one of the many works being presented during the Recovering Forbidden Voices conference, a collaborative event presented by Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) and the German and History departments of Victoria University of Wellington.  The conference will be held from Friday 22 August until Monday 25 August 2014 and the subtitle describes the context of the 20 sessions of performances and presentations that comprise the event: ‘Responding to the suppression of music in World War Two.’

“The conference represents an opportunity to give ‘voice’ to the musical works of the many composers and performers who were silenced by World War Two,” says Professor Donald Maurice, one of the conference’s organising committee.  “Most were victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime’s attempt to eradicate what they described as ‘entartete or ‘decadent’ music, predominantly music by Jewish composers. In many cases these works have hardly been heard before – in the case of the Fuchs work, it will be the first time ever.”

Fuchs emigrated to New Zealand in 1939 to escape the oppressive racism to which Jews in Germany were being subjected before the war. The circumstances of cultural life in New Zealand didn’t allow room for much of his music to be performed and it is only in recent years, mainly through the activities of the Trust set up in his name by his grandson Danny Mulheron, that much of Fuchs’s creative output has been heard.

The twenty sessions of the ‘Recovering Forbidden Voices’ conference include keynote addresses by international authors Michael Haas and Tanya Tintner and composer Laurence Sherr, four panel presentations by academics from the UK, Europe, Israel and Australia as well as New Zealand, a film screening and 13 concerts ranging from solo piano through to chamber music and choral works to two orchestral concerts and an opera.

“Several of the composers whose works are being performed were inmates of the infamous ‘artists ghetto’ Terezín or Theresienstadt, set up by the Nazi’s in the early 1940s and used for propaganda purposes,” explains Professor Maurice. “One of the works from that time was a children’s opera called ‘Brundibar’ or ‘Bumblebee’. The opera was given several performances in the ghetto before being ‘shut down’ as subversive. It is a wonderful example of how people responded artistically to the horrific circumstances to which they were being subjected at the time.”

“We will be presenting two full performances of the opera with an orchestra of NZSM students, soloists from the School’s Young Musicians Programme and a children’s choir from Kelburn Normal School. “

As well as music of the time, the conference also includes music that has been written since WWII in response to the atrocities and tragedies of that conflict – string quartets and a Symphony No. 8 by Dmitri Shostakovich for example, and the work Different Trains for string quartet and tape by American Steve Reich. The performers include professional performance staff from NZSM including the New Zealand String Quartet, the SMP Ensemble, Cantoris Choir and NZSO players as well as senior NZSM students and international guests.

Full conference registrations are now open through Eventfinder, with day registrations to open at the end of June. “These registrants will have allocated seats and catering included in their conference packages,” notes NZSM Events Coordinator Stephen Gibbs. “Whatever spaces remain for individual sessions will become available for booking after mid-July, but these will be unallocated seats.”

More information is available on the NZSM website, including a full conference programme and links to details of the concerts, composers, presenters and performers:


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