Kristallnacht Cantata: a Voice of Courage: music review by S.C. Knight

December 19, 2019 by  
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On the 8 December, I was one of a capacity audience who attended the world premiere of the Kristallnacht Cantata: a Voice of Courage.

The evening commenced at Melbourne’s Temple Beth Israel with the Aboriginal Yeng Gali Mullum Choir directed by Aunty Irene Norman, who sang traditional songs that endeared them to the audience. Each song was preceded by an explanation that educated, entertained and delighted the audience to aspects of indigenous culture.

Next, we heard  Alon Trigger’s Cantillations, an interesting kind of tone poem for orchestra based on Torah chants which set the scene for the Kristallnacht Cantata, the main work of the evening, of some 40 minutes duration.

An ordinary shopping trip in Germany, to buy Christmas gifts. People enjoying the café society of vibrant Berlin in 1938. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is played nationally. A child’s innocent question “Why are they doing that?” The indifference of the mother as she rationalises “It has nothing to do with us”, as the violence against Jews is now common.  A sense of foreboding permeates, as mirrored in the first movement’s title Menacing Shadows. This backdrop is juxtaposed with the sound of breaking glass, brutality and violence, as Jews are evicted from their homes, taken away and their businesses systematically destroyed. A banal Viennese waltz segues into the footfalls of marching soldiers, chanting Nazi slogans.

So begins the moving, haunting and ultimately uplifting Kristallnacht Cantata: A Voice Of Courage, based on historical facts, by Ron Jontof-Hutter, creator of the narrative/text and artistic director, composed imaginatively, with rhythmically complex and creative harmonic modulations, by Alon Trigger and masterfully conducted by Dr David Kram.

The text in the first movement sets the scene and context for the next two movements. Otto Jontof-Hutter’s bewilderment and disbelief “Germany, what have I done to you? I served you faithfully”, is a stark lament of thousands, for their confusion, loss and grief. His postcard from Dachau distorts the truth of the concentration camp, as dictated by his captors.

The second movement, A Courageous Voice, introduces the metaphysical bond between Otto Jontof-Hutter and William Cooper. William Cooper an Indigenous Australian man, a Christian, with no sovereignty, nor civil rights, in a country far removed from Europe’s atrocities, courageously protests the barbaric and cruel persecution of Jews. The duet, In der Fern (In the distance) sung by Dom Bemrose, as William Cooper and Asher Reichman, as Otto Jontof-Hutter is lyrical, wistful and one of the beautiful highlights of the Cantata. William confronts Bishop Sasse and says one of the most powerful lines in the Cantata “Must I show you how to be a Christian?” William’s solitary voice for humanity, compassion and love resonates.

The final movement, To Those Who Are Blessed, reverberates with birdsong, peacefulness and an abundance of nature reminiscent of a billabong, is a comfort to William Cooper, dispossessed from his traditional land and a reminder to Otto Jontof-Hutter that his people will once again have a promised land. This movement reflects both William and Otto’s hopes that each will be free to live in dignity and harmony.

The Sephardic Shofar’s (a Jewish horn symbolising spiritual renewal and resilience) distinctive sound, concluded the performance. This ancient sound continuing after the orchestra had come to an end, was dramatic.

The Cantata encapsulates the worst and best of human nature. William Cooper’s abhorrence of cruelty and inhumanity, his championing for compassion and kindness, as timely today as it was then.

S.C. Knight is a Member of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and the Victorian Story Tellers Guild.


2 Responses to “Kristallnacht Cantata: a Voice of Courage: music review by S.C. Knight”
  1. Bernie Woodlock says:

    Loved the story of kristallnacht cantata, a man who was percecuted in his own country showed courage about something that no one else even gave the slightest thought about. Bernard

  2. Eli Rabinowitz says:

    Well done to Ron, Alon and all those involved in this inspiring project.

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