The much-anticipated annual Fran Eizenstat & Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture is back Dec. 5 with The Defiant Requiem Foundation performing “Hours of Freedom: The Story of the Terezín Composer.” The concert-drama to take place at Ahavath Achim Synagogue showcases music by 15 composers imprisoned in the Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp during World War II.
2019 marks the 31st year of lecture, which has featured Nobel Peace Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. presidents and vice presidents, Supreme Court justices, and Israeli prime ministers, among other eminent national and international guests.
Stuart Eizenstat, a former advisor to President Jimmy Carter and ambassador to the European Union, has been The Defiant Requiem Foundation board chair since 2011, and established this series in 1987 to honor the memory of his family members.
When asked if he might be altering the event’s content towards more artistic subjects, Eizenstat replied, “I have varied the programs, occasionally using the arts with a particular Jewish angle, along with political figures and journalists. For example, Cantor Benjamin Muller and his choir from Antwerp performed one year. Herman Wouk, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, spoke at another Eizenstat Family Lecture. Thomas Friedman is not only a New York Times columnist, but also a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
“With Mona Golabek and ‘Hours of Freedom’ in 2018 and 2019, we do have back-to-back artistic events, but I have already made a preliminary agreement with a prominent public figure for 2020, the presidential election year,” Eizenstat said.
Co-chairs of the event are Miriam Levitas and Joe Alterman, director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. Levitas said, “‘Hours of Freedom’ promises an unforgettable experience, bearing witness to a tour de force concert-drama, created by maestro Murry Sidlin, showcasing the music of 15 composers – 14 men and one woman – incarcerated in the Theresienstadt concentration camp under a canopy of death.
“Their music is one of the most moving chapters of the spiritual resistance in the history of the Holocaust, expressing the power of the arts to inspire and sustain human dignity, courage, harmony and hope as an affirmation of a future … proclaiming life is finite – music is forever.”
The program combines video, music, and narrative to highlight compositions by Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Rudolf Karel, and others. “Much of this music was the last that was composed by these artists, many of whom were in their 20s and 30s when they perished. Several were destined to be the next generation of significant Czech composers, following in the footsteps of Dvořák, Smetana, Janáček, Martinu, and Suk,” according to a statement on the event.
“Some of their compositions reflect the personal, eyewitness account of the agony and suffering of camp life, while others express the assurance of a return to life as it was before the war.”
The vocalists are Arianna Zukerman, Leah Wool, and David Kravitz, concertmaster and solo violinist Herbert Greenberg, cellist Julian Schwarz, pianist Phillip Silver, with the “Hours of Freedom” Chamber Players.
Program highlights include:
The “Etude for Strings” by Pavel Haas, combining the live ensemble with Terezín musicians captured on film in 1944.
Karel Svenk’s “Everything is Possible,” representing the cabaret “voice” of Terezín from one of Europe’s most imaginative artists.
“The Theresienstadt camp had 60,000 people imprisoned in a space designed for 7,000. Where 88,000 were sent to death camps and 40,000 more were murdered by malnutrition and disease, prisoners gave 2,400 lectures, 1,000 concerts, and maintained a ‘new music studio’ of 20 composers,” said Sidlin, founder of The Defiant Requiem Foundation and the creator-conductor and writer of “Hours of Freedom.”
“I’ve crafted a narrative which accompanies the music by these men and women, most of whom had their careers cut short when they were murdered by Nazis. We’re honored that Eizenstat has invited us to be part of his Atlanta series. We’re especially touched to be performing this program in memory of Stu’s late wife Fran, who was a beloved member of our board and an inspiration for many years.”
The 7:00 p.m. performance is supported by The Molly Blank Fund of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Admission is free, but reservations are required by Nov. 30, aasynagogue.org/hours-of-freedom.