With a lecture and four concerts, the “Echoes of the Holocaust” series reflects on the Holocaust with a unique convergence exploring the diversity of experience and expression within the UNH community. Performed by students, faculty, and alumni, the concerts feature pieces written by composers who died in Nazi concentration camps, works written and performed by prisoners, and contemporary compositions inspired by the Holocaust.
The series opens March 25 with the Heilbronner Lecture, and continues with concerts this spring and in November.
See the full schedule with program notes. All events, except the November concert, are free and open to the public.
Memories, music unite in “Echoes of the Holocaust” series
They could hardly have less in common when it comes to remembering the Holocaust: these undergraduates and young alumni composers who know it only through books and movies, and the University faculty whose parents likely lived through World War II.
Yet, when they join to reflect on the Holocaust this spring, they will be united by a remarkable medium: music.
The results might surprise you.
Attend one of the five programs in the “Echoes of the Holocaust” series, and you may find yourself smiling at music inspired by a child’s poem, pondering our modern obsessions with politics and power, and, finally, being uplifted by a message of peace that extends diversity beyond the lines of religion, race, and ethnicity.
In the process, you will also learn that: The charming, and poignant, children’s poems that inspired the first concert were written by boys and girls who were murdered in concentration camps. The satirical opera about political obsession was written by Viktor Ullmann, a brilliant young composer who was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The text for Kaddish, the composition that will conclude the series in November, is based on verbatim testimony of Holocaust survivors.
Finding common ground
This unique coming-together of generations and disciplines, organizers say, is the crux of the “Echoes of the Holocaust” series, starting March 25 with the Heilbronner Lecture and running through November.
“When most people think of the Holocaust it is not the fine and performing arts that come to mind,” says Jeff Diefendorf, UNH professor of history and holder of the Pamela Shulman Professorship of European and Holocaust Studies. Diefendorf developed the series with David Ripley, professor of music, and Peggy Vagts, professor of music and senior faculty fellow for the College of Liberal Arts.
So, as they began discussing the concept with students and alumni, basic questions had to be confronted.
“Can artists and musicians communicate something valuable about the Holocaust experience to those of us who did not experience it firsthand?” Diefendorf asks. “Does representing the Holocaust in music require new and unique forms, forms distinct from those of the ‘normal’ world of Western music?”
Each of the series’ five programs represents the diversity of answers.
Honoring the Holocaust’s echo
Ripley, who will direct UNH Opera students in Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis, says he’ll never forget performing the role of Der Tod (Death) in a 1995 Holocaust memorial concert at Northeastern University.
“To put it simply, never in my life have I been, before or since and probably ever—in a more electronically charged performance atmosphere,” Ripley says. “…Every word and note was absorbed in rapt sacred silence as if a cathartic thirst for this response to the horrors of the Holocaust was a kind of prayer and answer, written long ago, but now finally, after 50 long years of waiting, spoken and heard.”
Rob Haskins, assistant professor of music, hopes the series’ blend of dark and light will convey the depths of experience that came out of that horrible era, and also inspire commitment to a better future.
“In reality, we need both kinds of music: painful, even terrifying works prevent humankind…from losing its capacity to empathize with the suffering of the oppressed,” Haskins says. “And music that is conventionally beautiful does more than simply beguile us into a state of unengaged complacence: It can remind us that there is something inside us that might help us avoid repeating the ignominies of the past.”
Students who learned about the Holocaust in high school were in for an entirely different experience when they were asked to perform music about it at UNH. At first, some were daunted at the prospect of interpreting such powerful, potentially painful works.
“Some friends and I hesitated when we heard the word ‘Holocaust,’ because we immediately thought of our elementary and high school days when we covered the topic two-dimensionally,” says Melody Chapin ’10, a member of the UNH Opera. “But this time, I have gained a fuller understanding of history through the composers and writers who experienced it firsthand, and it makes me proud to be an artist.”
As the generations that lived through the Holocaust years dwindle, responsibility for honoring the millions who were systematically murdered by the Nazis falls to new, and future, generations. Appropriately enough then, the series calls on two young alumni, Timothy Miles ’01, ’07G, and Thomas Bourgault ’04, ’06G to compose works for student performances.
Miles’s piece, if this is a man, comes from a book by Primo Levi about his year in Auschwitz.
“Hopefully, it will depict not just the dark aspects of his time in Auschwitz but also the hope and humanity he found in other prisoners,” says Miles, who now serves as director of bands at Exeter High School, in Exeter, N.H.
Bourgault composed a piece inspired by Saul Friedlander’s book, Nazi Germany and the Jews, echoing its theme of dangerous obsession.
“In no way can I make a statement that summarizes this unique and terrifying chapter in history, but I came to understand that one man’s obsession, and his forthcoming power, were the sole cause of these events,” says Bourgault, who is director of instrumental music at the Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn.
Miles’s and Bourgault’s works will be performed by the UNH Wind Symphony, conducted by Andrew Boysen, and the UNH Concert Band, conducted by Casey Goodwin.
In the end, the series shows the richness of diversity in memory—and at UNH.
“There is no ‘one way’ to approach such a thing,” Ripley says. “But which ever way is chosen, the most important thing to remember is the role of the memory itself. We must remember that the horrors of the Holocaust were not brought to us by nature, but by ourselves—by humankind. If we seek our own survival, we per force cannot ever avoid the most challenging moments of our own history. These must be confronted.”
‹‹ back to top