Diplomatic Pouch / January 21, 2016
By Larry Luxner
The memory of the six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II is the inspiration behind two upcoming, unrelated musical events.
On Jan. 28, the Embassy Series’ 22nd season commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016 with a classical music concert at the residence of the Polish ambassador.
The program comes “at a time and juncture where strife, terrorism, factionalism, a refugee crisis and the rise of a savagely violent terrorist group that purports falsely to represent a new Islamic caliphate are all part of the sometimes incoherent news of our daily life,” said Jerome Barry, founder of the Embassy Series.
The concert features four works: “From Jewish Life,” No. 1, by Ernest Bloch; “Kol Nidrei,” Op. 47, by Max Bruch; “Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 65” by Fryderyk Chopin, and the fourth movement from “Quatuor pour la fin du temps” by Olivier Messiaen.
Principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has delighted audiences throughout the United States and Europe. As a soloist, he has performed with the National Philharmonic, the Alexandria Symphony, Arlington Philharmonic, Lancaster Symphony and BSO.
Classical pianist Michael Sheppard made his debut at the Kennedy Center and has performed at Carnegie Hall and throughout Europe and Asia.
“Our program was conceived to pay tribute to and remember the millions of victims of the Holocaust — not only their deaths but the courage and bravery exhibited by them under the most horrendous and unimaginable brutality,” said Barry. “In times like these, we must hope that we have learned the lessons from history and the consequences of forgetting or denying the past.”
On March 16-17, , Company E — along with the Washington Performing Arts’ Children of the Gospel Choir — is scheduled to perform its “Generations: Poland,” an evening-length celebration of Polish choreography from the Holocaust to its newest manifestations.
The concert was originally scheduled for Jan. 22-23, but because of the blizzard bearing down on the Washington, D.C., area, it had to be postponed. It will now take place at the Kennedy Center's Family Theater.
From the Polish native and Washington legend Pola Nirenska through the Polish-born Lidia Wos, who resides in Sweden, to 26-year-old Robert Bondara, a leading dance maker for the National Ballet of Poland, Generations explores both the artistic experiences and the political and social upheavals that created the pieces to be performed.
“This program has been a very long time in the making,” said Company E’s Paul Gordon Emerson, who built his career on Capitol Hill as a defense and foreign policy analyst. “We have been working with Rima Faber and Doug Wheeler for almost a decade trying to re-stage all or part of Pola Nirenska’s ‘Holocaust Tetralogy.’"
Faber is chair of the Pola Nirenska Dance Awards Committee, and Wheeler, a member of that committee, is president emeritus of Washington Performing Arts.
“Pola is a seminal figure in the history of contemporary dance in Washington, and her name lives on through the prestigious awards given to individuals in the dance field in Washington,” noted Wheeler. “Yet her work has not been seen on stage in a generation. We were all committed to change that this year.”
Nirenska, a Polish Jew who fled Europe at the start of World War II, lost 27 family members to the Holocaust. She matured as an artist during the rise of Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy; she settled in the Washington area in 1951, later marrying famed Polish resistance hero Jan Karski. Nirenska committed suicide in 1992 at the age of 81 by jumping off the balcony of her 11th-floor apartment in Bethesda, Md.
The four dances that have become known as her “Holocaust Trilogy” were her major works during the final decade of her life. “Dirge,” the dance being performed, is the second of the four works.
“It embodies the core of Pola’s passion and expresses her feelings about what happened in Europe,” said Faber. “We are finally about to honor that vision.”
In so doing, Company E is partnering with Washington Performing Arts’ Children of the Gospel Choir, using a transcription by Gavin Stewart, the company’s composer-in-residence, of the Second Movement, to create a new work in motion and live vocal sound.
“There is nothing that can ease the memory of the Holocaust, but in turning to gospel, and especially to young voices, the opportunity to honor the past by looking to the future was appealing,” said Emerson.
“We are in a moment now of unparalleled possibility and also of risk,” he continued. “The climate question won’t allow us to ignore it anymore. It’s happening, we caused it and we have an obligation to stop it. The disintegration of Syria, of South Sudan, of civil society in El Salvador, of our own equality and justice issues here begs the question, we are we going to do? We know what happens when you stand by. I see only one path, and that’s to put our trust and promise in the hands of our young people.”
For more information about the Jan. 28 concert at the Polish ambassador’s residence, call Embassy Series at (202) 625-2361 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about “Generation: Poland,” call Company E publicist Amanda Sweet at (202) 636-3507 or (347) 564-3371.