On Saturday, April 9, two guest musicians performed at the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Commemoration Concert in Lawrence University’s Harper Hall. Soprano Rachel Joselson and pianist Rene Lecuona, both professors at the University of Iowa, performed various songs composed at Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II.
Joselson and Lecuona presented songs that varied in character and subject; some were uplifting and jaunty, while some were brooding and threatening. The balance of voice and piano was just right, and the way they stopped and started together indicated their comfort with each other.
The program was mixed in tone. Of course, Joselson and Lecuona wanted to pay their respects to the victims, but they also wanted to display to the audience the creativity and passion that was extinguished during the Holocaust. Both performers have years of experience playing around the world, but they mentioned afterward that this type of commemorative concert was new artistic territory for them.
Lecuona wore a black dress and Joselson wore a gray one, but their stage demeanor was not mournful at all. Some might consider this aspect a shortcoming of the performance, considering the reason goal of the event, but the way the two remained completely focused on developing the mood of each piece seemed to override any conflicting notions.
The gaps between the pieces were small and no introductions were given. The concert program contained several pages of translations of all of the lyrics, so Lecuona and Joselson did not feel obligated to speak much about the music; it stood convincingly enough on its own.
In a way, the quick, back-to-back progression of the program helped keep the focus on the composers of the works. It also helped keep the concert from running too long, as it featured 19 pieces.
Standouts included “Kleines Wiegenlied,” or “Little Lullaby,” featuring a mother’s soothing words to a child, and “Im Gefängis Allen Vögeln” or “To All Birds,” which compared the prisoners of the concentration camp to birds and flowers. Also on the program was a collections of songs written in 1983 by Norbert Glanzberg, who composed using poems and writings from Holocaust victims.
The 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Commemoration Concert explored several musical ways of paying respects to the victims of a horrible genocide. The moving performance encouraged everyone to admire the strength and resilience of those victims.