ConcertMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer – Holy Trinity Church, Leeds

Writer: David Fligg

Translator: Hana Trojanova

Director: Mark France

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Out of the Shadows is a three-week festival devoted to the work and discoveries of Performing the Jewish Archive, a major international project involving, among others, the universities of Leeds and York. Its opening event celebrated Jewish achievement in the face of almost unimaginable cruelty and the vast international deception of the Terezin ghetto.

Terezin (or Theresienstadt) is one of the most evocative names in the story of the Nazis’ pursuit of the Final Solution. Not a death camp like Auschwitz, though plenty died there, it remains in the memory for its extraordinary artistic flowering – from the Ghetto Swingers jazz band to the still performed operas of Viktor Ullman and Hans Krasa – and the German propagandists’ skill in persuading the world that a transit camp to death was some kind of Jewish paradise.

Gideon Klein was one of the youngest of an extraordinary generation of Czech Jewish musicians who were confined in Terezin. Born in 1919, he was an exceptional pianist as well as a talented composer, a young man with an ardent enthusiasm for the arts in general, literature and painting, who was moved from Terezin to Auschwitz where he died in 1945.

Performing the Jewish Archive is about finding it before you can perform it and Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer resulted from David Fligg’s detailed researches into Klein’s life. Six actors, mostly students at the University of York, took us through his life, often in the form of letters written by friends or interviews Fligg conducted with people who remember Klein. It was more in the form of a presentation than a performance, with scripts much in evidence.

The Cassia String Quartet broke up the narrative with the music of Gideon Klein and composers whom he loved and who influenced him: Mozart and the more contemporary Paul Hindemith and Leos Janacek. Klein’s remarkably mature Duo for violin and cello, composed in 1941, breaks off mid-phrase, as suddenly as his life in Prague came to an end, but the major work featured in the programme was produced in Terezin. Klein’s String Trio was taken one movement at a time to illustrate his life story. It’s tempting to be seduced by the melancholy and melodic charm of the slow movement, Variations on a Moravian Folksong, into a sentimental view of the piece, but that neglects the almost Mozartian first movement and the bold lines of the finale. Excellent as was the Cassia’s performance, it will be good to hear the String Trio played as a complete work in the Nash Ensemble’s June concert of music from Terezin.

This opening event of the festival was decidedly documentary, with helpful visuals illustrating letters or documents, identifying interviewees and presenting photographs of Gideon Klein. The evening began with an interview with Terezin survivor Zdenka Fantlova and ended with the launch of an exhibition of children’s art from Terezin, often vital and full of activity. Then you look at the artists’ dates: born maybe 1930 or 1937, nearly always died 1944.

Runs until 23 June 2016 | Image: Contributed

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