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Category Archives: Music

Source: Joshua Z. Weinstein, The New York Times, March 3, 2015

Like many survivors of the Holocaust, after World War II, Saul Dreier and Reuwen (“Ruby”) Sosnowicz moved to America, started families and careers, grew old, and retired to Florida. For these octogenarians, settling near Boca Raton could have been the last chapter in their story.

But then, last summer, Mr. Dreier, 89, decided to start a klezmer band, drawing upon the music he grew up with in Poland. Playing the drums, he teamed up with Mr. Sosnowicz, an 85-year-old Polish accordionist. This Op-Doc video profiles the two men and their group, which they’ve named the Holocaust Survivor Band. In recent months they have performed for audiences at venues ranging from local nursing homes and temples to The Venetian in Las Vegas.

Music has always been a tool of survival for these men. Mr. Dreier, the drummer, was born in Krakow and in his youth survived three concentration camps. In one, there was a cantor in his barracks. To pass the time, the boys formed a choir, singing soprano, tenor and baritone parts, switching as they grew up and their voices changed. Mr. Dreier learned to play drums by banging two spoons together as he accompanied the choir. Later, he worked as a construction contractor in New Jersey.

For Mr. Sosnowicz, music was recovery. He spent the war hidden by a Polish farmer, sleeping next to cows and digging through trash at night to collect bits of potatoes. After the war, he landed in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where he acquired his first accordion. Mr. Sosnowicz went on to become a hairdresser and professional musician. He played at parties throughout the borscht belt in upstate New York, and even had a gig at Studio 54.

As they reinvent themselves, Mr. Dreier and Mr. Sosnowicz never forget their past. It is life before Hitler, their youth, that they most want to remember. For them, music is catharsis. The Holocaust Survivor Band summons the bittersweet memories of childhood, but more than that, it is a celebration of life.

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Source: The Guardian, November 12, 2014

Nicki Minaj has apologised for the offence caused by her new video, which was inspired in part by images “representative of Nazis”. The rapper explained that although the clip for Only includes animated images evocative of a Leni Riefenstahl film, she would “never condone Nazism in [her] art”.

Minaj’s comments followed a statement from video director Jeffrey Osborne, who insisted he would not “apologise” for his work “or dodge the immediate question”. Yes, the film’s “flags, armbands, and gas mask (and perhaps my use of symmetry?) are all representative of Nazis”, he told MySpace, but he reminded viewers that the clip also draws from American, Russian, and Italian iconography. “As far as an explanation, I think it’s actually important to remind younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future,” he went on. “If my work is misinterpreted because it’s not a sappy tearjerker, sorry I’m not sorry. What else is trending?”

In her own statements, Minaj claimed Osborne was “influenced” by the Sin City franchise and the Cartoon Network series Metalocalypse. And to burnish her anti-Nazi bona fides, she stated that A Loucas, the producer of the video, is Jewish. “I didn’t come up w/the concept, but I’m very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone,” she wrote.

Only is definitely a victim of bad timing: it was released on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. But the Anti-Defamation League also highlighted the way Minaj herself assumes the role of Führer in the video. “This video is insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialisation of the history of that era,” wrote the League’s US national director, Abraham H Foxman. “The abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews and all those who can recall the sacrifices Americans and many others had to make as a result of Hitler’s Nazi juggernaut.”

Only is the third single from Minaj’s forthcoming album The Pinkprint. It debuted at No 35 on the UK singles chart.

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Source: Arutz Sheva, November 4, 2014

Australian writer Lily Brett on Tuesday won France’s Prix Medicis literary award for best foreign book for “Lola Bensky,” a novel drawing on her experience both as a 1960s rock journalist and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

Brett’s sixth novel tells the story of an eponymous heroine who arrives in London in 1967 and proceeds to interview the biggest names in music, from Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix and Cher.

Soon, however, she starts to wonder if the questions she is asking are in fact substitutes for questions about her parents’ past.

Reacting to the award – announced to the press at a Parisian restaurant – Brett told reporters she was “ecstatic.”

“I am so proud to have won this prize,” she said. “I first came to Paris when I was almost two years old. My parents were survivors of Nazi death camps and we were here on the way to a new life.”

“I have a photograph of myself on a carousel in (central Paris district) the Marais and I look overjoyed. You can see I already loved this city,” she said.

Brett said that, like her character Lola, she too had been sent to London as a rock journalist in 1967.

Without the ever-present managers and PRs that surround stars today, she was able to get close to many of them, she said, adding that it was a conversation with Jimi Hendrix that provided the idea for the book.

“I was sitting in Mick Jagger’s apartment…discussing hair curls with Jimi Hendrix,” she said. “We both had very curly hair. His much more curly than mine and that led to the basis of ‘Lola Bensky.'”

Brett’s Jewish parents, Max and Rose, were both sent to Auschwitz during World War II. Both lost their entire families during the conflict and the novelist has said her father grieved over his dead relatives throughout her childhood.

“I lived in a house where the dead were more present than the living,” she told a journalist in 2012.

Some of the people Brett interviewed as a rock journalist would soon be dead themselves, and because of her own family background they struck a cord with her.

“It was a short time after the war, the 1960s, (and)…I was in the middle of a whole lot of people who were hurtling towards their death,” she said.

“They didn’t know it – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – they were all going to be dead in a few years and I came from people who were struggling to live and who had been surrounded by death so it was a very, very meaningful book for me to write,” she added.

The winner of the Prix Medicis’s main category, meanwhile, was French author Antoine Volodine, for “Terminus Radieux” (“Radiant Terminus”), set in Siberia in the aftermath of nuclear disaster.

Volodine is the main pen name for a writer – a former professor of Russian – who also goes by the names Elli Kronauer, Manuela Draeger and Luitz Bassmann. Under the name Volodine he has written around 20 novels.

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Source: Chicago Tribune, January 23, 2014

There is a growing catalog of music written in the aftermath of the Holocaust that attempts to grapple head-on with the ineffable horrors of the Nazi era. None has managed to secure a toehold in the regular repertory.

One Holocaust-inspired opera that deserves to do so is “The Passenger,” Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s and librettist Alexander Medvedev’s 1968 adaptation of a 1959 Polish radio play and, later, a novel, by Zofia Posmycz, an Auschwitz survivor.

The work received its American premiere here by the Houston Grand Opera last week in a tautly effective production by British director David Pountney that originated in 2010 at Austria’s Bregenz Festival, where “The Passenger” was staged for the first time anywhere. Lyric Opera recently announced that this same production, with a different cast, will have its Midwest premiere in Chicago in February-March 2015.

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At the same news conference, Lyric general director Anthony Freud said that Pountney and his production team for “The Passenger” will create a new Wagner “Ring” cycle to be unveiled here in segments, beginning with the 2016-17 season.

Weinberg, a Polish Jew who lost his family to the Holocaust, managed to escape on foot from Warsaw to Russia at the outset of World War II. Once he relocated to the Soviet Union, his troubles continued. Although he composed prolifically, many works were banned because of Stalinist anti-Semitism. He died in 1996, 10 years before “The Passenger” first saw the light of day, at a concert performance in Moscow. Read the full article.