The Holocaust is a topic Annette-Barbara Vogel has been constantly aware of ever since she grew up in Germany.

The history is integrated in both the national culture, as well as her own identity. As she puts it, “You grew up feeling self-conscious and had no rights to talk about it.”

Vogel was in Cincinnati in the early ’90s when a musician she studied with, Henry Meyer, finally attained the courage to talk about the history publicly. Meyer was one of the founding members of the LaSalle Quartet which was then renowned for playing the music of the Holocaust.

Amid the horror of the Holocaust, Meyer played in one of the orchestras inside Auschwitz, and saw his family walk into the gas chamber. He was the only one in his family to survive.

“It was a very powerful moment to witness,” Vogel reflected on Meyer’s revelation. “My mum and grandmother were at a concentration camp, but they never talked much about it… Only hints.”

Several years later, Vogel founded a music festival in Iowa and wanted to invite Meyer to coach chamber music and share his stories. However, she did not know how to ask him. Her upbringing and consciousness of the history was an awkward barrier when it came to broaching the subject.

She called an American friend for advice, who responded, “What do you mean? Just call him up and you ask him.”

That was a moment Vogel would always remember, because it struck her that people from other cultural backgrounds held totally different perspectives on the very same subject. She followed the advice and Meyer immediately accepted the invitation.

She said she felt the responsibility to study the music and musicians of the Holocaust, and to speak openly about the subject matter. Upon returning to Germany, she began to consciously study the repertoire from the era.

“As musicians, we are somewhat the ambassadors of our history,” Vogel said. “I guess once you are connected to that, it does not let you go.”

Coming into play

Recovered Voices: Music from the Holocaust is a concert in memory of the great music and composers whose voices were silenced during the war. The date of the concert, Jan. 17, coincides with the largest death march in World War II, when the SS evacuated Auschwitz and its sub-camps and forced nearly 60,000 prisoners to march in extreme weather.

Now in its second year, this concert will present chamber works by musicians Hans Gal, Victor Ullmann, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Alexander von Zemlinsky and Paul Hindemith.

Vogel serves as the Artistic Director of both the concert and the not-for-profit chamber music group Magisterra Soloists.

Magisterra Soloists. Contributed photo.
Magisterra Soloists. Contributed photo.

“We have to find ways to remind people what can happen when you do not pay attention,” Vogel said. “What can I do as a musician? Not much, but I can do that,”

Vogel also has an indirect connection with one of the composers whose works will be played in the concert. In the late 1990s, she was in close contact with the grandson of Hans Gal. She was introduced to Gal’s music and received a precious manuscript by Gal which had not been performed since before the war.

It was not until five years later that she realized the music was a treasure, and endeavoured to bring it to life. What followed, Vogel said, was a whole renaissance of recordings and performances of this composer.

Her connection with Gal’s grandson and daughter, as well as an almost instinctive sense of Holocaust history, helped her shed a more personal insight on the music.

Spreading Knowledge

Fostering a richer understanding of the music from the Holocaust is another reason Vogel is hosting this concert. She recalled from her teaching experience as a violin professor that some students would play a piece of music not knowing the history and story behind it at all.

Vogel wanted to inform this generation of young musicians more about the background of the “fabulous music.”

For Vogel, concert programming is a creative process of putting together works that touch her in a coherent, diverse and satisfactory way. Magisterra itself is a portmanteau of the words magical and terra.

She believes music is without borders, and hopes the audience will both enjoy the music of the Holocaust and apply the lessons learned in the present day.

Even in one of the most desperate moments in history, music has the power to connect and inspire people generation after generation.

Recovered Voices – Music from the Holocaust at Museum London on Jan. 17, 2019 at 7 p.m.

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