Honoring a wartime legacy with new music, young voices
One of the admirable things about the Boston-based Terezin Chamber Music Foundation is that it sees its mission as going beyond the curatorial. At its core the foundation works to preserve the musical legacy of the composers and artists interned at the Nazi concentration camp. But in recent years it has also begun commissioning young composers to write music that honors that legacy in newly creative ways.
In that spirit, the composer Michael Ward-Bergeman wrote a commissioned work for the soprano Dawn Upshaw which she premiered last year in Carnegie Hall. This year’s gala on Sunday afternoon at the Higginson Ballroom in Symphony Hall featured the first local performance of “Songs of Sorrow and Hope’’ by composer Stephen Feigenbaum, an enterprising Yale undergraduate who has also written music for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Boston.
The New England Conservatory Youth Chorale under director Beth Willer gave a skilled and spirited performance of the new piece, a thoughtful and earnest setting with piano accompaniment of texts by a Terezin victim (Hanus Hachenburg), a Holocaust survivor (Donna Rubinstein), and an African writer (Mary Kimani) addressing the Rwanda genocide. Hearing the piece performed by young singers added to the occasion, as did the brief appearance by Edgar Krasa, a Terezin survivor who spoke about his mission to preserve the memory of the conductor Raphael Schaechter, with whom he performed the Verdi Requiem 15 times for fellow prisoners at Terezin in 1943 and 1944.
The second half of the program was given over to the young cello dynamo Alisa Weilerstein, who offered a lithe performance of Bach’s Third Cello Suite as a kind of extended prelude to her signature work: the Kodaly Solo Sonata. From the very first notes of the latter piece, Weilerstein was completely in her element, playing with searing expressive intensity, remarkable technique, and a well-honed gift for drawing out and dramatizing the myriad voices in this complex music. The audience sat in rapt silence and then rewarded her with a robust ovation. It was in fact a dry run of sorts for Weilerstein: She will play the third movement of the same Kodaly sonata tomorrow for the president and the first lady at the White House.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at email@example.com.