In Thursday’s (3/26) New York Times, Corey Kilgannon writes about Ars Choralis, a group that is, “with its instrumentation, uniforms and repertory, emulating one of the best known of the concentration-camp ensembles: the Birkenau women’s orchestra of some 54 Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz from 1943 through 1945. The Birkenau group had some accomplished players and was led by the violin virtuoso and conductor Alma Rosé, a niece of Gustav Mahler and also a prisoner at Auschwitz. Nazi officers formed the ensemble for their listening pleasure, but also for practical purposes—to divert and dupe prisoners and keep them calm so they could be more easily controlled. Ars Choralis, a chorus and orchestra formed in 1966, has mainly performed local concerts, but is now receiving wider exposure. It will perform on Saturday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan and on April 19 at the former Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, as part of the camp’s annual liberation day memorial service for Holocaust survivors.” All 54 members of the original Birkenau orchestra were saved, inciting envy among some other prisoners. Performers in Ars Choralis bear these mixed emotions in mind while performing. The ensemble’s repertory includes works performed by the Birkenau orchestra—including works by Beethoven, Schumann, and Strauss—and choral works whose text is drawn from the memoirs of the original orchestra members.
Posted March 26, 2009