IN: Reviews

A Perennially Poignant Gala


Simon Gronowski and his parents .

The Terezin Music Foundation Gala, held every fall at Boston’s Symphony Hall, presents outstanding performances by first-rate musicians in one of the world’s best concert halls while also providing the kind of profound emotional catharsis that reinforces the certainty that music has the power to provoke, entertain, uplift, and heal. As the world has been once again emerging from a dark time of isolation and trouble, this annual tradition had added meaning and poignancy.

After introductory remarks about “Our Will to Live: Honoring the life-giving force of music” by Executive Director Mark Ludwig, violinist Nathan Meltzer took the stage to play Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata for Solo Violin (1927). Meltzer displayed a dazzling technique replete with left hand pizzicato and lots of upbow spiccato work, contrasted with the haunting soliloquy of the second movement where he displayed a broad command of musical line and tempo. The work overall seemed a mix of folk elements, a sort of Ländler-like dance in the fourth movement, with jazzy elements that would have seemed modern when written. This would be a worthy piece for any up-and-coming violinist

Serenade for Violin & Piano (Terezin 1942) is only surviving work of Robert Dauber, who died at 19. It is a sweepingly romantic, sentimental song that hints of enormous promise as a composer. That it is all that remains of a life cut so brutally short breaks the heart. Pianist Vytas Baksys and Meltzer gave a fine interpretation.

Coro Allegro then took the stage for “The Song About the Child”, a newly commissioned work by Israeli composer Sivan Eldar, based on the poem by Salman Masalha. This was a gorgeous piece with a soprano soloist, beautifully keening about the sorrows she had experienced. To hear a whole chorus of voices, some of the last musicians to be cleared to perform publicly because of health concerns, was a great blessing. They also offered Viktor Ullmann’s Anu Olim and Eliahu HaNavi, which he wrote in Terezin in 1943.

Yo-Yo Ma gave Gideon Klein’s simple, sad Lullaby by video. We are all used to viewing online these days, so seeing Ma larger than life on a big screen did not prove jarring. He also described how meaningful it was for him to make music with a survivor earlier in his career.

Simon Gronowski then received the Terezin Music Foundation Award. Gronowski had been granted a special visa to travel here from Belgium. As an 11-year-old, he escaped from a transport train to Auschwitz when his mother pushed him out of the cattle car. He spent the next few years in hiding, eventually reuniting with his devastated father, who died shortly thereafter. He spoke movingly about how teaching himself to play the piano was a way to connect to his murdered sister, to regain his mind and health after the trauma of the Holocaust. He recently received some international attention in a New York Times article [HERE] about how he played jazz piano for his neighbors during the Covid lockdown. It uplifted both him and his neighbors, as they were unable to interact in other ways.

Larry Wolfe, bassist with the BSO, joined Gronwoski for “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Although appearing frail beforehand, once seated at the piano, he showed no fragility; Gronowski seemingly had sipped from the fountain of youth. Wolfe clearly loved their lively musical exchanges. Truly uplifting.

An instrumental setting of Brundibar by Hans Krasa, a children’s opera, arranged by David Matthews and adapted by Mark Ludwig closed the concert. Annette Miller provided the narration along with members of the BSO under the direction of Steven Lipsett. Similar in scope and story to Peter & the Wolf, that is, a fairy tale narrated with musical underpinnings and interludes, this work was first done at Terezin and filmed as part of a propaganda film to depict how children were “well treated” in the camp. After that event, the children were all sent to Auschwitz, where they perished. The Brookline High School Camerata, directed by Dr. Michael Driscoll, filed on for the final chorus, singing with masks. A projection overhead showed the children of Terezin, many of whom would have been younger than these children…to link these bright, healthy young people with the vanished children reinforced the message of injustice.

As we come out of Covid lockdown and live concerts resume, we can experience with more immediacy what the prisoners of Terezin felt. To hear live music again restores the soul. As Gronowski emphasized in his speech, music saved him.

It’s worth reading the texts of two popular songs from the time of World War II, when the whole world was plunged into darkness. Those of us coming out of the darkness of a pandemic must make music again with all the joy we can muster. These songs remain long after the darkness is gone. So too does the music of composers killed in the Holocaust, thanks to the Terezin Foundation.

Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.

Larry Wolf and Simon Gronowski (Michael J. Lutch phboto)

Grab your coat and grab your hat baby
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
On the sunny side of the street

Can’t you hear that pitter-pat there?
That happy tune is yours now
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street

I used to walk in the shade
With those blues on parade
But I’m not afraid, baby
My rover, crossed over

If I never have a cent
I’ll be rich as Rockefeller
With gold dust at my feet
On the sunny side of the street


We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away

So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them it won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singin’ this song

CoroAllegro directed by David Hodgkins (Michael J. Lutch photo)

… We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. An enlightening evening at Symphony Hall.

    Comment by Randie Harmon — October 30, 2021 at 8:17 am

  2. A truly memorable concert, with magnificent music magnificently performed.
    I would also like to put in a plug for Mark Ludwig’s brilliant new book “Our Will to Live” published by Steidl Verlag, Germany.

    Comment by David Post — October 30, 2021 at 10:03 am

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