With a small stone in hand, I felt the full significance of my trip to Terezien, after a two-hour bus ride to the Czech Republic from Dresden, our latest concert stop. By Jewish tradition, stones are lain on graves as a symbol of the permanence of memory. As I laid my stone on one of the countless mass graves in what was the Theresienstadt camp of Nazi Germany, I thought of the composers and musicians I had come to honor, and felt the silence of the millions lost.
Soon, that silence would be cut by the music we had come to play as members of the newly formed Clarion Quartet. On the original stage of the camp, called the Attic, we played a concert of two Czech composers, the Five Pieces for String Quartet, by Erwin Schulhoff, and Viktor Ullman’s third quartet, written in Terezien. Both composers had enjoyed fame in their lifetimes as genius composers and performers before being banned from teaching posts, labeled “degenerate” and systematically silenced. It struck me while on tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony that this was exactly the type of touring they had been doing around Europe before the unimaginable horrors happened to them.
During our program, I spoke, giving historical context and explaining why we have taken on this project as a quartet, going forward, to continue presenting this music at the high level it deserves. I looked out to the approximate 40 members of the group, including about a third of the orchestra, Maestro Honeck, members of our board, staff and managing directors, and felt very grateful to be associated with this organization. They were all there on their day off because they understood the significance of what happened here to humanity and to our art form, and they were supporting us and sharing in this experience of honoring their memories.
As a quartet, we played this music with the love and awe that we have come to have for it, and it was certainly felt by our audience. We ended with the famous Israeli song “Eli Eli” by the poet Hannah Szenes, a hero of the resistance, who risked her life saving her fellow Hungarian Jews, and was executed. Her poem was set to music, and we played a gorgeous arrangement for quartet by Boris Pigovat. There were tears flowing freely, but instead of being a sad and dark event, there was a mood of joy and new energy at the possibility of being able, as musicians, to make sure these works are not forgotten, that their suffering has not been in vain, and that we can do what the composers had intended, to generate beauty out of the horrors.
As the quartet boarded the bus to return to Dresden, everyone gave us more rousing applause! This has been one of the most meaningful concerts of my career, I will never forget this day.