Tree of Life Congregation in Morgantown, W.Va., will present a recital Tuesday, Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m. with several pieces inspired by the atrocities of the Holocaust, including the recital’s centerpiece, Allan Blank’s “Poems from the Holocaust.”
The recital is the product of a recording project under way by Andrew Kohn, an associate professor at West Virginia University who lives in Pittsburgh. Kohn is currently preparing to record three pieces by Blank.
“To get the pieces in the best possible shape, they needed to be performed,” said Kohn. “I looked for an appropriate setting to present the piece that was fitting for its scope and character.”
“Poems from the Holocaust,” written by Richmond, Va., native Blank in 1996, is a composition for vocals, double bass and piano. The piece is a meditation on Holocaust-era poems, including several from the famous compilation “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Blank’s late wife, Margot, was a Holocaust survivor.
“It’s a profound and rewarding piece; a piece that has repaid the time we’ve all spent on it,” Kohn said of Blank’s opus. “A piece that’s rich and deeply felt, it is an excellent response to that rich and deeply felt poetry that it uses.”
The recital will also include Holocaust victim Erwin Schulhoff’s concertino for flute, viola and bass, as well as three of the four studies for solo contrabass by Blank. Performers include WVU staff members Catherine Thieme and her husband Robert, who is the director of WVU’s opera program. Flute professor Francesca Arnone and visiting viola professor Andrea Priester Houde will help perform the Schulhoff piece.
Kohn, whose father is Jewish, was not raised as a Jew, but said that art resulting from the Holocaust can be “profoundly moving.”
“The heroism of how people responded to the Holocaust, by creating this art, for example, need to be remembered and celebrated,” he said.
Catharine Thieme, who is also not Jewish, reflected Kohn’s sentiments.
“I feel very strongly about [this music],” she said. “I feel very good about giving this gift to other people.”
Thieme, who, at 60 years old, has been performing since she was 14, said she “loves to get very involved in any sort of material I’m singing.
“Whether it’s a love song, a song crying out to the gods, a song about injustice,” she continued, “I’m a very emotional type of performer.”
Still, “I was very humbled by these pieces. They touch me tremendously,” she added.
To Kohn, art that came from the Holocaust can be incredibly powerful, but should never allow people to move past it.
“I would never suggest that because there was good art produced that the Holocaust has been overcome,” he said. “It’s a response to something that is too horrible to contemplate otherwise. One could say that it shows the possibility of redemption even in the midst of horror.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)