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Richard Wagner museum is reopened by Jewish band

Germany’s oldest Richard Wagner museum, dating back to 1907, is in a hunting lodge in Graupa, 20km east of Dresden.

It was reinaugurated on Sunday with an exhibited curated by the German-based US c0nductor Michael Hurshell (seen here demonstrating one if its hands-on screens to Saxon culture minister Sabine von Schorlemer). The museum’s patron is the conductor Christian Thielemann.

michael hurshell

At the opening ceremony, Michael’s Jewish Chamber Philharmonic orchestra played music by composers banned under the Nazi regime (what you hear in this report is a snatch of Franz Schreker).

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Comments

  1. Do I understand from the video correctly that the Cultural Ministry of Saxony gave 5.7 million Euros to the museum for its reinauguration? It is difficult to tell from the context. What was the media’s response to the Jewish Chamber Orchestra’s performance and program? It seems like a remarkable act of reconciliation, perhaps comparable to the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s performance Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in the summer of 2011 in the town of Bayreuth with two of Wagner’s great granddaughters sitting in the front row. The Cultural Minister, Sabine von Schorlemer, has such a beautiful presence. She is also a professor if international relations of at the Technical University in Dresden with a focus on human rights, women’s rights and cultural heritage.

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      The funds were provided by various public sources, some Saxon, some federal, some by Pirna. The sum was used for the most part to renovate a 17th century building; the building is about 150 yards from the Lohengrin haus (were Wagner sketched the opera in 1846); the Jagdschloss itslf had never been a museum, and it had been badly neglected for decades. The restoration chose the building’s 18th century format – it was a hunting lodge used by the Wettiner. It is interesting to note that the mayor of Pirna at the time the plan was formulated was the current Saxon Minister of the Interior, Markus Ulbig, who has shown a marked interest in addressing Germany’s Nazi past. This ministry, for example, funded our series of concerts for young people in 2012.

  2. Do I understand from the video correctly that the Graupa City Council gave 5.7 million Euros to the museum for its reinauguration? It is difficult to tell from the context. What was the media’s response to the Jewish Chamber Orchestra’s performance and program? It seems like a remarkable act of reconciliation, perhaps comparable to the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s performance Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in the summer of 2011 in the town of Bayreuth with two of Wagner’s great granddaughters sitting in the front row. The Cultural Minister, Sabine von Schorlemer, has such a beautiful presence. She is also a professor if international relations of at the Technical University in Dresden with a focus on human rights, women’s rights and cultural heritage.

  3. The Kammersymphonie Berlin – well-known chamber orchestra – dedicates, already for 20 years, its programming to music from the 1st half of the 20C which was marginalized twice, first by fascism and war, then by modernist ideologies in the fifties and sixties which deemed the pre-war pluralism ‘outdated’ and not compatible with the projected historic line from Schoenberg via Webern to Boulez & Stockhausen etc. Composers don’t have to be ‘Jewish’ to be ‘prohibited’ and it is not only the nazis who tried to censor music.

    Wagner’s antisemitism was a social and cultural critique rather than a racist one. The racist element he shared with the majority of 19C thinking elite. It was a stupid mistake nonetheless. Are red-haired communists victims to their hair colour?

    This German museum looks excellent, though. Let Wagner be celebrated by Jews.

    http://www.kammersymphonie.de

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      The Berliner Kammersymphonie is indeed an excellent ensemble. As their members are recruited from important Berlin orchestras, they do not perform very often – their website lists 5 performances for 2012, of which 3 were dedicated to choral works, 2 to orchestral. Our group, which includes members of various Dresden orchestras, performs about a dozen times a year, playing orchestral repertoire exclusively. The name “Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie” reflects the repertoire we perform; our appearances at the Wagner museum were a marked exception. A good example of a typical program is the concert we played at the Rykestrasse Synagogue in Berlin last November, which included works by Schönberg, Schreker, Krása, Tansman, Weinberg and Mahler. So no, this is not a return to the Kulturbund – our ensemble includes Jewish and non-Jewish members; the point is that there is much neglected repertoire by composers banned by the Nazis because of their Jewish roots, and the ensemble was founded to address that. Of course there are other groups that play such works, now and then. ( I was pleased to note that the Kammersymphonie will be playing Zeisl’s Slovak Variations later this year – a work which we gave its German premiere in 2008.) Playing at the Wagner Museum – including the premiere of a chamber orchestra version of the Wesendonck Sonata – reflects two aspects: my own love for Wagner’s music, as well as the fact that the city of Pirna invited us to present Wagner together with works from our usual repertoire.

      • MUSIC HISTORY SHOULD BE REWRITTEN
        Wouldn’t it be best to present this repertoire by Jewish composers of the 1st half of the last century not because the composers were Jews, or because they were murdered, driven into exile, or marginalized, but because the music is just very good – and fully European? Most of these composers were not ‘practicing Jews’ but fully integrated, and also if frequenting the synagoge, as yet fully European. Since artists and scientists of Jewish origin made-up much of the European intellectual elite, their being Jewish is totally irrelevant. If we listen to this music as being ‘Jewish’, we would again put a label on it which is as nonsensical as what the nazis did, it would be a kind of ‘positive antisemitism’. This music should again be recognized as an important part of 20C music history, which is, in the conventional narratives, biased and incomplete, and exaggerating the importance of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern on the expense of other composers (for instance, Ernst Toch was close in style to Schoenberg and in some ways, better).

        The beginning of the 20C showed a wide range of different types of music which was still rooted in tradition, but without dogma (except the Schoenbergian dogma which was merely one marginal trend at the time). For instance, Walter Braunfels – who was not Jewish – was marginalized because he did not want to collaborate with the regime who had invited him to compose for their projects; after the war he tried to make a second career start but was then boycotted because of his ‘outdated’ style. Recently, his operas have been uncovered and performed (a.o. ‘Die Vogel’) and appeared to be very good. So, it is a broader picture. Digging-out this pluralism of the first decennia of the 20C is a welcome injection into the performance culture, which otherwise will become merely a museum of well-known works, without any interesting discoveries. The programming of pioneering orchestras like this Jüdisches Kammerorchester and the KSB should be followed by the other orchestras…

        • Michael Hurshell says:

          I agree with Mr. Borstlap: it is indeed our aim to re-establish these works, so that they will be played because they are worth playing, and played by orchestras regularly and as a matter of course. At the moment this is a goal, not a viable modus operandi. And it is true that many of the composers we perform were not practicing Jews; but it is important to recall why they were banned. Indeed, they thought of theirmusic as mainstream – in the sense of mainstream in German speaking countries; most, if not all, were avid admirers of Wagner; our and while there are various bodies of neglected work from the first half of the 20th century, we believe that it is particulary important to present the works of composers persecuted because of their ethnicity, in Germany; not least becuse this lacuna in Germany’s perception of its musical heritage is nowhere near being generally recognized. The course of music in Germany was so profoundly altered, and the (surviving) composers were brushed off if and when they tried to re-establish themselves after the war. A particularly sad aspect of the story.

          • I could not agree more with Mr Hurshell. What we would need is an annual debate platform, preferably an academic one, something like an international symposium, to address these themes, and to begin the rewriting of music history of the last century from a point of view outside ideologies – be them nazi, communist, or modernist ideology. In combination with concerts which would draw music audiences to the theme, such an idea would immensily enrich musical life and maybe even stimulate contemporary composition.

    • to Mr. Borstlap: Let Germany celeebrate the Jews. Have you got any idea how much wealth was plundered from European Jewery, and their inheritors? Fron the gold teeth alone to the great art. Just because……… By the way, Munich has a similar orchestra called the Jakobs Synagogue Orchestra. Their leader is a first cousin to Ivan Fisher and they collaborated on many programs with Munich based musicians They live together in harmony. But “aller Hand” tp Maestro Hurshell. He did it with a so-called Jewish Orchestra and it was not based on guilting the Germans about the wealth and homeland they stole form the Jews from 1933 to mid 1945.

      • Michael Hurshell says:

        @ Ms. Kamioner: I am not sure I understand your comment. – The Orchester Jakobsplatz München does play music by persecuted composers, but also performs – actually mostly performs – mainstream repertoire (Beethoven, Haydn, Offenbach, Schubert, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Mahler…); and quite a bit of contemporary music (Cage, Nono, Pärt…)

        • Mr. Hurshell: The branding of the Orchestra’s is similar because of their choice to associate with a Jewish identity in thier names and publicity. I saw a wonderful performance of Viktor Ullman’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis where the Jakobsplatz Synagogue Orchestra collaborated with singers from the Bayerische Staatsoper, performed in front of Mayor Uhde and Charlottte Knoblauch. I don’t think that I am wrong, but I believe both orchestra’s were created to further bridge the gap between Germans and Jews with fervour and pride. That’s the similarity. By the way, I beleive you met with one of the journalists I sent to Dresden to interview Ulrike Hessler and a world premiere given by the Staatskapelle Dresden, around the same time Thielemann replaced Fabio Luisi. So best of luck to you in emersing yourself in such a noble pursuit. Meantime Happy Tu b’schvat and Auf Wiederhoeren. If you come to the US, please google me.

  4. Lord Montague says:

    Wonderful. Next we want to see the West-Eastern-Diwan orchestra playing at the opening ceremony of the next Knesset.

  5. Galen Johnson says:

    Program for the concert was:

    Mendelssohn String Sinfonia 7
    Liszt Am Grabe Richard Wagners
    Schreker Scherzo
    Wagner Fantasie (1853 Sonate für das Album von Frau M.W.) orch. by Erica Muhl (a commission)
    Siegfried Idyll

  6. ken scott says:

    Very, very nice.

  7. Jewish chamber orchestra??? Hullo? Are we back to the days of the Kulturbund? what’s the sense of naming its orchestra this way? I really don’t get and don’t endorse it.

    • Lord Montague says:

      I agree. It’s a very strange idea, unless you endorse segregation between Jews and the other part of humanity.
      They probably pragmatically named it that way, because with that name it is much easier to get public subsidies in Germany, “guilt money”. Dresden has already a plethora of chamber orchestras, so in order to found and maintain a new one, one has to be creative in marketing and fund raising.

      • Galen Johnson says:

        Ah. Now I get it. Just as, of course, the Berliner Philharmoniker endorses segregation between Berliners and the other part of humanity, and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is meant only for Jacobins.

        • Lord Montague says:

          One is a town, the other is a period in history, the third is a religion and (self proclaimed) ethnicity with a history of forced and self induced segregation. Do we need to explain the differences? I think it is obvious.

  8. I have no problem with the ethnicity or gender of composers being incorporated into their reception as long as it is not done in a chauvinistic manner. Sometimes ethnicity is a central part of a composer’s style. Especially in a melting pot like the USA, this diversity is often celebrated as part of the rich palette of our cultural offerings. We should also recognize that all too often people who reject acknowledging and celebrating this diversity have reactionary agendas where they want all artistic expression to fit within a normative pattern that is racist and sexist. Ethnic identity is to be erased.

    European history has been embed with cultural nationalism to the point that it has often thought of itself as about 30 little nationalistic, ethnic boxes. On one had this produced a very rich Gestalt of cultures, but on the other it led to a great deal of bloodshed and war in which 100s of millions died. Examples range from the Thirty Years War to WWII.

    Up to a point in history, this form of cultural nationalism made a certain amount of sense due to the geographic isolation of people, but in the global village it has become absurd for Europeans to think of themselves as homogenous cultures. Switzerland, for example, has a population of about seven million and about one million of them are foreign “guest workers.” There are almost seven million “guest workers” living in Germany (about 9% of the population, including 1.6 million Turks. In many European cities a quarter to half of the population are foreigners.

    It is far past time for Europeans to consider diversity a central part of their cultural lives and to actively celebrate this diversity instead of thinking of themselves as having a normative culture (not coincidentally white and male) while everything else doesn’t belong.

    There is one other related factor. The suppression of composers often vastly reduces their opportunities for professional and artistic development. There is, for example, an enormous lack of women composers before about 1980 because they were not even allowed to be composers, and if so, only in very restrained circumstances.

    Composers like Ernst Toch were among the most important composers in Germany before the war, but in exile in Los Angeles his opportunities for development did not come near to what he would have experienced if he had been able to remain in Germany as an active part of his accustomed cultural milieu. Sometimes this form of destruction is a factor in musical reception. We can listen to the pre-war work of Toch as a young man and contemplate what he might have done if his artistic life had not been radically harmed. I think this could be applied to even Schönberg.

    • Lord Montague says:

      “European history has been embed with cultural nationalism to the point that it has often thought of itself as about 30 little nationalistic, ethnic boxes. On one had this produced a very rich Gestalt of cultures, but on the other it led to a great deal of bloodshed and war in which 100s of millions died. Examples range from the Thirty Years War to WWII.”

      That is completely wrong. Not nations were producing cultures, but cultures were part of producing nations. The concept of culture(s) is the much older and stronger entity, compared to the rather young (19th century) concept of nations.

      The identities of Europeans have for centuries been defined by cultural and linguistic commonality. Germany for instance has not even existed as a nation before 1871. It nothing else but a geographically dynamically changing, cultural and linguistic area.

      And there was always fruitful and intense exchange between the different cultures. The Italians were sought after all over Europe in the Baroque period for their mastership in architecture. French and German architects and artists were in high demand in Russia and Scandinavia. Voltaire conversed intensely with Frederic the Great of Prussia. Northern European intellectuals did not consider their education complete without lengthy educational travels to Italy.

      Europeans never looked at themselves as “homogenous cultures” as you claim. They were always very interested in exchange with different cultures.

      • Actually, the interaction of culture and nationalism is a two way street and the relationships are very complex. Sometimes culture contributes to national identity, and sometimes national identity contributes to culture. All painfully obvious, as is the observation that that cultures interact… The point is that in the global village of the 21st century Europeans will need to once again reinvent their sense of cultural nationalism.

        • Lord Montague says:

          The concept of nation has changed drastically over the times. So it is difficult to use the term in a discussion without clarification. Nation in times of Luther or later Kant was synonymous to a cultural entity, not a political entity.

          “in the global village of the 21st century Europeans will need to once again reinvent their sense of cultural nationalism.”

          That I don’t understand. Culture in the 21st century is not synonymous with nationality. So what is there to reinvent? The concept of nationality is about to change. The concept of culture not so much, it is stable for pretty much of all history of mankind.

          Culture is what unites us. Nation is what divides us.

  9. Michael Hurshell says:

    Update: the museum reported over 1100 visitors on its first public day. This bodes well.

  10. Galen Johnson says:

    Here are some excerpts from a review of the concert:

    …the Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie, under its conductor Michael Hurshell, played with both great spirit and remarkable discipline, as well as a feeling and sensitivity for their sound in a small hall…the special flair and charm of this concert, presented as part of the opening festivities at the Jagdschloss Wagner Museum, lay in its specific–and highly praiseworthy–dramaturgical conception. Naturally, we expected to hear works by Wagner, and as part of his circle, Liszt (both with some less-familiar music, too). However, programming these with pieces by composers (Trans. note: Schreker and Mendelssohn) who were proscribed by the National Socialists, thus casts a concrete musical form to the ever-continuing discussion between Wagnerians and musicologists regarding Wagner’s attitude towards the Jews. This isn’t an everyday occurrence and deserves special admiration.

    …the evening began with one of the young Mendelssohn’s lively string symphonies, No. 7 in d minor, which brilliantly belies the tender age of the composer. Michael Hurshell and his orchestra played it with appropriately vigorous musicianship, while keeping a sharp eye for lucid detail. In this work–as in the rest of the program–the Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie Dresden showed its mastery of finely nuanced, beautiful sonority, playing with spirit and richness of contrast, while remaining faithful to the scores…

    Likewise little known are Wagner’s piano works, such as the “Albumblätter.” In a commission by the NJK, Erica Muhl has orchestrated the 1853 ‘Fantasie’ (or ‘Album-Sonate’–trans. note), dedicated to Mathilde Wesendonck, for chamber orchestra. Wagnerian tone colors unfolded with striking opulence…

    –M. Hanns, Dresdens Neueste Nachrichten, 1/21/2013

  11. Galen Johnson says:

    Laudable? Dresden’s unique Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie, founded in 2007, and with many players drawn from the Staatskapelle, Dresden Philharmonic and MDR Orchestra, is already the best kind of “museum.” The orchestra has played dozens of concerts of music (all over Germany, and on tour in France and Poland) by dozens of “forbidden” composers, familiar to obscure. Beyond the historical, the NJK keeps the tradition alive by commissioning new works from composers trained by the many musical emigres who fled Europe 1933-45.

  12. stanley cohen says:

    How many are there, Reiner?

  13. Lord Montague says:

    I agree. The “periods of intensified nationalism” as in the twilight of the 19th century were the indirect result of the age of enlightenment and it’s subsequent loss of religiosity. The mass of the people could not handle the appeal to the human mind to raise from forced infantility (organized religion) to mental adulthood. Then nationalism and all the other -isms developed to fill the void, to give humans identity accompanied by perceived safety. Was a religious sheep clear about his identity and easy to rule, were then new identities needed to rule the secular children.

    Wagner was one example of an artist and very creative mind in search for meaning, getting carried and sometimes carried away by the ideological streams of his times.
    It is true that culture was then heavily influenced by these nationalistic and racist tendencies, but was never crushed and will always survive through dark ages.
    And today, what was once nationalism is now replaced by consumerism. If you can’t buy it it ain’t worth anything. Within one big nation of mammon. Amen.

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