TORONTO — Cantor Benjamin Maissner didn’t get it at first when he was asked to do a concert with the Lachan Jewish Chamber Choir, of which he is musical director, as part of Holocaust Education Week (HEW).
Cantor Benjamin Maissner
At first Maissner, cantor of Holy Blossom Temple, thought that Mira Goldfarb – executive director of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre – had in mind a “Holocaust memorial kind of concert” when she told him that HEW organizers wanted the event to honour survivors from different countries, 10 of whom will be speaking briefly as part of the program.
Instead, the concert – titled “Keeping the Music Alive: A Choral Tribute” – is a celebration of music originating from Jewish communities in countries that were occupied by the Nazis. It will take place at Grace Church on the Hill, 300 Lonsdale Road, at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
“The music that we’re doing is showing that there was Jewish life in those places, and it thrived to great heights,” Maissner said. “The music is not morbid at all. It’s uplifting, it’s bright, and some of it is subdued and reflective.”
One segment – unusual for a Holocaust-related event – will feature music from the 18th-century inauguration of the synagogue in Siena, Italy, “to show there was Jewish culture in those countries for centuries before the Nazi occupation,” Maissner told The CJN.
Probably the oldest piece is a selection from Italy by Jewish Renaissance composer Salamone Rossi, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
As well, there will be music from Hungary, Holland, France (an 18th-century circumcision cantata written in Provence) Germany – “very much Mendelsohnian and 19th-century Romantic” – a piece from Austria by Franz Schubert, and even music from Yugoslavia, Maissner said.
The end of the concert will feature a memorial section that will include two Partisan songs and “a very modern Kaddish.”
As well, there will be music composed in Terezin, a propaganda camp to show that inmates, who performed there in orchestras and theatre groups, were being treated well. A segment from Brundibar, the children’s opera performed there, will be included.
Lachan, which Maissner created in 1993, performed in Nuremburg, Germany, 10 years ago in concerts aimed at fostering reconciliation between Jews and Germans. “It’s a very unique chamber group,” he said. “We’ve travelled the world over.”