Review: Kristallnacht, Wellington 2019

The original full-length review can be found here.

By Peter Mechen, 10/11/2019

Beth El Synagogue (the Wellington Jewish Community Centre), in partnership with
Te Kōki New Zealand School of Music (Victoria University of Wellington) presents:
KRISTALLNACHT – Unity Concert, 2019

This concert was a commemoration of the anti-Jewish events of 9/10 November, 1938, (“Kristallnacht”) which took place throughout the Third Reich

Music by Schulhoff, Weinberg, Farr, Korngold and Pigovat, along with jazz and cabaret selections

Selection of jazz and cabaret music from the camps
Barbara Graham (soprano)/David Barnard (piano)/Ben van Leuven (clarinet)
Te Kōki Trio

Beth El Synagogue (Wellington Jewish Community Centre)
Mt.Cook, Wellington

Sunday, 10th November, 2019

We were welcomed to the Beth El Synagogue (the Wellington Jewish Community Centre) by Rabbi Ariel Tal, our host for the evening, who talked about the words of the Torah as having a similar “song of life” quality to that of the concert we were about to hear; and then by Deborah Hart, the Chair of the Holocaust Centre, who drew a poignant and powerful comparison with the events of Kristellnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”) throughout Hitler’s Reich in 1938, and the recent attack on the mosques in Christchurch, contrasting the sounds of glass shattering with the comforting and restorative strains of the music programmed for tonight’s concert.

Other speakers were Adam Awad from Somalia, now a resident of New Zealand and an advocate for refugees through organisations he helped to found such as the Changemakers Refugee Forum and the National Refugee Network, and Professor Donald Maurice, presently the Acting Head of Te Koki New Zealand School of Music, who talked of the collaborations that have taken place between the NZSM and The Holocaust Centre since the historic concert of 2008 at which Boris Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem was premiered.

The concert concluded with a “selection of jazz and cabaret music from the camps” – beginning with a tango number put across with tremendous flair and a good deal of power of presence and voice by soprano Barbara Graham, realising the song’s ever-agglomerating intensity and focus towards a terrific climax – it sounded like Kurt Weill and it was! – a work called “Youkali” a “tango-habanera”, written in 1934 for an opera “Marie Galante”, the song a plea for peace and love in an imagined land “Youkali” of hope and desire. Graham was accompanied by pianist David Barnard and clarinettist Ben van Leuven.

For Graham’s final three songs, David Barnard took up the piano-accordion – the first of these was called “When a small package arrives”. Sung in Dutch, Graham delivered the wistful opening with pent-up longing, which broke into a polka-rhythm for the song’s main body, the singer charmingly translating the words for us during the music’s middle instrumental section.  Then came the “Westerbork Serenade”, famously and bizarrely recorded by two of the transit camp’s inmates, a popular singing duo ”Johnny and Jones”, in 1944, and here sung by both Graham and Barnard with fervour and energy. The Te Kōki Trio joined the duo for the final “Auschwitz Tango”, the words of the song, incredibly, written by a twelve year-old girl in Auschwitz, and translated by Graham at the song’s beginning – the music was dark, tragic and incredibly defiant, and the performance by the singer exemplary. It was all put across with almost unbearably laden strength of feeling, and so very movingly strong and resistant-sounding at the end, a veritable ballade of courage in the face of adversity and persecution – which, of course, was what the concert and its context was all about. An extraordinary experience!