February 5, 2007

Celebrating Survivors


Looking for a bright side to the Holocaust may seem like an idea too grim to contemplate, but something along these lines is at the root of an exceptional concert tonight at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium. The event, titled ”Partners of Hope,” will celebrate the heroic and selfless rescue efforts of the many who risked their lives to bring to safety Jews and others targeted by the Nazis for extinction.

The program brings together an array of music — classical and popular, instrumental and vocal — performed by musicians from different countries, and features readings and personal accounts of the Holocaust. ”The very diversity of the program is intended to emphasize the breadth of the rescue effort,” the vice president of the Wallenberg Foundation, one of the sponsors, Abigail Tenembaum, said. ”The tremendous bravery of the rescuers ensured the survival of so many, even as they stood at death’s door.”

On the program are songs by the popular Israeli singer and guitarist David Broza and opera arias by the rising Bulgarian soprano Anna Valeva, who will also sing songs by Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin, a composer credited with founding the Bulgarian vocal school. In addition, Ms. Valeva will sing the world premiere of the American composer Robert Cohen’s ”Of Eternity Considered as a Closed System,” an orchestral setting for solo voice and chorus of texts by Hyam Plutzik, a poet who wrote on Jewish themes, anti-Semitism, and humanism. Plutzik, who died in 1962, is the subject of a soon-to-be-released documentary, ”Hyam Plutzik: American poet,” by Academy Award-nominated directors Christine Choy and Ky-ling Siegel, and his family is helping to make the concert an intergenerational event by inviting young people to meet with the participants, including Holocaust survivors.

”Partners of Hope” was originally conceived by the Bulgarian-born producer and composer Radi Georgiev as a commemoration of Bulgaria’s remarkable achievement in saving its Jewish population of nearly 50,000. Despite trains assembled for their deportation, the Bulgarian populace forced a reversal of the deportation decree. ”In the northern part of Bulgaria, farmers had threatened to lie down on the railway tracks to prevent passage of the deportation trains,” Martin Gilbert wrote in his book, ”The Holocaust.”

Likewise, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, in whose honor the foundation was established, is credited with saving perhaps 100,000 Hungarian Jews by issuing ”protective passports” identifying them as Swedes and through other resourceful means. But Partners in Hope singles out no one individual or achievement and rather honors the full extent of the rescue effort. As Mr. Georgiev put it, the event represents ”a coming together to learn from the past and affirm a belief in the future.”

In addition to the musical selections, the concert will involve the participation of Holocaust survivors, rescuers’ relatives, and other notable figures, including Shashi Tharoor, undersecretary general of the United Nations, and Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. They will read from diaries, letters, and other writings documenting the rescue.

Mr. Wroe, who also conducts at the New York City Opera, stressed that Partners in Hope ”is a concert, not a memorial service.” He pointed out that the Mozart symphony, while one of the greatest works of musical classicism, is also a ”troubled” work that expresses an agitation and restlessness within us all, which makes it especially apt for the occasion.

”If one explanation for the Holocaust is that one people decided that another people or group was not one of them and should be eliminated, music stands for the opposite — a universality that makes us all the same,” he said. ”It’s language that can be comprehended intellectually and emotionally across all political borders.”