Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín
What: A three-day symposium with music and dance performances, photo exhibits and panel discussions.
Information: 477-6060, www.texasperformingarts.org/terezin
Daniel Hope & Friends: “Music from Terezin”
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: McCullough Theatre
Daniel Hope & Friends: “Forbidden Music”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: McCullough Theatre
Spectrum Dance Theatre: “The Theatre of Needless Talents”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bass Concert Hall
Photo Exhibit: Work by Dennis Darling and Lori Kantor
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
Where: Bass Concert Hall lobby
Context vexes the arts.
How to present the music and art created by prisoners at Terezín (Theresienstadt), the so-called “model ghetto” the Nazis created near Prague as a propaganda effort to fool the Allies?
Included among the more than 150,000 Terezín inmates — mostly Jews from Czechoslovakia, as well as from Germany and Austria — were some of the most notable artists, composers, musicians, filmmakers and writers of the time. The Nazis exploited the talents of Terezín inmates, using their creativity to present the camp as a cultural community. The Nazis even hosted a 1944 visit by hapless representatives of the International Red Cross, who were tricked into thinking Terezín was where Jews lived under “protection.”
Terezín inmates formed several concert orchestras and chamber music groups. Composers wrote music. Stage performances were even produced. An arts and literary magazine was published. A jazz band formed.
Yet only 12 percent of those sent to Terezín survived.
This week, the University of Texas presents “Creativity in the Face of Death,” a three-day program of performances and other events that explore the ongoing influence the artists of Terezín had.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, celebrated British violinist and musical activist Daniel Hope presents two chamber concerts of music by Terezín composers and music composed in response to the Terezín and Holocaust tragedy. For both concerts, Hope will be joined by Austin’s Miró Quartet and by Austin baritone David Small.
On Thursday, the noted Seattle-based choreographer Donald Byrd brings his “Theatre of Needless Talents,” a dance that pays homage to Terezín artists as well other victims of genocide and hate.
Byrd set his compelling modern dance piece to the jazz-laced music of Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech Jewish composer who died in the Holocaust. A string trio plays live on the stage with the dancers. And Byrd’s dance takes its name from a cabaret group launched in 1930s Prague by Czech Jewish performer Karel Svenk, who died in the Holocaust. “I was really curious about these musicians and artists that died during the ware that we have no awareness of. And somehow their place in history was eliminated by the death,” Byrd told an interviewer in 2008 when he created the piece.
Lectures, artists panels and films round out the programming of “Creativity in the Face of Death.”
And at the Bass Concert Hall, an exhibit of photographs by Lori Kantor and Dennis Darling will go on display.
Darling, who teaches photojournalism at UT, has spent the past several years photographing Terezín survivors, an ever-dwindling group. Darling took many of the portraits at the Terezín site and also at rail stations where people were forcibly rounded up and transported.
“This is not just a historical revisiting of certain works of art or music,” says Kathy Panoff, director of Texas Performing Arts which organized the events, along with UT’s Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies. “We’re curating an experience for the community. Great artists are compelled to create, to produce art, even under the most dire circumstances.”
The resonance that the creative drive has across the decades makes the music composed in a concentration camp in the 1940s still relevant today, Panoff said.
“It’s sad to say that genocide and hate crimes are still going on today. But the arts give you the tools to help you understand those kinds of tragedies and help you discuss it in a safer environment.”