Sunday Afternoon, January 28, 2018, at 2:00Isaac Stern Auditorium / Ronald O. Perelman StageConductors Notes Q&A with Leon Botstein at 1:00
Hollow Victory: Jews in Soviet Russia after
the World WarLEON BOTSTEIN, Conductor
MIECZYSAW WEINBERG Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes
MIECZYSAW WEINBERG Symphony No. 5 in F minor, Op. 76 Allegro moderato Adagio sostenuto Allegro Andantino
VENIAMIN FLEISHMAN Rothschilds Violin Yakov (Bronze): MIKHAIL SVETLOV, Bass Rothschild: AARON BLAKE, Tenor Shahkes: MARC HELLER, Tenor Marfa: JENNIFER RODERER, Mezzo-soprano
members of the BARD FESTIVAL CHORALE JAMES BAGWELL, Director
This afternoons concert will run approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes including one 20-minute intermission.
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FROM THEMusic DirectorThe Courage of Friendship: The Composer as Jew in the Soviet Unionby Leon Botstein
The historical thread running throughthis concert program is the presenceand persecution of the Jews of Polandand Soviet Russia in the mid-20th cen-tury. The nearly total annihilation ofthe Jews that began in 1939 with theNazi invasion of Poland and proceededwith increased intensity after Hitlersinvasion of the Soviet Union in 1941had an unexpected and grim epilogue.In 1948 Stalin launched his post-warcampaign against the surviving Jewishpopulation in the Soviet Union. Each ofthe three composers on this programstruggled to come to terms with thisextended period of unparalleled brutal-ity in the history of anti-Semitism.
Veniamin Fleishman, at age 23, beganto study with Dmitri Shostakovich.Fleishman was both Jewish and a Sovietpatriot. He volunteered to join in thedefense of Leningrad in 1941 and waskilled early on in the siege of the city.The protracted and savage Nazi attemptto eradicate Leningrad deeply affectedShostakovich. He was evacuated tosafety in the East but wrote whatquickly became internationally his mostfamous symphony, the Seventh. Its pop-ularity inspired Bartk to quote it sar-donically in the 1945 Concerto forOrchestra. Shostakovichs Seventh waswritten in response to the siege, the suf-fering of its inhabitants and the heroismof the citys defenders.
While in exile during the war,Shostakovich also went to greatlengths to get hold of Fleishmansincomplete manuscript of a one-actopera based on Anton Chekhovs short
story Rothschilds Violin. He com-pleted and orchestrated the work in1944. It was a labor of love and admi-ration. But the persistence if notincrease in anti-Semitism after the warmade any performance of the workimpossible despite Shostakovichs advo-cacy. Only four years after the 1956start of de-Stalinization and the thawin communist Russia, a concert perfor-mance was arranged in 1960. The firststaged performance occurred in 1968 atthe Leningrad Conservatory, the placewhere Fleishman had been a studentand Shostakovich his teacher.
Shostakovichs relationship to theSoviet regime, both under Stalin andafter, until his death, has remained asubject of intense scrutiny and debate.To what extent was he an officialvoice of the regime? Is there a subtextof dissent beneath the frequently affir-mative aesthetic surface of his works?Amidst the controversy, one salient factremains beyond dispute. Shostakovichwas free of anti-Semitism. And that wasapparent in his devotion to Fleishmansmemory, and in his steadfast friendshipwith Mieczysaw Weinberg, the Warsaw-born Jewish composer who fled eastinto the Soviet Union after the Nazioccupation of Poland.
Shostakovich met Weinberg during thewar. He persuaded Weinberg to moveto Moscow and remain in the SovietUnion. Weinberg became Shostakovichsclosest musical colleague and a dearfriend for the rest of his life. WhenWeinberg was arrested in 1953 duringthe height of Stalins anti-Jewish cam-paign, Shostakovich showed extraordi-nary courage. He intervened withLavrenti Beria, the head of the KGB, toseek Weinbergs release, but to no avail.
He pledged to place Weinbergs daugh-ter under his personal protection,thereby putting himself at risk. OnlyStalins death in March 1953 securedWeinbergs release and restoration toprofessional life. From then on, through-out the subsequent two decades,Shostakovich encouraged and pro-moted Weinbergs work as a composer.
It would be hard to imagine a biogra-phy that reveals the complexities andcontradictions associated with beingJewish and an artist in interwar Polandand in Soviet Russia before, during, andafter the Nazi defeat in 1945 morevividly and subtly than that of Weinberg.Weinbergs parents were professionalsin the Yiddish theatre: his father was amusician and his mother an actress. Theyfled to Warsaw from Kishinev (in theprovince of Bessarabia) in response tothe massacre of Jews in 1903 and 1905.The Kishinev pogrom became notori-ous throughout the world. It was markedboth by its startling violence and thethinly veiled, tacit consent of the Czaristregime. It spurred mass emigration onthe part of Jews and was easily exploitedon behalf of the Zionist cause. Thepogrom helped justify the idea that aJewish state in Palestine was the onlysolution to the precarious position ofJews in Europe; it also lent credence tothose Zionists who argued that Jews inthe meantime should form paramilitaryorganizations to defend themselves.
But Weinbergs parents were not Zion-ists. They mirrored the views of themajority of Russian Jews. They did notdream of a Jewish state in Palestine andtheir daily language was not a rapidlyevolving Hebrew. They were Yiddishspeakers and ardent defenders of Yid-dish as the national language of theJewish people. They were determinedto remain in Eastern Europe and weresympathetic to socialist organizationsthat saw a different path from that of
Zionism to overcome anti-Semitism inEurope. The solution lay not in the cre-ation of a Jewish state in Palestine, butin a socialist revolution at home afterwhich neither religion nor nationalidentity would remain a cause of dis-crimination and oppression.
The sympathies of Weinbergs parentsalso represented the view of most Jewsin interwar Poland in the years in whichthe young Weinberg grew up. In thePolish Census of 1931completedwhen Weinberg was 14 years oldoutof nearly 32 million Poles, roughly tenpercent were Jews. Out of these 3.1 mil-lion Jews, 2.5 million identified theirprimary language as Yiddish; only250,000 claimed Hebrew as their mainlanguage. The large Jewish communityin Warsaw, where Weinberg came ofage, represented 30 percent of the cityspopulation. Weinbergs parents choseto settle in Warsaw (then part of theRussian Empire) because it was the sin-gle largest Jewish urban center in Europe,and second in size only to New York.On the eve of World War II, in 1939,the year Weinberg graduated from theWarsaw Conservatory (where he dis-played brilliance as both pianist andcomposer), there were 350,000 Jews inWarsaw. The Warsaw Jewish commu-nity was exceptionally diverse, and con-tained everything from fully assimilatedand well-to-do, Polish-speaking, Jewishinhabitants to a large Yiddish-speaking,poor, working-class population, a vocalgroup of Zionists and devout orthodoxadherents to religion.
The sheer size of the Warsaw commu-nity made it possible for it to support athriving Yiddish theater world, Yiddishnewspapers and journals, and publish-ing houses. Weinberg began to work asa musician in the Yiddish theater at ageten. But this vital Jewish communitymet its tragic end at the hands of theNazis. Weinbergs parents and sister
perished. But Weinberg, as a vigorous20-year-old, understood that stayingbehind was not a promising option.Furthermore, like many non-Zionist,Yiddish-oriented Jews, he admiredsocialism and the Soviet Union.
Indeed for many Jews the Soviet Unionduring the 1920s and even the 1930sseemed a potential paradise, a placewhatever its faultsthat was built onan ideology that promised a betterfuture, a world of equality, free ofsuperstitious religion prejudice. TheSoviet Union after 1921 offered a con-trast to a Catholic and conservative,authoritarian, independent Poland,where anti-Semitism flourished. FleeingPoland was not merely a concessionborn out of necessity. Weinberg sur-vived the war in Soviet Russia, and nomatter how poor the treatment hereceived in the post-war years was, orhow extreme the danger from anti-Semitism he lived under, he remainedloyal to the ideals of the regime and thepromise of socialism.
Early on the new Soviet regime definedJews as a nation equivalent to the manyother legally recognized national andethnic groups in the Soviet Union. Yid-dish was deemed the language of theJewish nation. The state supported Yid-dish publishing houses, theatres, andYiddish culture and even sponsored arevision in Yiddish orthography. Yid-dish culture flourished under Sovietrule until the mid-1930s, and onceagain during the