THIS CONCERT HAS BEEN CANCELED - The Forbidden Music: Brundibár
This year’s edition of the Baltic Sea Festival has been cancelled. Read more at balticseafestival.com
In the Theresienstadt concentration camp, Hans Krása’s children’s opera Brundibár was performed by the same children and adults who had already performed it in Prague, before they were imprisoned. The musicians and actors were executed in Auschwitz, but the opera lives on and inspires today’s composers to continue spreading the message of freedom and justice.
Of the many musical works performed in the Theresienstadt concentration camp a few miles north of Prague, Hans Krása’s children’s opera Brundibár has become almost legendary. Here it is performed in the Great Synagogue of Stockholm along with two choral works that give the children’s opera a darker resonance. One of them, Australian-German Brett Dean’s choral arrangement of a poem written by a classmate of Dean’s daughter, after meeting one of the Brundibár children in Berlin in 1997. The other is Nigun by Swedish composer Jacob Mühlrad, inspired by Jewish mysticism and premièred by the Swedish Radio Choir in 2014.
Hans Krása composed Brundibár from lyrics by the avant-garde artist Adolf Hoffmeister for a competition sponsored by the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture in 1938. However, no prize was awarded and the music score disappeared in the turmoil following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939. The score was only discovered 35 years after the war and then donated to the museum established in Theresienstadt.
When the idea was proposed in the summer of 1941 to perform Brundibár at a Jewish boy’s home in Prague, only the piano reduction was available. The rehearsals took place in secret, first led by Rafael Schächter and after his deportation by Rudolf Freudenfeld. A pianist, a violinist and a percussionist took part in the two performances. Krasá himself had already been transported to Theresienstadt. The work resumed there after the children from the Jewish orphanage were deported to the camp in 1943.
Paradoxically, the conditions for concert performances were better in the camp than outside, as the Nazis wanted to show the outside world that Theresienstadt was a “model camp”. In a clip from the propaganda film The Führer Gives a City to the Jews, the children sing the final song from Brundibár before the curtain falls in front of an audience of applauding children.
The plot of the opera is simple: Aninka and Pepíček’s mother is ill and the children cannot afford to buy milk for her. The children imitate the organ-grinder Brundibár, who collects money on the street corner, but he shouts at them and chases them away. With the help of a dog, a cat and a sparrow the children drown out Brundibár with their singing. That Brundibár represented Hitler was not hard to understand. Brundibár steals and hides the children’s money, but the children and animals find the hiding place. The weak have overcome the strong.
Brundibár was performed no less than 55 times before the children performing it were sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz in September 1944. On October 16, Krása and his fellow composers were also sent to Auschwitz: Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein and Viktor Ullmann, whose opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis is performed in Berwaldhallen this spring. These talented and now well-documented composers had had careers before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. Simply considering their lives and works from a Holocaust perspective would diminish their achievements.
Brundibár has now been performed countless times, including an English-language version, based on Tom Kushner and Maurice Sendak’s book. In Sweden, it was performed at the Malmö City Theatre in 1994 and in Project Brundibár as part of a newly written play by the author Åke Leijonhufvud. There are also several recordings, among them a sound recording from Czech television from 1990.
Text: Henry Larsson
The concert has been postponed
The concert has been postponed to the Baltic Sea Festival 2021
For more than 90 years, the Swedish Radio Choir has contributed to the development of the Swedish a cappella tradition. Under the leadership of legendary conductor Eric Ericson, the choir earned great international renown and is hailed as one of the best choirs in the world today. The choir members’ ability to switch between powerful solo performances and seamlessly integrating themselves in the ensemble creates a unique and dynamic instrument praised by critics and music lovers alike, as well as by the many guest conductors who explore and challenge the choir’s possibilities.
The Swedish Radio Choir was founded the same year as the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts and the choir had its first concert in May 1925. Right from the start, the choir had high ambitions with a conscious aim to perform contemporary music.
Since January 2019, Marc Korovitch is the choirmaster of the Swedish Radio Choir with responsibility for the ensemble’s continued artistic development. Two of the choir’s former chief conductors, Tõnu Kaljuste and Peter Dijkstra, were appointed conductors laureate in November 2019. Both maintain a close relationship with the choir and make regular guest performances. A new chief conductor is currently being recruited.
The chief conductor and artistic director of Västerås Sinfonietta, Simon Crawford-Phillips, is also a piano soloist and chamber musician. He made his debut as a conductor in 2013 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and has since led ensembles such as the English Chamber Orchestra, Dalasinfoniettan and Musica Vitae. As a pianist, he has played with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Colin Currie and Anne Sofie von Otter, among others. He has performed with the Kungsbacka Piano Trio at Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, at the BBC Proms and at international festivals. Crawford-Phillips is a guest lecturer at the Academy of Music and Drama in Gothenburg and at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The actor and director Dan Turdén’s roles have included Lambert in Harold Pinter’s Celebration and Benjamin in Strindberg’s Easter. In 2006, he founded the theatre company Kamraterna, which has staged Harold Pinter’s The Lover, Thomas Brussig’s Heroes Like Us, as well as operas such as Mozart’s Zaide and Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief, which Turdén directed. More recently, they staged a much discussed performance of Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins as well as Stravinsky’s Renard///.
The dancer and choreographer Sara Ribbenstedt has performed with the opera company Kamraterna in their staging of Renard by Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, as well as in the choreographer Anna Vnuk’s play Möta hösten tillsammans? at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern. She has also performed in the acclaimed Nils Holgersson by Susanne Marko and Leif Stinnerbom at Västanå Teater, and in the Malmö-based wecollective’s performance LÅR. She studied at the School of Dance and Circus in Stockholm.