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Classical Music: Musical memorial
Sundays at Three series marks the Holocaust with special program

By Anthony Sclafani

Published 4/8/10


It is no accident that the Sundays at Three chamber music series is calling its next live musical program a Holocaust Memorial Concert. The concert date, this Sunday, April 11, happens to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the program was postponed from an earlier season for just this occasion.

According to the series' artistic director and co-founder, Ronald Mutchnik, one of the works planned holds such significance that it required a "special environment" to be presented. The composition is "Quatuor pour la fin du temps" ("The Quartet for the End of Time"). It was written by composer Olivier Messiaen while he was in a German prisoner of war camp. Not only was it written during wartime, it was premiered before an audience in the camp by Messiaen and three other POW musicians.

"It's a work," explains Mutchnik, "that needs its own special place to be listened to and appreciated."

To that end, Mutchnik rounded up four of the best musicians in the region to bring Messiaen's unique composition to life. The performers include three members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: violinist Kenneth Goldstein, clarinetist William Jenken and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski, along with pianist Sylvie Beaudoin.

The concert has some local flavor as well, since Jenken, Skoraczewski and Beaudoin all live in Howard County. (Beaudoin also sits on the board of Sundays at Three.)

Music fans should prepare themselves for an intense listening experience when the Messiaen is performed as the sole presentation in the second half of the program.

"The piece goes from the darkest and most violent sounding music to music that's very ethereal and heavenly," he explains. "It needs to be in a place by itself on the program. I don't think it's right to have it as part of a collection of lots of other things."

Messiaen was a French composer who was born in 1908 and died in 1992. He's known for a variety of musical accomplishments, such as writing compositions inspired by the chirping of birds. But Mutchnik believes this particular quartet held special significance for him.

"Messiaen himself said that he felt many people misunderstood it," Mutchnik explains. "He said he never felt that he had an audience that understood what his music was about more than that audience -- literally, the captive audience -- that first heard it. Besides the people who were prisoners of war at the camp, this included some of the prison guards themselves.

"It's very important that people take it all in -- much the same way the prisoners of war had to take it in," Mutchnik continues. "They heard the violent stuff mixed in with the ethereal stuff, and it really captured the kind of totality of their experience. Because this is what happens to people when they're put in very desperate situations: They run the course from complete terror and fear to feeling that they can get beyond it all and escape from it all."

'Sense of hope'

The concert will also showcase young talent in its first half. Four award-winning Howard County students will perform four pieces for string quartet that were composed by inmates at the Terezín Concentration Camp.

The Sundays at Three series presents young musicians at one concert per year. This year's students include Evangeline Chandran, who is this year's concertmistress of the Maryland All-State Middle School Orchestra; and Emily Park, who is the concertmistress of the Howard County Middle School Gifted and Talented Orchestra.

Also featured will be Jessica Sharkey, the principal viola of the Peabody Preparatory Symphony Orchestra; and Alex Krew, winner of the Bela Silva Award at Peabody Conservatory.

The students will perform "Praeludium" by Viktor Kohn, "Uv'Tzeil K'Nofecho" ("In the Shadow of Your Wings") by Zikmund Schul, "Gavotte" by Egon Ledec, and "Lied Ohne Worte" ("Song Without Words") by Frantisek Domazlicky.

Having students perform, says Mutchnik, "gives a sense of hope in the future.

"Young people represent the future of the world. So I thought it was especially important for them to learn something about this kind of music and to play it."

Mutchnik himself was recently named winner of the 2010 Howie Award, which recognizes outstanding artists who have contributed a high level of talent and vision to the community.

A resident of Ellicott City and a professional violinist, Mutchnik will be kicking off the concert with a short solo piece, "Yizkor," which means remember in Hebrew, by American composer Charles Miller.

Being Jewish himself, Mutchnik says the concert's theme is deeply personal to him.

"If it wasn't for the good fortune that my grandparents had the foresight to leave Czarist Russia when they did, they might have been among the Jews who lived in Europe who were then captured and taken by the Nazis," he explains. "So by virtue of the fact that they moved away when they did, I came into existence."

He also notes the concert should have universal appeal, since Messiaen was a Catholic composer who found himself a prisoner of war.

"Especially in our day and age, we want to remember and acknowledge that certain people were singled out in particular, and that this is something that still goes on," he says. "It happens in Sudan and Darfur. It happens in Bosnia. There are other holocausts.

"The reason for a remembrance day is not so much to remember just what happened or that it happened mainly to Jewish people in Europe, but to remember that we should never let it happen again."

Sundays at Three's Holocaust Memorial Concert will take place Sunday, April 11, 3 p.m., in the Christ Episcopal Church, in Columbia, 6800 Oakland Mills Road, opposite Dobbin Road. Admission is $15. Anyone under age 18 will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. See www.SundaysAtThree.org or call 410-992-0145.

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