Remembering Kristallnacht

Today’s concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre as part of the Canadian Opera Company’s noon-hour series was a special program titled “Remembering Kristallnacht”,  presented in partnership with the German Consulate of Toronto and the Neuberger’s 2018 Holocaust Education Week.

It’s the season for remembrances. November 11th happens to be the centennial of the Armistice ending the First World War. And it’s Holocaust Education Week. Today is also the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a collective explosion of violence often understood as the beginning of the Holocaust in Germany.


Violinist Atis Bankas

I remember meeting Atis Bankas in the early 1980s (no way he’d remember me), a new arrival proudly introduced to me at the Lithuanian House by my father-in-law Walter Dresher as a brilliant young violinist.

Today I had a reminder of that brilliance in his collaboration with pianist Constanze Beckmann.

Bankas introduced six segments to us, explaining connections:

  • Connections to Lithuania
  • Connections to the Holocaust
  • Connections making the program especially personal

Pianist Constanze Beckmann

Some of those links were relatively obvious ones, such as Ravel’s “Kaddish” to open. But one of the keys to the event were these explanations from Bankas, who brings not just his virtuosity but the history, the sense of the ways in which all these composers were inter-connected. In his gentle explanations we were party to a kind of act of remembrance as moving as anything we’d see or hear on November 11th. Culture is so much more than just the famous texts or the performances, but the web of relationships alluded to in Bankas’ explanations, and the fond hopes of these artists seeking to escape a murderous time.

Edwin Geist had tried to escape Germany, and his choice to go to Lithuania seemed like a good choice: but no, it was not far enough, as it turned out.

Polish born Szymon Laks lived for a time in Auschwitz but was somehow able to survive, passing away in the 1980s at a ripe age.

Leo Smit finished his sonata for flute & piano in February 1943, but by April had been deported & murdered. Bankas arranged this intriguing work for violin instead.

Yes we heard stories, but also marvelous music-making. In the latter part of the concert, particularly Joseph Yulyevich Achron’s “Hebrew Melody”, Bankas unleashed the most impressive display of lightning fast passage- work, but always soulful and idiomatic, and sometimes super-soft even while going so quickly. Beckmann was every bit his equal, supportive and strong but always balanced with the violin. The regular eye contact between the players was a big part of the event, and a pleasure to watch.

It was great to see a big enthusiastic crowd at the event including our host COC artistic director Alexander Neef.


Atis Bankas and Constanze Beckmann performing in the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, (photo: Karen E. Reeves)

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2 Responses to Remembering Kristallnacht

  1. Pingback: Steffani: more devotion than drama | barczablog

  2. Pingback: Pollyanna and the lessons of 2018 | barczablog

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