The second Shaol and Louis Pozez Jewish Fine Arts Symposium and Concert will take place on Monday, Jan. 12, and will explore the lives and music of European composers of Jewish descent who lived and created their works in a mostly Christian society. The symposium, sponsored by the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, will be held at the University of Arizona School of Music, room 146, from 3 to 6 p.m.
Presenters include Matthew Mugmon, Ph.D., “Jewish or American? Bloch’s Rhapsodies and the Search for Identity”; Jay Rosenblatt, Ph.D., “Franz Liszt: His Jewish Colleagues and Students”; Thomas Kovach, Ph.D., “Three Jewish Composers: Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Schoenberg”; Alexander Tentser, Ph.D., “Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Testament to Endurance”; and Louis Epstein, Ph.D., “Darius Milhaud and the Problem of Jewish Identity.”
Although Mahler and Mendelssohn were born into Jewish families, they lived most of their lives as Christians, and expressed their Jewish heritage through their music or ethical beliefs. Mahler grew up surrounded by the Yiddish language and klezmer music. Mendelssohn’s grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was a German philosopher who contributed to Haskalah, or the “Jewish Enlightenment” of the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe.
Three modern composers — Arnold Schoenberg, Ernest Bloch and the Polish-Soviet composer Weinberg — portrayed Jewish roots in their work despite the horrors they faced in the Holocaust. During the 20th century European Jewish communities faced painful existential questions. Entire Jewish communities perished along with their accumulated cultural material: folk songs, dances and literature. Hitler displayed the works of Jewish artists at the “Degenerative Art” exhibition in Germany.
Bloch and Schoenberg immigrated to the United States where they were able to continue teaching and composing. Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union where he remained productive in many music genres despite Stalin’s anti-Semitic policies and the later Soviet governments’ general reluctance to perform the music of Jewish composers.
Tentser, one of the symposium’s organizers, was born in Kiev, Ukraine. He met his wife, Anna Gendler, at the Moscow Music Academy, from which they both graduated in 1989. The couple moved to New York City in 1990 — the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union. That year, they came to Tucson to pursue doctoral programs at the UA.
“I’m Jewish and I’m connected to Jewish culture, especially through my father who was a musician,” says Tentser, a member of the music faculty of Pima Community College. “Not all Jewish people in the Soviet Union knew about their culture because it was so controlled. I realized how important it is. I think we have to remember our roots. Russian and Ukrainian life has been very difficult” for the Jewish people.
One of his interests is Jewish rights in the Soviet Union under Premier Joseph Stalin, and the expression of Jewish culture in other totalitarian countries.
For Tentser, in the academic community — and in daily life — history and culture are inextricably connected.
“The fine arts are an essential component of education because they provide an open venue for the individual expression and public discussion of important issues. They inspire the mind and nourish the soul,” says J. Edward Wright, Ph.D., director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies. For those reasons, Wright, together with Tentser and UA professor Daniel Asia, associated the Fine Arts Symposium and Concert with the Shaol and Louis Pozez Memorial Lecture Series.
The concert, following the symposium, will take place at Holsclaw Hall at 7 p.m. Guest artist Amid Peled, a well-known Israeli cellist, will play the cello that belonged to the late Pablo Casals. Peled will be accompanied by Tentser on piano. The duo will play the cycle “From Jewish Life” by Ernest Bloch, “Hungarian Rhapsody” by David Popper and “Kaddish” by the contemporary Russian-Israeli composer Mark Kopytman.
“The inaugural Symposium and Concert were smashing successes,” Wright told the AJP. “The symposium drew over 60 people, and the papers presented there were published as a book. The concert drew a capacity audience to Holsclaw Hall. Our community has a keen interest in the fine arts, and I expect this year’s events to be similarly successful.”
For more information, visit www.judaic.arizona.edu/ events.