‘Out of the Shadows’ puts Jewish artists in the spotlight

‘Out of the Shadows’ puts Jewish artists in the spotlight
An excerpt from 'Still Life with a Doll,' a painting by Ivan Bukovsky used in the ‘Mother Rachel and Her Children’ event on May 4.

Over the next 18 months, five cities around the world will present parts of “Out of the Shadows,” a wide-ranging selection of cabaret, chamber music, choral music, theater and literature from Jewish artists, most of them emigres and many affected by the Holocaust. In Madison, it’s happening now.

Yours truly managed to attend Monday night’s event, a chamber concert by performers from the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Pro Arte Quartet (whose members have been part of BDDS at various times). Held in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, an audience of significant size and extraordinary concentration experienced more than a concert.

For as we absorbed—or in some cases were battered by, enraptured or flat-out awed—by the music of Schoenberg (as arranged by Webern), Korngold and Bloch, an overarching thought occurred to me: In focused festival events such as these, particularly in the context of artists who paid the price of exile or with their own lives, audience members come with heightened expectations. And the players come with an even sharper sense of purpose, layered onto, as it were, their own creative passion; when the synergy begins to work in the concert venue, the result transcends far beyond the usual “I liked that piece” or “They sure played that one well.”

Unfortunate that space does not allow for a detailed critical review, but it must be mentioned that BDDS co-founders pianist Jeffrey Sykes and flutist Stephanie Jutt were emotional and artistic anchors in the Schoenberg Chamber Symphony No. 1, while the presence of clarinetist Joseph Morris reminded us how much he will be missed beyond his now-vacant chair in the Madison Symphony.

The Pro Arte Quartet (Suzanne Beia, violin, and Parry Karp, cello, had already appeared, and were now reunited with first violinist David Perry and violist Sally Chisholm) were wonderful in Korngold’s String Quartet No. 3. But it was the Pro Arte teaming with Sykes for Ernest Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 1 that just obliterated any sense of putting into words what the players gave us.

I suspect that all the remaining events will evince to some degree that kind of experience. They include Wednesday, May 3, a day of vocal music, with American and world premieres of Wilhelm Grosz in the afternoon, and “Oy, how he sung!” given at Mills Hall in the evening; the latter features a number of UW–Madison choirs is this “Journeys of Jewish Choral Music.”

The main event for May 4 is an 8 p.m. performance of “Mother Rachel and Her Children,” a commemorative oratorio in Yiddish about Jewish suffering and the Holocaust. The 1948 work was penned by Jac Weinstein, and is presented against a backdrop of paintings by Czech artist Ivan Bukovsky. David Ronis directs this international collaboration.

May 5 at 2:30 p.m. you can hear the Pro Arte Quartet and actors join forces for “Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer.” Klein perished in a Nazi concentration camp. The closing event at 7:30 is in the Capitol Theater; this “Collage Concert” brings back the Pro Arte, a couple of BDDS players, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra and Madison Youth Choirs in a collection of music that includes two world premieres. Ticketing and other details for all the events can be found here.

Other Musical May Flowers

You might think that with all the major resident musical groups at Overture Center clearing out earlier than usual (there’s a royal feline roaring into town, in case you haven’t noticed the billboards for “The Lion King,” running May 10-June 5), yet there are plenty of classical events on tap.

The Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos swings on May 7 and 8 with the return of legendary jazz pianist Dick Hyman; on Saturday you can watch work his magic in a workshop setting, and on Sunday at 4 p.m. it’s half solo recital and half jazz trio—and all magic.

Trevor Stephenson of Madison Bach Musicians fame time travels a couple of centuries to offer a concert-lecture at the First Unitarian Society. Playing an 1855 Bosendorfer, he will discuss the rebuilding of the magnificent keyboard and then unleash an exquisite program of Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven and more. Having recently experienced his captivating lecture style, I can say this is a can’t-miss event (because his musical credentials speak for themselves).

Saturday, May 21, is a pick ’em: You can catch the Ancora Quartet at the First Unitarian Society in an inviting program of Mozart, Schubert and Sullivan (yes, he did break free of Gilbert on occasion). The ensemble has celebrated the return of violinist Leanne League after a two-year leave of absence; that’s good news for all Madison classical fans.

You can also find con vivo…music with life! back in action that night at the First Congregational Church. Always providing stimulating programs and superb performances the ensemble is slated to offer unusual selections by Dvorak, Reger and Beethoven.

And don’t forget: Whether the weather is dastardly in December or magnificent in May, there’s no excuse not to enjoy a great concert. Madison is full of them!