Jewish Journal


April 12, 2007

Dual concerts embrace the best of ‘banished music’


Izzy Furman. Photo  Courtesy 'Verfemte Music'/ Brigitte Medvin

Izzy Furman. Photo Courtesy 'Verfemte Music'/ Brigitte Medvin

Almost seven decades after the Nazis murdered and banished many of Europe's most renowned composers, a group of German artists will honor the musicians' work and lives at two local concerts.

The first performance will be on Sunday evening, April 15, at the Museum of Tolerance, and the second on Monday evening, April 16, at the UCLA Hillel Center. The names on the programs read like a roll call of famous Jewish composers of the 20th century from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Among them are Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Zeisl, Alexander Zemlinsky, Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullman and Wladyslaw Szpilman (memorably dramatized in Roman Polanski's film "The Pianist").

Less familiar may be the name of Izzy (Jack) Furman, but it is largely due to the devotion of his daughter that the music of Furman and his contemporaries, revived in Germany last year, is coming to Los Angeles.

The idea of memorializing not only the works, but also the lives and fates, of the Jewish composers originated in 2001 off the beaten track in the northern German city of Schwerin.

There Volker Ahmels, director of the Schwerin Conservatory, organized an international festival titled, "Verfemte Musik," which can be translated as ostracized or silenced or banished music.

Last fall, the festival encored, with young musicians throughout Europe competing to perform at the five-day event.

As a key feature, the competitors not only had to master the complex repertoire, but study the struggles of the persecuted composers, and were given the chance to meet with Holocaust survivors.

Among the latter was Brigitte Medvin of Los Angeles, who was deeply moved by an exhibit on her father's life, conceived and created by Schwerin high school students.

Her father, Furman, was an accomplished and popular violinist, bandleader, composer and jazz pioneer on the swinging Berlin scene of the 1920s and throughout Europe.

With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the same year Furman's daughter was born, the life of the Polish-born musician worsened steadily, and he returned to Poland.

During the war years, father, mother and daughter were separated, each surviving on their own.

Furman fought with the partisans; his wife, Annemarie, lived under false papers in Warsaw; and their daughter was hidden as a "Catholic" child.

After the war, Furman went back to his music in Berlin, entertaining the reviving Jewish community and Allied soldiers, and composing some of his best-known tunes.

In 1949, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Minneapolis, where "Izzy," now "Jack," worked in a factory, but still managed to form his own band.

A business card of that time offers "Music for All Occasions -- Jewish, Russian, Polish, Gypsie -- and all kinds of folk and dance music."

Eventually, Furman and his wife followed their now-married daughter to Los Angeles, where he died in 1971 at the age of 67.

Among the artists at the two Los Angeles concerts are duo pianists Volker Ahmels and Friederike Haufe and soprano Katrin Burghardt, all from Germany, and Polish pianist Milena Piszczorowicz.

Sponsors include the German Foreign Ministry, consulates general of Germany and Israel in Los Angeles, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Hillel at UCLA, Jeunesses Musicales Deutschland and the Goethe Institut.

Sunday's event at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., will start at 6:30 p.m. with an exhibit on Furman's life, followed by the concert at 7:30 p.m. For reservations, phone (310) 772-2529. Earlier that day, the Schwerin musicians will participate in Simon Wiesenthal Center's Holocaust Remembrance ceremonies at 10 a.m.

Monday's concert at Hillel at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., begins at 7 p.m. For reservations, call (310) 208-3081, ext. 108.

Admission is free for both concerts, but reservations are required.

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