A review of the concert ‘Music in the time of Anne Frank’

Deborah Nemko, professor of piano at Bridgewater university in Boston, recently gave a house concert at Alice’s Wonderland BnB in Lamlash entitled “Music in the Time of Anne Frank”, sponsored by The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities. Written by Alice Maxwell.

Alice Maxwell and Deborah Nemko

Deborah was born in 1965 in Chicago, and had piano lessons from an early age. Some of her least favourite memories were being asked to perform at family gatherings. She largely focuses on twentieth century music and has a passion for collecting mushrooms.

In 1983 she studied music at the University of Illinois. Her third year was spent at the Manchester University music department where she became friends with Alice Maxwell (now living in Lamlash). After university the pair went their separate ways, but after 33 years Debbie managed to track Alice down and their renewed friendship led to this wonderful concert here on Arran.

Deborah’s favorite music history teacher, Alex Ringer was a holocaust survivor and inspired her research project “Suppressed and Forgotten Dutch composers of World War II”. In 2015 Deborah was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship which enabled her to spend time in Amsterdam to pursue her research. She interviewed families of survivors and discovered unpublished manuscripts.

During her research Deborah unearthed some beautiful music including pieces written by female composers and her concert began with a Prelude by Henriette Bosmans (1895-1952). Also well known as a pianist, Henriette began teaching at the Amsterdam Conservatory at the age of 17. She went on to become one of the most important Dutch composers of the early twentieth century. She wrote in the German Romantic style, and was particularly admired by Benjamin Britten.

Géza Frid was Hungarian and studied piano and composition in Budapest with Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. He became a Dutch citizen in 1948. Deborah played from his “12 caricatures musicales Op 8”. His music is widely published.

Daniel Belinfante went into hiding during the Nazi invasion of Holland where he paid the rent of some elderly neighbours under a false name, and listened to the World Service to provide news of the war to his friends. His hiding place was revealed and he was sent to Auschwitz. Deborah played his haunting Lento Mystiek which has overtones of folk as well as the tolling of bells which Belinfante could hear from his place of hiding in Amsterdam during the war.

Belinfante was heavily influenced by the French composers Ravel, Poulenc and Darius Milhaud. He was so keen on Milhaud that many of his works had “Darius” in their name. Belinfante tragically died in hospital in Furstengrube just days before the Russians liberated the camp and his music has been largely forgotten since then, until re-discovered by Dr Nemko.

In addition, we heard music by Leo Smit- during his lifetime the most famous of the Dutch composers. Smit was very prolific and his music is performed today. He died in Sobibor concentration camp in Poland at the age of 42.
Fania Chapiro was another female composer, still largely unpublished. Her Rondeau Hassidique makes use of typically Jewish intervals, characteristic of Klezmer music. She survived the war and composed and performed prolifically until her death in 1994.

Lastly we heard music by Dick Kattenburg whose music is heavily influenced by Ravel and the up and coming jazz scene. Most of his music was never performed, and has only recently been rediscovered.

Finally, the concert was followed by an encore performed by violinist and Lamlash resident, Alice Maxwell, accompanied by Deborah on piano. The piece, a tango, brought the stirring evening to a delightful close.
The intimacy of a house concert provided a perfect setting for Deborah to tell the stories of these composers and allow their legacy to be heard. Hushed silences were followed by rapturous applause – there was no doubt that the audience was enthralled by the evening.

Many thanks to Barb Taub who managed the publicity and arrangements, and provided a feast of delicious food.