An evening with pianist Deborah Nemko

Isle of Arran Concert by Dr. Deborah Nemko: Music of Remembrance and Celebration

When music professor, researcher, and pianist Dr. Deborah Nemko performed to standing-room-only crowds on Arran in late 2019, nobody could have guessed it would be the last live event the Arran Jewish Cultural Association would sponsor for over two years. At the time, Dr. Nemko was visiting Alice Maxwell of Lamlash, a friend since their days attending Manchester University. Their reunion in August, 2019 inspired a house concert hosted by Alice Maxwell featuring “Music in the Time of Anne Frank”.

Dr. Nemko’s research specialty is recovering works composed by Dutch composers during the holocaust and restoring them to the performance repertory. With the pandemic ebbing, Dr. Nemko agreed to perform a new house concert at Alice Maxwell’s Lamlash home. Appropriately, her return on 27 August heralded the first new live event for Arran Jewish Cultural Association. Deborah Nemko presented a program of Music of Remembrance and Celebration, featuring suppressed and forgotten works by Dutch Jewish composers and their non-Jewish allies.

Hosted by Alice Maxwell in her Lamlash home, Dr. Nemko’s house concert provided a mix of stunning performances of holocaust-era composers. But what made the evening truly memorable was Dr. Nemko’s commentary combining the composers’ stories with her memorable renditions of their works.

We heard how Dick Kattenburg composed even while in hiding from the Nazis, and how his life and brilliant musical career ended when he was captured and sent to Auschwitz, murdered at age 24. In playing his composition Deux Valses, Dr. Nemko treated her audience to Kattenburg’s bright and optimistic blend of jazz and echoes of Ravel. When child prodigy pianist Fania Chapiro’s performing career was cut short by the war, she began to compose, eventually returning to performance after the war. In compositions such as Prélude, we hear Chapiro’s combination of lyrical and romantic themes.

Before playing Petite Rhapsodie Hongroise, Dr. Nemko explained that composer Géza Frid was a Hungarian musician trapped in the Netherlands at the beginning of World War II. Forbidden to perform, he spent his war years as a member of the resistance, becoming a prolific forger of coupons and identity documents. The program also included Le Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel, and Berceuse by Johanna Bordewijk-Roepman, musicians whose support of Jewish composers led to Nazi suppression of their own works and performing. The concert ended on a popular high note as Dr. Nemko’s piano joined with Alice Maxwell on violin in two rousing final pieces.

The crowd who gathered to listen to Dr. Nemko’s playing and comments greeted the return of live performances with enthusiasm and delight. Chatting around a groaning table of shared treats, all agreed they are looking forward to future events on Arran.


Dr. Deborah Nemko. Concert in the home of Alice Maxwell, Lamlash.


(Left to right) Barb Taub of AJCA (Arran Jewish Cultural Association), Alice Maxwell (hostess), Sharon Shenhav (also of AJCA), and Dr. Deborah Nemko, pianist


Dr. Nemko demonstrating the stained and damaged music she works to restore


Audience was masked but enthusiastic.


A duet by old friends: Alice Maxwell and Deborah Nemko playing music from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera

With many thanks to Barb Taub for her words and images. All photo credits: Barb Taub, apart from featured image,credit: Deborah Nemko.