It's the first day of summer, and I've been thinking about Czech composer Pavel Haas, whose 110th birthday falls on June 21.
The protégé of composer Leos Janacek didn't write a huge amount of music before dying in a gas chamber at the Auschwitz concentration camp in October, 1944. But what he did compose deserves a listen.
There's a Toronto connection to all of this: One of his fellow Holocaust inmates at the camp in Terezin (Teresienstadt), where he and a group of other imprisoned artists forged a semblance of a musical life before most were sent to their death there and at places like Auschwitz, was conductor Karel Ancerl.
Ancerl conducted the premiere of Haas's Study for Strings at Terezin. (In the photo, taken from a Nazi propaganda film about the wonderful town built by Hitler for Jewish people north of Prague, the audience applauds the Study for Strings, with Ancerl on the podium, and Haas bowing awkwardly in front.)
Ancerl reconstructed the full piece from various parts that he had managed to salvage after World War II. Ancerl became the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1968, staying on until his death at age 65 in 1973.
The Independent published an interesting article on Haas and Terezin in 1997, in connection with a series of concert performances of Haas's 1938 opera, The Charlatan.
Here is a performance of A Study for Strings, accompanied by a montage of period images of Haas, Prague and Terezin:
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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