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From a Vanished World
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This project is funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

+ About the Performance
This program was recorded 12/06/2012 at Symphony Space.

This program features Terezin concentration camp composer Viktor Ullmann's Quartet No. 3, a new work by Gerald CohenPlaying for Our Lives, a contemporary tribute to the musical life of the camp, and Shostakovich's towering Quartet No. 8, dedicated to the victims of fascism and war. A conversation with Terezin survivor Ela Weissberger and Gerald Cohen illuminates this powerful music.




Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Quartet No. 8 (1960)

I. Largo

II. Allegro molto

III. Allegretto

IV. Largo

V. Largo


Victor Ullman (1898-1944)

Quartet No. 3 (1960)

I. Allegretto Moderato

II. Largo

III. Rondo-Finale


--Ela Weissberger and Gerald Cohen in conversation with Laura Kaminsky--


Gerald Cohen (1960-)

Playing for our lives (2012)  

I. Beryozkele

II. Brundibar

III. Die Irae

+ About the Artists

Cassatt Quartet
Muneko Otani, violin
Jennifer Leshnower, violin
Sarah Adams, viola
Nicole Johnson, cello

Acclaimed as one of America’s outstanding ensembles, the Manhattan based Cassatt String Quartet is equally adept at classical masterpieces and contemporary music. This season they celebrated the summer solstice with noted Astrovisualist, Dr. Carter Emmart at New York’s Hayden Planetarium in a spell- binding performance that was described by The New York Times music critic James Oestreich as “gamely and artistic.” They tour Mexico, collaborate with pianist, Ursula Oppens and violinist, Mark Peskanov at Bargemusic (NY) and Music Mountain (CT) and return to Boston’s WGBH “Drive Time Live” with pianist, Judith Stillman. The Cassatts will premiere Daniel S. Godfrey’s Cello Quintet, a 2012 Chamber Music America commission, with cellist Marc Johnson at Symphony Space in March. They will be in-residence at Texas A & M University and return to their seventh annual Texas educational residency, Cassatt In The Basin! which includes a Triple Quartet performed side-by-side with students and the Cassatt. The Cassatt holds residencies as New York’s Symphony Space “All-Stars” and with the Hot Springs Music Festival and Maine’s Seal Bay Festival of Contemporary American Music. The Cassatt has recorded for the Koch, Naxos, New World, Point, CRI, Tzadik, and Albany labels and is named for the celebrated American impressionist painter Mary Cassatt.

Composer/vocalist Gerald Cohen is equally at home in the composition of chamber music, choral music, opera, and litur- gical music, for all of which he has won awards and praise, and for which Gramophone Magazine noted his “linguistic fluidity and melodic gift.” His music has been commissioned by ensembles including the Cassatt String Quartet, the Verdehr Trio, the Grneta Ensemble, the Franciscan String Quartet, Chesapeake Chamber Music, the Wave Hill Trio, the New York Virtuoso Singers, St. Bartholomew’s Church, and the Battery Dance Company, and has also been performed by the Borromeo String Quartet, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony, the Westchester Philharmonic, and many other ensembles and soloists. His two operas: Sarah and Hagar and Seed, have been performed in concert. Recent honors in composition include an Artist Residency with American Lyric Theater, the Copland House Borromeo String Quartet Award, the Westchester Prize for New Work, the American Composers Forum Faith Partners residency, and the Cantors Assembly’s Max Wohlberg Award for distinguished achievement in the field of Jewish composition.

Cohen received his B.A. in music from Yale University, and his D.M.A in music composition from Columbia University. He is Cantor at Shaarei Tikvah Congregation in Scarsdale, N.Y., and is on the faculty of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School of The Jewish Theological Seminary and the Academy for Jewish Religion.


Ela Stein-Weissberger is one of a hundred Terezin children who survived World War II. She was born June 30, 1930 to Max and Marketa Stein. In 1939 her childhood drastically changed. Nuremberg Laws stated all Jewish children were to be expelled from school, leaving Ela to study semi-legal courses organized for Jewish children. Soon thereafter, all Jews in Prague were forced to wear the yellow star of David and abide by an eight o’clock curfew. These were just a few of the increasingly senseless anti-Jewish orders that affected day to day life. On February 12, 1942 Ela and her sister, mother, father, grandmother, and uncle were deported to Terezin where they spent three and a half years. In July 1942 Ela was separated from her family and moved to the Girls Home L410. The Germans allowed the children to play, paint and sing, which in many ways saved their lives. The last transport from Terezin was on October 28, 1944, followed by liberation on May 5, 1945. After liberation Ela attended Art School in Prague and her family immigrated to Israel. Ela became a sergeant in the Israeli Army, where she met and married Leopold Weissberger. Ten years later they moved to New York City and had sons David and Tamar. She currently resides in Tappan, New York working as an interior designer. She is dedicated to traveling across the U.S. and abroad in order to tell her story and honor the memory of all Holocaust victims.

+ About the Music

Dmitri Shostakovich: Quartet No. 8

Few 20th century chamber works speak more directly of desolation than Shostakovich’s 8th Quartet. Inlaid with quotes from his own oeuvre, and with references to Wagner’s funeral march for Siegfried and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony, the quartet can be heard both as a summation of multiple tragedies past and as a portent of impending death. Yet the composer’s own intentions are not entirely clear. We know that in June 1960 Shostakovich joined the Communist Party, a decision which was pragmatic but oddly timed, as the harshest years of Soviet artistic repression, under Stalin, were long past; that one month later, during a stay in Dresden to work on the score for a film about post-war devastation, Shostakovich spent three days compulsively writing the string quartet instead; deep personal torment seems intertwined here with a sense of broader collective loss. Like Siegfried’s death, one man’s tragedy, in the context of an epic societal struggle, takes on larger meanings. A four note sequence representing Shostakovich’s name (D Eb C B) acts as a unifying motif. It opens the first movement, is compressed in the second, becomes a waltz in the third, and is echoed in the phrases preceding the fourth movement’s “raps at the door.” The Largo fifth movement recapitulates material from the first, and ends with a tonic drone underneath a slowly shifting Ab to G, bringing harmonic, but not emotional, resolution.

--Eric Usadi


Viktor Ullmann: String Quartet No. 3

The Third Quartet can in many ways be seen as a culmination of Ullmann’s development as a composer. In it one finds an exemplary balance of rigor and passion, a compelling formal logic, and a wealth of beautiful melodic writing. Although the work unfolds in a single musical span, its structure can easily be divided into a traditional four-movement structure where each of the four movements is linked by sophisticated motivic inter-relations. The first movement, Allegro moderato is primarily lyrical in character and full of wonderfully luxurious harmonic writing, lightened at one point by a wonderfully waltz-like melody. The second, Presto, is ferocious and violent in much the same way as the second movement of Shotakovich’s famous Eighth Quartet. If the first movement has introduced the protag- onists of our story, then the second has brought us music fit for the vilest villains. Before the third movement begins Ullmann brings back a passionate and despairing reminiscence of the first movement- what was nostalgia in the first movement is now transformed into genuine despair. The third movement, Largois truly the work’s heart of darkness, beginning with a fugue of desolate and unrelenting intensity. The waltz theme of the first movement here returns full of sadness. Like the Presto before it, the character of the Rondo Finale is overwhelmingly antagonistic, violent and often terrifying, and is built from a horrific manipulation of the theme of the first movement. However, just when all is despair, Ullmann brings back the music of the first movement in the shape we first encountered it, but nostalgia replaced by defiance and regret replaced by passion. Ullman’s voice represents passionate defiance from within the walls of the concentration camp during humanity’s darkest hour. If ever any person wrote truly courageous music, it was surely Ullmann and this is surely that music.

--Kenneth Woods


George Cohen: Playing for our lives

Playing for our lives was composed for the Cassatt String Quartet, who gave the premiere of the piece at Symphony Space in February 2012. The Cassatts planned a program of music of the composers who were interned in the Nazi concentration camp Terezin (Theresienstadt), and asked me to compose a piece which would be a contemporary memorial and tribute to the musical life of that place. Terezin, near Prague, was in essence a transit camp, where Jews and some other prisoners were kept until transport to the death camps such as Auschwitz. The Nazis allowed a certain amount of art and education to take place at Terezin, both as a way of occupying the prisoners, and also since it served their purpose of deceiving the world as to the nature of concentration camps in general. And there were a great number of excellent artists of all sorts in the camp, among those many excellent performers and several excellent composers—and so musical life flourished with a passion in these very strange surroundings.

In my string quartet, I have used several musical essences of the life at Terezin. One is the Yiddish folk song “Beryozkele” (Little birch tree), a poignant song that was arranged there by the composer Viktor Ullmann (I use the melody, not his arrangement). Folk songs—Czech, Hebrew and Yiddish—were important parts of the lives especially of the children at Terezin, who sang them in choirs formed in their barracks. The second is a lullaby from Hans Krasa’s opera Brundibar, which was one of the most important musical experiences of Terezin--an opera performed entirely by children as the singers, and which was so popular there that it was performed more than 50 times. Finally, I use excerpts from Verdi’s Requiem, a piece that was championed at Terezin by the dynamic conductor Rafael Schachter, and was also performed many times, but by three different choruses--as after each of the first two performances, virtually the entire chorus was transported to their deaths at Auschwitz.

With all of these pieces, but especially the Requiem, the layers of paradox and poignancy are extraordinarily powerful: for the prisoners, music was something that gave them deep joy; at the same time, the Nazis used the concerts as a propaganda tool to fool the world as to the nature of the camp. The Requiem spoke to people of their own deaths, but at the same time, in speaking of a Dies Irae—a day of wrath—was a defiant stab at the Nazis.

In my quartet, these various feelings and musical elements are woven together to create a memorial to the musical and emotional life of the camp. “Beryozkele” and its tender lament dominate the early part of the piece; the middle section is a set of variations on the lullaby from Brundibar, as the music attempts to bring the joy of that piece to the fore; and the final section is dominated by elements of the Requiem, with its passion, anger, and also quiet mourning.

The title of the piece is inspired by a quote from Paul Rabinowitsch, who at the age of 14, was the trumpet player in Brundibar, and was one of the few in that opera to survive the war: “When the SS was present, I always had this shadowy feeling at the back of my head. I knew I could not play wrong, and you can hear every wrong note very clearly on a trumpet. Rahm [the commandant of Terezin] would notice, I thought to myself, and be mad at me, and put me on a transport. And in those moments it was as if I were playing for my life.”

--Gerald Cohen

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