Film about musicians’ escape from Nazis
Orchestra of Exiles — a feature-length documentary about how renowned Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman put his career on hold to help fellow European-Jewish musicians escape Nazi persecution in the 1930s and emigrate to Palestine — will be shown Sunday, Nov. 2, at Howard County Community College.
The musicians went on to form an orchestra that later became the world-famous Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.
The documentary is part of a cultural program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Howard County. A live musical prelude at 3 p.m. will begin the event.
The musical piece, selections from “The Terezin Suite,” will be played by a quartet of Howard County High School GT (Gifted and Talented) Orchestra members. The piece was written by prisoners in the Terezin (also called Theresienstadt) concentration camp.
Discovering forgotten music
Violinist and Howard County resident Ronald Mutchnik, who is the chamber music coach for the performing students, came across the musical pieces in a discarded bin.
“The four pieces that were written by Terezin concentration camp victims went almost unnoticed,” he said. “I found them some years back in a small bin of music that had been discontinued for publication in Dale’s Music Company in Silver Spring,” he said.
“I looked through the music and realized what a treasure it was. All the moods associated with the Holocaust were encapsulated tellingly in these four pieces, from abject despair and pain, to looking beyond the horror to a better world.”
The Orchestra of Exiles documentary retraces through interviews and reenactments Huberman’s efforts to create what was then known as the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which debuted in December 1936 under the direction of Arturo Toscanini, a strong opponent of the Nazi regime.
It details how Huberman rescued nearly 1,000 Jewish musicians and their families. The film, directed by Josh Aronson, also shows how famous Jews and leading historical figures, such as Albert Einstein, played a vital part in creating the orchestra.
Among the leading contemporary musicians interviewed are Zubin Mehta and world famous violinists Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell.
The film also mentions how Bell obtained Huberman’s Stradivarius some 65 years after it was stolen in New York.
Julian Altman, a freelance violinist who had a stint with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington during WWII, made a death-bed confession to his wife in 1985 that he had bought the violin, knowing it had been stolen from Huberman’s dressing room during a 1936 Carnegie Hall concert. (Some versions of the story say he stole it himself.) Altman painted the violin and played it for many years, keeping its identity secret.
The violin was returned to the Lloyd’s of London insurance company, and purchased in 2001 by Bell for more than $3 million.
In 2007, Bell played that violin at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, D.C. The “performance” was part of an experiment to see how many people in a rush-hour crowd would stop to listen to beautiful music coming from a magnificent instrument played by a famous musician posing as a street performer in a baseball cap.
An article about the stunt in the Washington Post reported that 27 people stopped to listen and 1,070 people passed Bell by without paying him any attention.
Reserved tickets for the event, which can be obtained through the federation’s website, www.JewishHowardCounty.org, cost $18; $15 for students. Entrance at the door is $20. Call (410) 730-4976 for more information.
After the screening, a private reception for the federation’s Knesset Club members will be held at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center, where guitarist Bruce Casteel will perform. Casteel won an Outstanding Artist Howie Award in 2013. The Howies are presented to major contributors to the arts of Howard County.
Knesset Club members donate $100 a month, or $1,200 annually, to the federation’s group, which hosts a variety of events for the community.