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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Orchestra revives Holocaust-era composition

Dr. Ryan Dudenbostel directs Western’s Symphony Orchestra during their performance on Friday, Nov. 15. // Photo by Claire Ott

By Elizabeth Hall

Western’s orchestra is fundraising $100,000 for a tour around Prague and Vienna in June 2020, where they will play a piece written during the Holocaust. 

The Western symphony will play at one of the most celebrated concert halls in the world, orchestra director Ryan Dudenbostel said.

Patrick Roulet, chair of the music department, said the orchestra has experienced major growth in the past five years since Dudenbostel took over as director. 

“It is just miraculous what the musicians are able to do as a team.  When you go to a concert and Dr. Dudenbostel is on the podium, you know that everything is going to be in place,” Roulet said.

Dudenbostel has achieved a high artistic level with attention to detail in his orchestra, Roulet said.  There’s also heart and passion behind the music, which is the reason the 600-seat concert hall is often filled.

Dudenbostel said the most exciting part of the tour is playing the world premiere of a piano arrangement written by composer Gideon Klein, who was murdered during the Holocaust in 1945, shortly after he turned 25-years-old.  

Klein was imprisoned in Theresienstadt ghetto in modern day Terezin, Czech Republic, when he was around 22 to 23-years-old.  The ghetto was a “show camp” for the Red Cross during the Holocaust, meaning it was chosen to showcase how well the Jews were treated by the Nazis, Dudenbostel said. While it was still a concentration camp where tens of thousands died, the camp still had a thriving art scene, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Klein would have turned 100 this December, Dudenbostel said.

The orchestra will be visiting the areas where Klein stayed the day before the premiere.  

“In addition to this being a great opportunity for our students to perform internationally and see these places, it’s also a chance for us here at Western to contribute meaningfully to the discourse on Holocaust music,” Dudenbostel said. 

Kyle Matson plays the cello during Western’s Symphony Orchestra performance on Friday, Nov. 15. // Photo by Claire Ott

Holocaust music as a field has started gaining attention in the last 10 to 15 years.

There is still work that needs to be done in promoting these Holocaust-era works because many pieces were destroyed or lost, Dudenbostel said.  

“It’s really important work,” Dudenbostel said.  “So it’s an honor to be doing it.”

Dudenbostel said the symphony orchestra has 70 students, most of whom are music majors, but those who are not grew up playing music. Only around 46 students will be going on the tour in June.

They have raised $35,000 out of the $100,000 goal so far. Dudenbostel said the entire budget will cost closer to $175,000, with transporting instruments, airfare, concert hall rental and charter busses. Each student is responsible for paying $2,000 toward the trip.

The orchestra applied for grants to make up the difference, Dudenbostel said. Throughout the year they will be fundraising through ticketed concerts and will be accepting donations. In May 2018, they jump started the project for Western’s gift day, where online donations are matched to a certain percentage, and became the fourth-highest grossing project for the entire university.

They raised around $20,000 that day, Dudenbostel said. 

Dudenbostel was in charge of choosing the touring location. He said Vienna and Prague are musical capitals and great places for students to visit to learn about composers.

The tour will last a total of six days, Dudenbostel said. Additional activities will take students through Beethoven’s apartment, the Vienna woods where he used to walk, museums and castles.

Emma Simmons plays the violin during Western’s Symphony Orchestra performance on Friday, Nov. 15. // Photo by Claire Ott

Dudenbostel said when coming up with the idea for music for the program and tour, he thought it would be good to play a piece from a Terezin composer, and did a lot of research to find the composition. He said the camp’s condition caused there to be very little orchestral music. 

“I found this piano sonata that he had written and was just captivated by it,” Dudenbostel said.  “It sounds like an orchestra piece, like it should be played by many people.”

After finding the piece, Dudenbostel contacted the Gideon Klein Foundation in Prague and asked if they would give their blessing. The foundation responded, stating the piece would be right up their alley and they support the orchestra playing it.

The response only came in October, and Dudenbostel claims it changes the entire purpose of the trip into something much bigger and more fundable.

“It’s less self-serving than just sending our students on a concert tour,” Dudenbostel said.  “We’re actually doing something.”

Dudenbostel worked with Sandra Alfers, head of the Ray Wolpow Institute for Holocaust studies, to put together a grant proposal following the news.

This tour will be the largest that the orchestra has gone on during the director’s six years at Western. They have travelled mostly around the region, from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Oregon.

The orchestra usually performs around five times a year, including any community or out-of-town events, Dudenbostel said. They also do an educational performance once a year for school kids to visit.

This coming winter, the symphony orchestra is performing the Miles Davis album “Sketches of Spain,” which contains jazz adaptations of Spanish classical and folk music. In the spring, there will be a family and kids concert of Peter the Wolf, where all the musicians will dress up and play out the characters while playing their instruments.

The upcoming tour is a step in the development of the orchestra, Roulet said. Currently, they are working on a Gustav Mahler symphony –– a challenging piece.  

“It’s a great masterpiece of orchestral music, and is rarely performed by a college orchestra,” Roulet said.

Roulet said they are thrilled for the tour because it is getting to the heart of the music and is a huge opportunity for their musicians to perform where great composers once stood.

“There’s nothing like it,” Roulet said, which is why they are supporting the tour. 

“If you take risks and if you dream, dream big and let’s make it happen,” Roulet said. “That’s what Ryan and the orchestra are doing. They’re dreaming really big and we really want to see this happen.”

Miranda Loupas, first-year violinist, is most excited for the piece written by Klein. 

 “We’re doing basically the world premiere for this piece and giving it a whole new life,” Loupas said. 

Loupas always loved playing music with a story. She started in her school’s strings program in fourth grade and began taking violin lessons in fifth grade. 

She loves music that has a deeper meaning and feels that playing this Holocaust-era piece in it’s geographical origin is powerful.

The orchestra is also going to “walk in Beethoven’s footsteps,” for his 250-year birthday festival, Loupas said. 

Not many people get the opportunity to travel abroad with an entire symphony and play and experience the music in the areas that it was written, Loupas said. 

“It gives you a lot more appreciation for the music that you’re playing,” Loupas said.

Loupas said the experience of travelling abroad is very expensive, and the school is trying to make it as cheap as possible for orchestra members. She said a lot of students will still struggle but deserve to go.  

Martijn Wall, is in his third year playing oboe with the symphony, and comes from a long background of playing different instruments through middle and high school.

“I basically spent my whole summer practicing, just to make sure I could audition well and get the principal spot,” Wall said. 

Wall said the importance of fundraising for this trip is to give everyone an equal opportunity to go. He said some musicians might not have the funds to support their own way.

“Getting donations and a lot of fundraising would be really helpful to keep us all as a group so we can all experience that together,” Loupas said.

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