Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw
Alan Gilbert, Conductor
Gabriel Ebert, Narrator
Camilla Tilling, Soprano
Daniela Mack, Mezzo-Soprano
Joseph Kaiser, Tenor
Eric Owens, Bass-Baritone
Westminster Symphonic Choir
Joe Miller, Director
Review by Brenda Repland
The concert program at the New York Philharmonic this week may be the most dramatic this reviewer has ever seen in over three decades of attendance. The pairing of one of the darkest points in history with the glorious call to joy was powerful. As Conductor Alan Gilbert expressed in his introduction, “the Schoenberg is more timely now that I would have wished,” which was received with thunderous applause.
The first piece was Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw which evokes the Warsaw Ghetto, established by the Nazi forces in 1940. Exquisitely narrated for dramatic effect, this included a depiction of the soldiers counting out victims-to-be at which point male chorus members stomped down the aisles singing the Sh’ma Yisroel prayer in preparation of death. The close proximity to the audience brought the terror of the situation home with visceral impact. And then the lights went down.
As they came up again, Gilbert immediately cued Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. After the portrayal of WWII horrors, the contrast was overwhelming. The audience could breathe again.
The excitement grew in anticipation of Schiller’s Ode to Joy. The soloists were excellently balanced with opera-quality voices. Eric Owens, who launched the piece was absolutely thrilling. The Westminster Symphonic Choir brought a dramatic depth to their performance.
This was a program that will be spoken of forever.