Telling Petr’s story

Hello!  Carly here, writing a personal post about our upcoming interdisciplinary project, Petr’s Moon.  The performance takes place on April 25 at 8:00 p.m. in Tanna Schulich Hall.  We hope you can join us!

Last December, I had the privilege of visiting Israel for the first time.  I was joined on the trip by my sister, and together we shared a journey through our Jewish heritage in a country that is beautiful, ever-changing, and immensely complicated.

Me and my sister at the Western Wall, Jerusalem.

While in Jerusalem, we visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Centre.  We walked along the brick paths of the Warsaw Ghetto, learning about the events leading up to Hitler’s Final Solution. We experienced the mind-numbing Children’s Memorial — a pitch-black underground cavern harrowingly lit by thousands and thousands of candles, some real, some reflected in mirrors, each representing one of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust.  And — in a glass display case containing a young boy’s portrait and a drawing of the Earth as seen from the moon — we met Petr Ginz.

Moon Landscape

Moon Landscape by Petr Ginz. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem.)

Petr was only 16 when he was killed in Auschwitz, and spent two years in Theresienstadt before that.  Throughout his internment, he kept a diary — succinct, straightforward accounts of day-to-day events, as though he knew he was archiving details for the eyes of history.  At 14, he drew Moon Landscape, imagining escape from a planet he had watched wither into war and hate.

Petr’s story deeply moved me, and when I returned to Canada, I began some research.  I read Petr’s diary, lovingly preserved by his sister, who survived; I learned about Theresienstadt, where Petr and hundreds of other children created art and poetry in the darkest of times — and where famed Czech composer Pavel Haas was interned before meeting his fate, like Petr, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  Haas’ Wind Quintet, Op. 10, then, seemed the perfect vehicle to allow us — as a chamber ensemble, and as humans reflecting on an important history — to tell Petr’s story.

Petr’s Moon is structured in the style of a stageplay in two acts, BEFORE and AFTER.  Throughout the performance, we recite from Petr’s diary, poems, and stories, accompanied by projections of archival footage and images — all tied together by a live soundtrack of solos, trios, and quintets that capture the mood and history of Petr’s narrative.

Conceiving and executing this project has been emotionally draining, time consuming, yet immensely rewarding.  I couldn’t have done it without my intrepid colleagues in this quintet, who supported the idea from the very beginning, and have been tireless in their dedication to bringing it to life.

Projects like Petr’s Moon are important, because they frame classical music — so often locked in an ivory tower — in a context that is socially informed and deeply relevant.  My greatest hope for Petr’s Moon, is that the audience leaves having learned something new, and having experienced a story that, though 75 years old, engages with contemporary issues.  I hope you’ll join us for this performance that has become so meaningful to us.  We can’t wait to share it with you.

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