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Dresden orchestra plays 'Degenerate Music' in Israel

A wide range of art and music, notably works by Jewish composers, was banned in Germany and occupied countries during the Nazi era. The New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden is taking some of it on tour to Israel.

In concert appearances at the Jerusalem Music Centre and at the Israel Conservatory in Tel Aviv on November 10 and 12, the musicians tread new ground, performing in Israel for the first time and introducing works never performed there.

Conductor Michael Hurshell. Photo: Konrad Hirsch

Music researcher Hurshell seeks to "bring forgotten works home"

Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Symphonic Serenade, op. 39, is one of them. The Jewish composer, forced to emigrate to the US in 1933, went on to become a successful composer of film music in Hollywood. Hungarian-American composer Miklós Rózsa had a similar career, writing the scores to film classics including "Ben Hur" and "El Cid." Rózsas Andante for Strings is getting its Israeli premiere as well.

"We want to save these works from being forgotten completely," says American conductor Michael Hurshell, who founded the

New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden

in 2007. The orchestra aims "to revive works by composers of Jewish heritage who were banned, persecuted, driven away or murdered in concentration camps," he adds. Some unpublished scores - including Rózsa's Andante - were discovered by Hurshell in archives.

Uncharted territory even with Mendelssohn

Nazi cultural policy cast a long shadow. Music by Felix Mendelssohn, a converted Protestant born into a Jewish family, was banned from playlists from 1933 until 1945. As a result, although some of his best-known works are frequently performed in central Europe nowadays, others, such as his Concerto in D Minor for violin and strings, remain obscure. The New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic is taking that work on tour as well, with Israeli violinist Sergey Ostrovsky as the soloist.

"I begin each rehearsal by asking, 'Has any of you played this piece before? Has anyone heard it?'" says Hurshell, an instructor at the Carl Maria von Weber Music Academy in Dresden. "Up to now, the answer has always been 'No'."

New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden at the Grand Synagogue in Berlin. Photo: Konrad Hirsch

At a performance on November 8, 2010 in the Grand Synagogue in Berlin marking the anniversary of the "Night of Broken Glass"

Made up mostly of non-Jewish musicians, the Chamber Philharmonic makes 10 to 12 appearances a year, with the Dresden Synagogue being its home base. The ensemble has toured abroad since 2012, including trips to France and Poland.

As ambassadors of Saxony, the musicians' current tour marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Germany.

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