Yehudi Menuhin′s musical legacy: from concentration camp survivors to Syrian refugees | Music | DW | 22.06.2016
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Yehudi Menuhin's musical legacy: from concentration camp survivors to Syrian refugees

When refugees take in a concert of classical music at the Schumann Festival in Bonn, Germany, cultural and linguistic boundaries vanish.

On the grounds next to the Schumann House, children play nearly every day, and local residents are used to the sound of laughter and the occasional ball hitting a windowpane. These children live in a nearby refugee facility.

The historic structure in Bonn's Endenich neighborhood once housed the insane asylum where Romantic composer Robert Schumann died in 1856. Today, its library does double-duty as a small chamber music hall and the epicenter of an annual Schumann festival.

Opening it to refugee families in the vicinity, director Markus Schuck invited them to a gratis afternoon of art song. Titled "Of Foreign Countries and Peoples," the recent performance by soprano Nina Koufochristou and pianist Eleni Anastasiadou included music from Germany, Spain and Greece, the two performers' home countries.

To some, the songs about travel, migration and foreignness were familiar. But to most of those in attendance who are currently personally undergoing those experiences, they were new and exotic.

Pianist Eleni Anastasiadou. © Andrea Bewerunge

Pianist Eleni Anastasiadou is one of the artists promoted by Live Music Now

Music brings people together

With many children seated, it wasn't your typical afternoon of serious music. They reacted in different ways - some seemingly lost in a dream as they learned onto the seat in front of them, others shuffling restlessly back and forth. One girl swung her fingers like batons to the rhythm of the music.

With Live Music Now Cologne having co-initiated the concert in Bonn, the association's scholarship beneficiary Eleni Anastasiadou has performed at a number of similar events. Bringing music to people in difficult situations is Live Music Now's goal. To be inducted, music students must demonstrate proficiency - and more importantly, a strong talent for communicating through music. They perform in homes for seniors, hospices, prisons - and in recent months, refugee sanctuaries.

"Music brings people together. It speaks its own language," said Ludgera von Eltz-Rübenach, director of Live Music Now's Cologne chapter, adding that that quality makes it an instrument that can breach linguistic, cultural and social divides.

Menuhin's heritage: music for social responsibility

Live Music Now was founded by American-born Jewish musician Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), one of the 20th century's most significant violinists. During World War II, Menuhin performed for American soldiers in Germany and in the immediate aftermath, for concentration camp survivors.

Convinced that a musician is only truly mature if he can perform in extreme situations, Menuhin sought to combine music with a dedication to social causes.

"These experiences are enriching - both for musicians and for audiences," said Eltz-Rübenach. With Live Music Now maintaining chapters in 19 German cities and a number of other European countries, Menuhin's heritage is ongoing.

Yehudi Menuhin. (C) Imago/teutopress

Yehudi Menuhin was one of the past century's greatest violinists, humanists and philanthopists

The two performers were clearly moved by their experience in Bonn. "Every time you do a concert, you have to take a fresh approach," explained Eleni Anastasiadou, explaining that this is what makes every one different and exciting. Impressed by the intimacy of the event, Nina Koufochristou - not a Live Music Now scholarship holder - told DW, "I sing at many concerts, so I have a sense of routine. But this time, I was very excited."

Music that goes to the heart

Seated in the audience was Dal Al-Fallah, a refugee from Syria who fled a city near Damascus and has lived in Germany with his wife and three children for a year and a half.

Having traded their refugee quarters behind the Schumann House for a regular apartment, they've settled in - but this was Al-Fallah's first exposure to Western art music. "It's different from Arab music, but if you listen, it goes to the heart," he explained in nearly fluent German.

"The cultures are different, but when you hear music, the differences don't matter," he added. Music from Syria sometimes causes Dal Al-Fallah to look back in sadness, but the feeling doesn't last. "The future is what counts - most of all, my children's future. That's why I am here."

Schumannfest director Markus Schuck with translator Elissa Semaan. © Andrea Bewerunge

Schumannfest director Markus Schuck with translator Elissa Semaan

As the concert drew to an end, Markus Schuck thanked the artists, the audience and a particularly important person: his former associate Elissa Semaan, who had translated the speeches and the explanations of the music works for the Arabic-speaking guests.

When she relayed Schuck's announcement that each child would get a Schumann ice cream cone at the exit, a "shukran!" (Arabic for "thank you!") sounded out in the last row.

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