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The juxtapositioning of "Germany" and "Jew" will, of course, always prompt sad and horrific associations, but there is a classical ensemble that is trying to cast a more positive light on people's perception of Jewish life in Germany.
The Jakobsplatz Orchestra of Munich was founded in 2005 following the construction of the Jakobsplatz Jewish Center in Munich. "It is the largest Jewish community and cultural center in Europe," states the orchestra's artistic director 30 year old Daniel Grossman. "That's why we chose the name of the center for the orchestra. We wanted people to know that we represent Jewish culture. When we perform around the world people ask about the orchestra's name, so we explain to them that the center is a meeting place for young Jewish and non-Jewish professional musicians, and that the orchestra aims to encourage dialogue and to use the universal language of music to play a role in the culture of living together."
Among the Jewish and non-Jewish musicians the orchestra benefits from the services of players from no less than 23 countries, which brings its own added value to the ensemble's output. "We have musicians from all over Europe, and also from countries like Japan, South Korea, China and Australia," explains Grossman. "While they all studied in Germany they also bring something of their own individual cultural baggage to their playing. That adds color to what we do."
Grossman says that, from the outset, he looked to stray from the beaten local path. "In Germany there is a very strict approach to playing classical music. They try to produce a clean sound. But I am more interested in the intensity of the music than the purity of the notes. I am more interested in what each member of the orchestra brings. Having players from different countries can help in that respect."
The ensemble's repertoire also significantly draws on material by largely unknown Jewish composers, including works that were composed in concentration camps. "Many Jewish composers were forgotten and their music was never played," says Grossman. "But if a work by a Jewish composer, who died in the Holocaust, was played in the Germany they would always say that the composer was murdered. The problem then is that people take more notice of that sad fact than the value of the actual music. We want people to know about the contribution of Jews to German and European culture, but we also want to draw attention to the beauty of the music per se. And it's not just German composers. We also perform works by Jewish composers from other countries, like Schulhoff and Ullmann from Czechoslovakia."
On the forthcoming tour the orchestra will play two compositions by Haydn, his Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in C Major, with Adrian Brendel as soloist, and Symphony no. 44, the Trauersymphonie. The program also includes two rarely performed works by Jewish French-born composer Darius Milhaud, the ballet chart Jeux de Printemps and a chamber music for 11 instruments piece simply entitled Concert de Chambre. The latter work is performed by symmetrically structured ensembles, with a piano in the center flanked by five woodwind instruments on one side and a string quintet on the other. Milhaud fled his homeland for the United States in 1940 and settled in California where his students included the celebrated jazz pianist Dave Brubek.
Grossman says it means a lot to him to bring the orchestra to Israel. "My grandparents were Holocaust survivors and there were numerous Holocaust survivors and victims in my family. My family is not religious, but my parents gave me a very strong Jewish identity. When I founded the orchestra five years ago I wanted to tour Israel. Now I am very happy that we can realize this dream."
The Jakobsplatz Orchestra will perform at Afula's Conservatory on Mon. at 8 p.m.; at the Rapaport Auditorium in Haifa on Wed. at 8:30 p.m., at the Jerusalem YMCA on Thur. at 8:30 p.m.; and at the Tel Aviv Museum next Sat. at 8:30 p.m.