Concert series honors composers silenced by the Holocaust

The idea of memorializing not only the works, but also the lives and fates, of the Jewish composers originated in 2001 in the northern German city of Schwerin.

adrian brody pianist 88  (photo credit: Studio Canal)
adrian brody pianist 88
(photo credit: Studio Canal)
Almost seven decades after the Nazis murdered and banished many of Europe's most renowned composers, a group of German artists will honor the musicians' work and lives at two Los Angeles concerts next week. The names on the programs read like a roll call of famous 20th century Jewish composers from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Among them are Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Zeisl, Alexander Zemlinsky, Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullman and Wladyslaw Szpilman (memorably portrayed in Roman Polanski's film The Pianist). Less familiar may be the name of Izzy (Jack) Furman, but it is largely due to the devotion of his daughter that the music of Furman and his contemporaries, revived in Germany last year, is coming to Los Angeles. The idea of memorializing not only the works, but also the lives and fates, of the Jewish composers originated in 2001 in the northern German city of Schwerin. There, Volker Ahmels, director of the Schwerin Conservatory, organized "Verfemte Musik," an international festival whose name can be translated as Ostracized, or Silenced, or Banished Music. Last fall, the festival was staged again, with young musicians throughout Europe competing to perform at the five-day event. A distinctive feature of the festival was the requirement that performers not only master the complex repertoire, but also study the struggles of the persecuted composers. They were also given the chance to meet with Holocaust survivors. Among the latter was Brigitte Medvin of Los Angeles, who was deeply moved by an exhibit on her father's life, conceived and created by Schwerin high school students. Her father, Izzy Furman, was an accomplished and popular violinist, bandleader, composer and jazz pioneer on the swinging Berlin scene of the 1920s, and throughout Europe. With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the same year Furman's daughter was born, the life of the Polish-born musician worsened steadily, and he returned to Poland. During the war years, father, mother and daughter were separated, each surviving on his or her own. Furman fought with the partisans, his wife Annemarie lived under false papers in Warsaw and their daughter was hidden as a "Catholic" child. After the war, Furman went back to his music in Berlin, entertaining the reviving Jewish community and allied soldiers, and composing some of his best-known tunes. In 1949, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Minneapolis, where Izzy, now known as Jack, worked in a factory, but still managed to form his own band. A business card of that time offers "Music for All Occasions - Jewish, Russian, Polish, Gypsie - and all kinds of folk and dance music." Eventually, Furman and his wife followed their now married daughter to Los Angeles, where he died in 1971 at the age of 67. An April 15 concert will be at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance, accompanied by an exhibit on Furman's life, and the April 16 performance will be at the UCLA Hillel Center. Joining in sponsoring the events are the consul generals of Germany and Israel in Los Angeles.