MSUToday
Published: April 15, 2019

Using music to combat antisemitism

Contact(s): Michael Sundermann College of Music office: (517) 353-2043 sunderm1@msu.edu, Kristen Parker Media Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709 Kristen.Parker@cabs.msu.edu

Michigan State University will present two performances of one of the most enduring musical protests against antisemitism, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, titled “Babi Yar,” which memorializes the massacre of Ukrainian Jews by Nazi forces.

Concerts featuring the MSU Symphony Orchestra and Choral Ensembles will take place at 8 p.m. April 27 at the Wharton Center with an encore performance at 3 p.m. the following day at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. The concerts will be preceded by lectures.

Both concerts will feature the powerful voice of soloist Mark Rucker, baritone. Paired with the symphony will be selections from “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by Charles Davidson, a setting of poems by Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust.

According to Nazi records, Sept. 29-30, 1941, German forces killed by machine gunning nearly 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of Kiev, Ukraine. In the two years that followed, thousands more Jews were murdered there as well as other non-Jews, including Communists, Soviet officials and prisoners, Romani and others. Their bodies were left in pits. Remains of about 100,000 lie at Babi Yar, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

In 1961, Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem, “Babi Yar” was published, recalling the horrors of that place in a manner that greatly affected the world and Shostakovich specifically. He was inspired to compose Symphony No. 13 in 1962, which was initially criticized and rarely performed.

Guest conductor for “Babi Yar” and "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" will be Christopher James Lees, resident conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, an emerging American conductor becoming widely recognized for his passionate and nuanced orchestral performances. Lees has conducted around the world and previously served on the faculty of the University of Michigan.

The preview lectures will be presented by three scholars and the conductor, exploring the historical context of the Holocaust and the artistic reaction and remembrance it generated. Previews begin one hour prior to each concert and feature Lees with MSU scholars Amy Simon, Matthew Pauly and Kevin Bartig, from James Madison College and the colleges of Social Science and Music, respectively.

Simon is the William and Audrey Farber Family Chair in Holocaust Studies and European Jewish History. She and Pauly are affiliates of the Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel at MSU.

The Wharton performance is general admission and the Orchestra Hall performance is reserved seating. Wharton tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (age 60 and older) and free for students with ID and anyone under the age of 18. They can be purchased online, at the College of Music box office by calling (517) 353-5340 or in person. Orchestra Hall tickets are $18 and can be purchased directly from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra web site.

The events are coordinated by the College of Music and The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel at MSU. Partners are The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, The Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, The Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Jewish News.