Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten Nov. 27 2009

(Highlighted sections only)

Saxony scores at „Land of Ideas“
17 Saxon projects successful at competition

Michael Hurshell, chief conductor of the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden

Dresden. „Saxony has always been a land of inventors. Our success at ‚Land of Ideas’ is a fresh example“, commented Saxon governor Stanislaw Tillich (CDU) yesterday on the success at the national competition „365 Places in the Land of Ideas.“


More than 2200 organisations (research, business, culture and social initiatives) from all over Germany had submitted their entries for 2010 – a record, 10% more than at last year’s competition.


In the category Art and Culture the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic, founded 2007, was a winner. Their motto „music and memory“ entails the revival of orchestral works by Jewish composers who were persecuted or killed between 1933 and 1945. „The selection of Dresden’s New Synagogue for the ‚Places in 2010“ gives us the opportunity to bring a special focus to bear on this particular place with its particular history, and also to take a clear stand against neo nazi sympathizers,“ orchestra board member Claus Dieter Heinze comments with enthusiasm.


The competition „365 Places in the Land of Ideas“ is in its fifth year, sponsored by the Deutsche Bank and organized by the „Germany – Land of Ideas“ initiative under the aegis of president Horst Köhler. The winners will present their projects to the public with individual events at the selected places in 2011.
Christian Grödel

Sächsische Zeitung June 03 2009

Dresden Arts

Comeback for Jewish composers

The New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic looks back on 13 concerts, plans a CD and concerts abroad

By Nadja Laske

Picture: Michael Hurshell, artistic director of the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic (left), and treasurer Claus-Dieter Heinze bring works by great Jewish composers under the aegis of their ensemble.

The two men lift treasures piece by piece from the forgotten vault and hold their discoveries to the light. In their hands they hold not jewels or trinkets, but something as valuable as gold to any lover of music.

Michael Hurshell and Claus-Dieter Heinze have embarked on a quest: to find works by Jewish composers banned or persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945, to perform them and preserve them from oblivion.

To this end, they founded the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic in November 2007, and have presented 13 concerts within the first 12 months of activity. Most recently, the first concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic, Ilya Konovalov, appeared as soloist with the ensemble in Chemnitz and Leipzig, also visiting Dresden.

Bringing back great names

„If we do not perform the wonderful Jewish compositions now, the following generations will possibly lose this art forever“ – that is what Claus Dieter Heinze fears. As a Christian, he spent years on the board of the society for the construction of Dresden’s new synagogue. Not everyone he met understood this.

But for Heinze, it was clear and simple: „As a child I lived in Silesia, near a concentration camp. The grown-ups did not speak about it. But shortly before the end of the war, my father showed me a path and told me to follow it, if I should ever return there.“ The path led to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In Michael Hurshell, Heinze has found an enthused associate, committed to their vision. The artistic director of the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic, who comes from the United States, settled in Dresden in 2002 to teach at the Music University. Under is baton, signature works from the film score archives of Hollywood have already had great success in Germany. „They were written by Jewish composers who, fleeing Hitler, went to America,“ says Hurshell. Hardly any of these ever returned to their homes. „And so, in Germany even today there are no second or third generation descendants to revive the works banned by the Nazis,“ Hurshell explains.

Only after coming here to live did he realize how little of these musical treasures by Jewish composers is known in Germany. Many of them actually have Saxon roots. Making the works of Waxman, Zeisl, Korngold or Sir William Herschel known and recognized here is Michael Hurshell’s aim. „We must bring these names back“ he says, and follows it up with: „It is my wish that some day, it will no longer be necessary to perform such music within the framework of a special project, that it will be performed on German concert stages as a matter of course along with other great composers.“

Ensemble of 23 players

A key element in this work is having to learn and rehearse entirely unknown, forgotten works. The technically challenging repertoire requires intensive preparation, rehearsals which have to be adequately funded, along with the concerts themselves. The ensemble is made up of members of the Dresden Philharmonic, students of the Music University and members of the Jewish community, of which Michael Hurshell is a member.

Thanks to support from the city and state the concerts have been co-funded, so far. „We received our start-up funding through a generous grant from a patron in Miami“ adds Claus-Dieter Heinze.

Now new sponsors are being sought and new projects are being planned – projects which will carry the ensemble’s name further afield. „We would like to record our first CD next year, and perhaps travel abroad. Our next concert will be in September“ announces Hurshell. Then, as if on cue, his cell phone rings. The ring tone is a fanfare from a work by Jewish composer Franz Waxman.

May 20 2009, Leipziger Volkszeitung

60th anniversary of the constitution

Pre-Celebration concert, festive and brilliant

The 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic’s constitution – on May 23rd many politicians will be making speeches. The New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden celebrated in advance, with a festive concert in the Mendelssohn Hall of the Gewandhaus on Monday. Without clamor, very festive, very brilliant.

The program was long, but all enjoyed the five works by four composers played without intermission. The string orchestra from the state capitol presented an entertaining selection of discoveries.

Thus string sinfonias 2 in D major and 4 in F major by Sir William Herschel (1738-1822, oboist, composer, telescope builder and Uranus discoverer) sounded fresh, graceful and supple, played with telling accents and silken string sonority under the baton of Michael Hurshell.

The Andante for String Orchestra op. 22a by Miklós Rózsa (1907-95) is the orchestral version of a movement from his first string quartet. The Dresden ensemble was the first to perform this work, and we are grateful that the work is now performed on the concert stage. Homogeneous string sections here presented tender sonorities coupled with vehement individualism.

„On the Banks of Babylon by Marc Lavry (1903-67) is a European concert premiere. The listener was moved by this tone poem’s emotionally dense sonorities, interwoven with bittersweet Hebraic melancholy.

Ilya Konovalov was the soloist in Mendelssohn’s (1809-47) Violin Concerto in d minor. Born in Russia in 1977, he applied plenty of rich tone, soared, shone and presented the work’s technical challenges with the relaxed mastery of the virtuoso. The audience rewarded him plenty of applause, and the encore was followed by a standing ovation. After 90 minutes of music, which seemed to last only half the time, the concert, regrettably, was over.

By Birgit Hendrich

Freie Presse Chemnitz, May 15 2009

American conductor presents forgotten works

New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic playing in Chemnitz – panel discussion after concert

They perform forgotten music. The New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden focuses on works by Jewish composers persecuted or banned by the Nazis. On Sunday the orchestra, which includes members of the Dresden Philharmonic, will play in Chemnitz. Katharina Leuoth spoke with conductor Michael Hurshell.

FPC: How did an American conductor wind up working with this ensemble?
MH: I work as a freelance conductor, and I also teach conducting at Dresden’s Music University. When I noticed that the works of Jewish composers banned by the Nazis was hardly ever performed here in Saxony, I spoke with a number of Dresden musicians and we founded the ensemble.
FPC: The repertoire includes classical and contemporary selections?
MH: Yes, on the one hand we perform Mendelssohn – his early orchestral works are little known here – but much forgotten 20th century music.
FPC: For example?
MH: Marc Lavry (1903-1967). He was born in Riga, studied in Leipzig, conducted the Berlin Symphony and later became an important figure in Israel. Or Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995), whose Andante is on the program. Our audience reacts very strongly to these works. It is not, as a rule, avante garde writing many of the works are late romantic or post romantic in style. Audiences like it a lot.
FPC: After the concert there will be a panel discussion on „Jewish life in Saxony today.“ How do you, as a Jew, evaluate living in Saxony?
MH: Many people here have a vivid consciousness of World War II. A relaxed and open dialogue is not always easy. It will take time, until this becomes possible.

Concert / panel discussion, Sunday, 6 p.m., Jewish Community Center Chemnitz

Sächsische Zeitung, February 24, 2009

(The JPG file of the original article can be downloaded here.)

Arts section

Dialogue between Man and God
Dresden′s New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic launches Season with a Premiere

by Peter Zacher

The New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic has been performing since 2007. "Jewish" is first and foremost, a quality demonstrated by the choice of repertoire, Jewish composers whose compositions are prepared with great care and performed for German audiences - a unique mission among German orchestras.

In this context, the composers′ own view of their ethnicity - whether, for example, they were practicing the faith or not - is a secondary issue. The ensemble focuses on composers who were victims of the deluded Nazi racial policies, murdered, driven into exile or slandered. Slander meant, in the cases of Mahler or Mendelssohn, a ban on public performances of their works.

The orchestra′s equal enthusiasm for contemporary works was demonstrated by the concert on Sunday, at the Dresden Dreikönigskirche. The program included compositions arranged for string orchestra by the ensemble′s artistic director and conductor, the American Michael Hurshell.

Emotional turbulence and yearning

The most spectacular performance of the evening was the world premiere of "Trucco" for string orchestra, by American composer Erica Muhl (b. 1961). The work begins with floating textures, which are perforated by harsh accents. The emotionally turbulent second section leads to a Finale brimming with unfulfilled yearnings. The work made a very strong impression on the reviewer.

The composer′s family was befriended by Eric Zeisl, who fled Vienna and found refuge in the United States. The Andante from his second quartet was regarded by the composer as a dialogue between man and his creator. This work expresses, ultimately, feelings of darkness and hopelessness.

Schubert′s "Death and the Maiden" is a mighty composition. Performing a version that incorporates Mahler′s sketches, the orchestra demonstrated astounding qualities in finessing the soaring cantilenas, violent eruptions and immense dynamic contrasts. Bearing in mind the wide range of the musicians′ training and experience, this is even more remarkable. It was clear that these results could only be achieved through intense and committed preparation.

Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, September 30, 2008

(The PDF file of the original article can be downloaded here.)

Arts section

Early and Late Romanticism
Works by Mendelssohn and Korngold at the Synagogue

by Peter Zacher

Although the members of the New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic are either seasoned professionals or conservatory trained professional hopefuls, this does not automatically guarantee the ensemble’s interpretative qualities.  Only one year has passed since it was founded in 2007, far too short a time to develop a unique artistic voice.  In addition, one must assume that Michael Hurshell does not have an identical roster of players for each project.  All in all, it’s no walk in the park; each program needs the hard work of demanding rehearsals.  Add to this the New Synagogue’s complex acoustics, which are hardly ideal for concert purposes.

All the more reason to admire the astoundingly high quality of the sonorities heard at the concert last Sunday.  I feared the sound would be thick, without transparency, but the seating arrangement of the 23 players directly in front of the wall containing the torah shrine resulted in a very short time lapse between sound source and first reflection, without producing any overlapping loss of detail.  The first part of the program, Mendelssohn’s String Sinfonias 1 and 2, written by the 13 year-old in 1822, surprised the audience with a classic blend of clarity and lucidity.  These early works do not yet bear the stamp of the great symphonies, but the lightness of touch also avoids the occasional, hard-to-digest heaviness of some of the later works.  One must agree with Mr. Hurshell's regret that these sinfonias, unjustly, receive so little attention on Saxon concert stages, despite Mendelssohn's close ties to the region as Gewandhauskapellmeister.   It was a pleasure to hear the musical lines, even the most rapid passages in the lower strings, spun forth so cleanly and crisply.

The second surprise was that even Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphonic Serenade for String Orchestra op. 39 did not produce a thick welter of sound.  In this roughly half hour long work, the composer combines post-romantic harmonic richness with extended tonalities which remind one of early, pre-dodecaphonic Schönberg.  Naturally  -  and luckily!  -  Hurshell did not employ the more than 60 string players Korngold envisioned.  Nevertheless, he conjured the opulence the score demands, while maintaining the transparency already displayed in the Mendelssohn.  This in turn enhanced the work’s structure; the furioso passages, especially in the finale, where played with exemplary precision and clarity.  One may safely say that this work fairly bristles with technical difficulties, and the immense effort that went into preparing this convincing performance can only be imagined. 

Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, August 12, 2008

(The PDF file of the original article, including 2 photos, can be downloaded here.)

Arts section

Dresden's newest orchestra
The Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie Dresden and its artistic director Michael Hurshell

His speech is animated.  When speaking of his work, one is aware that it means more to him than just a job, that this is a matter of the heart.  And even when listening closely, one does not notice the fact that German is not his mother tongue.  Michael Hurshell is an American, studied piano and composition in the States and conducting in Vienna, has appeared in many European countries at opera houses and on concert stages and has been teaching orchestral conducting at the Dresden University of Music since 2002.

There is nothing so unusual about his teaching activity; personalities with great international experience are no longer seldom even at East German institutions of learning.  The interesting thing about Hurshell is that he is the artistic director of a new ensemble in Dresden.  Whoever knows anything about this particular strand of music history must, upon hearing the name New Jewish Chamber Philharmonic Dresden, be filled with questions and even some skepticism.  Does this mean all the musicians are of Jewish descent?  Which  body of music does the ensemble wish to represent?  Will music be performed which, while created by composers from Jewish families, allows the question whether the composers themselves claimed their Jewish heritage?  And does the music therefore have something to do with Jewish identity and Jewish consciousness?  Finally, do not all these questions lead to the sometimes rather labored discussion about the characteristics of  Jewish music?

It is certain that Hurshell can and does provide profound answers to these questions.  But in his selection of repertoire he is first and foremost a pragmatist.  He speaks of three categories: murdered composers, exiled composers and dead composers whose works were banned.  This method avoids the question, whether composers defined themselves as Jewish or were „forcibly judaisized“ by the Nazis.  This means that so far, the programs of the orchestra have been focused on dead composers.

In fact, there are plenty of worthy compositions to perform.  Hurshell can, at the drop of a hat, name a great many such works. 

The performance of contemporary works will not, however, be excluded for ever.  Hurshell regularly receives scores from living composers.  However, at this initial stage, audiences -  being inexperienced in this genre - are being lured with earlier works.  He wants to lower barriers -  the fact that the concert series is being held in the synagogue attests to this fact, as he knows that many Dresdeners regard a visit to the synagogue as unusual.  But when the synagogue becomes a concert hall, the sacred space is in a way made more accessible, without becoming profane.

There is plenty of material for programs.  Two examples: Felix Mendelssohn didn’t write just five symphonies.  The twelve early sinfonias for string orchestra from 1823 are practically unknown on our concert stages, and are eminent proof of the awakening genius of a fourteen year old.  The American Hurshell was consternated to find that these works are not part of the standard repertoire in Saxony.  The orchestra will gradually perform all of them.  Franz Schreker, who was the second most performed German language composer after Richard Strauss in the twenties, must today be counted among the forgotten masters.  There are even a group of composers with special ties to Saxony and even to Dresden.  Erwin Schulhoff, who founded the Dresden group „Werkstatt der Zeit“ and was featured on the ensemble’s first program in November 2007, is a good example.

Of course there are many works by Jewish composers from outside Germany.  Paul Dukas and Darius Milhaud from France, for example, or the Italian Salomone Rossi (ca. 1750-1630) who called himself Ebreo.  Before his works can be performed, the orchestra will have to spend time exploring the performance practice of ancient music.  Despite the enthusiasm for the discovery or rediscovery of musical works, one must not forget that Hurshell must accomplish the enormous task of forming the ensemble into a homogenous body of players.  The Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie is, after all, not (as yet) an orchestra with decades of experience playing together.  The musicians are recruited from the Dresden Philharmonic, graduates of the Music University, members of the Jewish community; and even if we may assume high technical standards and great commitment to the project on the part of all the players, a great effort is required to fuse them into a single music-making corpus.

First there are two challenges to be met: the orchestra at present plays in a formation of strings only.  In order to perform works with larger orchestration, further venues must be found, as the synagogue cannot accommodate more than the roughly two dozen players.  It goes without saying that the second challenge is funding.  The city, firms and private sponsors (the latter particularly from the United States) are keeping the project alive at present.  The Dresden Jewish Community and the Association of Jewish Communities in Saxony have supported the orchestra.  Hurshell hopes that in two to three years, the possibility of institutionalization might be a real option.  Until then, the ensemble must work to establish itself firmly in the musical consciousness of the Dresden public.  Following the 2008 concert series opening with works by Schreker, Haas, Zeisl and Mendelssohn, which was played in Dresden and Leipzig, the upcoming concerts in September (Dresden on the 28th, followed by appearances in Görlitz and Chemnitz) will feature Mendelssohn’s  string sinfonias 1 and 2 and the Symphonic Serenade op. 39 by Korngold, whose violin concerto, fairly frequently performed in recent years, has led to the rediscovery of this composer.

With all my heart I wish the Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie Dresden, and its artistic director, Mazel tov  -  and good luck.

Peter Zacher

Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, November 9, 2007

Jewish Philharmonic:
First concert with music by Oscar winner

The name Franz Waxman is not well known here, but everyone knows the films he wrote scores for: To Have and Have Not, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Botany Bay.  Waxman was the first composer who won the Oscar in two consecutive years, 1951 for Sunset Blvd. and 1952 for A Place in the Sun.  Born in Upper Silesia in 1906, he studied composition in Dresden.  In 1934 the Jewish composer was forced to flee to the United States.

His Sinfonietta for String Orchestra and Timpani (1955) will be performed on November 11 at 3 p.m., at the New Synagogue, during a concert commemorating the 6th anniversary of the consecration of the temple.  The ensemble is the Neue Jüdische Kammerphilharmonie Dresden, composed of graduates of the University of Music, members of the Dresden Philharmonic and members of the Jewish Community.  The aim of the orchestra, founded only a few days ago, is to perform works by Jewish composers, especially those murdered in or driven out of Germany.  The ensemble’s board has stated that this project will serve to close a music-historical gap in the consciousness of concert goers.

The chamber orchestra’s first concert will be conducted by Michael Hurshell, who teaches orchestral conducting at the University of Music and is a member of the Jewish Community.  He has made a name for himself as a guest conductor of such eminent orchestras as the Slovak Philharmonic and the Warsaw National Philharmonic.  Further works on the program are Three Pieces for String Orchestra op. 6 by Erwin Schulhoff, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1942, and Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia for Strings # 11.

John Waxman wrote the following words to the ensemble: „I was delighted when I learned that Maestro Hurshell had programmed my father's Sinfonietta in Dresden where he began his formal musical studies in the 1920s. He often told me of the rich musical experiences he had there.“

H. Hannusch

(The original article can be downloaded here.)