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Interview with Daniel Hope: Using Music to Fight Oppression

Laurie Niles


Daniel Hope: Using Music to Fight Oppression

19. Januar 2017, 12:36 Uhr „I will not remain silent.“ (Ich werde nicht schweigen.)

This is the name of a violin concerto that Berlin-based Daniel Hope is performing this week in Los Angeles, but it also could be his personal motto. A prolific artist of many talents as well as a activist, he gets his message across not only through the violin, but also through writing, producing documentaries, and hosting a radio show.

Daniel Hope
Daniel Hope. Photo by Margaret Malandruccolo.

He does not shy from difficult topics, either. This week he'll give a lecture on Kurt Weill at the University of Southern California, participate in a Friday screening of his 2013 documentary called Refuge in Music, about musician-survivors of the World War II Terezin concentration camp; and perform with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Saturday and Sunday.

All these events center on topics such as championing civil rights, resisting injustice, fighting oppression -- themes that seem particularly prescient during this time of political transition and upheaval in the United States.

The violin concerto "I Will Not Remain Silent" is "a fantastic, extremely passionate, lyrical concerto that tells the story of a fascinating man," Hope told me on Tuesday by phone in LA. The piece, written by Bruce Adolphe, tells the story of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who escaped Hitler's Germany to settle in the United States. "(Prinz) believed passionately that the worst thing you could do was to remain silent. He spoke up against racism, against prejudice and against what was happening, both in Nazi Germany, and then in the 1950s and 60s in the United States, when he became a very vocal candidate for human rights."

"He didn't draw any boxes around different types of oppression," Hope said, "oppression was oppression for him."

In the concerto, which Hope will play next weekend with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Adolphe attempts to demonstrate two different worlds: the world of 1930s Germany and the Berlin of the Nazis; and the world of Civil Rights-era America and Martin Luther King. "He's done that in an extremely refined way, by switching gears musically," Hope said. The piece has two movements, each one representing those different times. "He's blended spirituals and songs from the Civil Rights movement, which he's very cleverly woven into the texture of the second movement. In the same way, (in the first movement) he's taken the sounds of Berlin and the sounds of war -- from explosions to gunshots to all the rest of it, coming out from the orchestra. The violin is in the center, the voice of this rabbi, Prinz, who is constantly trying to stay above what's going on. The piece is really like a historical journey, a terrific piece."

Hope's documentary, to be showed Friday, is a 2013 piece called Refuge in Music. It tells the story of two musicians who survived the Terezin/Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp near Prague. "One of them is Alice Herz-Sommer , who passed away about two years ago at the age of 111 -- she was a mere 109 when I interviewed her!" Hope said. "She was a classical pianist that played over 100 concerts at Theresienstadt. The other was a musician called Coco Schumann, a Berlin jazz artist who was into the swing scene Berlin. He was sent to Theresienstadt and afterwards even to Auschwitz, which he survived," Hope said. "Until recently he was still giving concerts with his jazz band."

In the film, these two musicians tell their story, and those stories are blended with excerpts from a live concert from Munich that featured music from Theresienstadt, played and sung by Hope and other musicians such as Christian Gerhaher and Anne Sofie von Otter.

For the interviews, "I went back to Theresienstadt with Coco Schumann," Hope said, "and I visited Alice Herz-Sommer at her apartment in London."

"I didn't want to make a history documentary, but something that looked at musicians and the way they used music to help others and to save others," Hope said. "Those two musicians in particular were fundamental in creating, in a sense, a concert scene in Theresienstadt. In a time which was unbearable and unthinkable for most of us, they were able to somehow think of music and create music there."

How did Hope come up with the idea? It all started about 20 years ago.

"I came upon it totally by accident; I was driving home one day after a concert, and I heard a string trio on the radio," he said. "I tried to guess what it was -- there was a bit of Stravinsky in there, a bit of Bartok, but I knew they hadn't written a string trio. I was so taken with it, I decided to pull over because I wanted to make sure I got the name of the piece. The announcer then said this was a piece by Gideon Klein -- and I'd never heard of Gideon Klein. When I got back to my hotel, I started to research Gideon Klein, and a whole wealth of information came back at me about Theresienstadt. Klein had been a very young pianist and composer who was imprisoned there, then murdered in a different concentration camp. This extraordinary piece was written just a few days before his final transport to Auschwitz."

That piece was one of many compositions that emerged from Theresienstadt and was recorded by Hope and other musicians on a CD called Forbidden Music: Music from Theresienstadt (2003). Another recording Hope did was Terezín/Theresienstadt (2008). The trio is one of the pieces that will be featured Thursday in a chamber concert at UCLA, along with a lecture about Theresienstadt.

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