Even those individuals who were alive after the Holocaust had to come to terms with the loss of loved ones and community, lingering feelings of depression and anxiety, and survivors' guilt.
Gustav Schonfeld was one of those individuals. Later a physician and professor in the United States, he was only 10 when imprisoned at Auschwitz, the most-notorious Nazi concentration camp. He spent a year there before liberation, but by then had also survived another camp and the Warsaw Ghetto.
His son, Jeremy, a performer and composer, mined his father's experience to find meaning in life after the Holocaust and to explore a father-son relationship built in the shadow of those terrible events. He also used his musical composition skills to understand his Jewish journey.
He did so through a theatrical concert he named "Iron & Coal."
"The name of the work derives from two concepts," Schonfeld said. "The 'iron' comes from a statement my grandfather used to make, that his will could break iron. My father, too, was an incredibly strong-willed man."
The 'coal' part refers to the darkness and heaviness of life, he continued. "There were charred remains emotionally, even in those who survived."
Jeremy Schonfeld based his work on his father's memoir. It evolved from a concept album -- which he released, ironically, he same day when Gustav Schonfeld died -- into the current fully realized theatrical concert, which is having its World Premiere on May 2 and 3 at Strathmore.
According to the composer-performer, he has mixed "harsh sounds with beautiful, flowing, orchestral music. There are aggressive, angry, industrial sounds, as well as lush operatic ones."
He has also incorporated three speaking parts. Appearing are Schonfeld himself, Rinde Eckert, Lincoln Clauss, and Contemporaneous.
The world premiere of "Iron & Coal" presents the work on a large scale, featuring dramatic visuals, a rock band, full orchestra, and more than 120 adult and youth voices. Taking part are Alexandria Harmonizers, Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras of Strathmore, Young Artists of America, and Strathmore Children’s Chorus.
Kevin Newbury is directing. David Bloom is music director.
Joi, Brown, vice-president of programming at Strathmore, has been instrumental in bringing this work to The Music Hall. She saw a concert version of "Iron & Coal" at National Sawdust, a well-known performance space in New York and lent support to the creative team while it was still adapting the work into the fully staged rock opera it now is.
"It's quite different from the version I saw," she said. "But the musical style is very appealing and accessible. It blends rock 'n roll and sweeping Broadway pieces, and adapts and integrates Jewish songs. Plus, this theatrical concert has the magnitude of an opera."
The strength of "Iron & Coal," she added, is that it is both personal and universal,
Producing is a relatively new endeavor for Strathmore, though it's not unusual for the venue to bring in performance artists and support the creation of new work. A precursor of "Iron & Coal" was the presentation of Wynton Marsalis's "All Rise" last season.
"This one is quite a bit bigger and more involved," Brown said. "
Schonfeld has also incorporated sections of his father's memoir.
"It's certain that Jeremy doesn't attempt to tell stories of the Holocaust," Brown said. "But as the Holocaust survivors are dying out, the work reflects the questioning of the second and third generations as to whether it's their stories to tell. "
Jeremy Schonfeld has found a way to tell his father's story and his relationship with his father, with the Holocaust as backdrop.
"Iron & Coal" will have two performances, Thursday, May 3, and Friday, May 4, at 8 p.m., at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane. North Bethesda, MD. For information, visit: www.strathmore.org.
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