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Music of Remembrance: “Emperor of Atlantis”

December 13, 2012

“Emperor of Atlantis” cover: http://www.musicofremembrance.org

A few weeks ago, I attended a performance presented by Music of Remembrance, a non-profit organization that remembers Holocaust musicians and their art,  featuring “Emperor of Atlantis,” a striking composition by Victor Ullmann. The concert also consisted of two other masterpieces, Prayer by Ernest Bloch and Three Jewish Dances by Marc Lavry.  I first heard about the performance through my Jews and German Culture class. My professor announced that anyone who attended the opera would receive extra credit. I was skeptical at first, but after hearing  the story behind the performance, I was interested to see how it would all turn out.  The opera  focuses on a despotic ruler who believes a war to the death of every man, women, and child will cleanse the country, yet death is appalled by the ruler taking his rightful duty away. As a result, death goes on strike and no one dies. Death himself only agrees to return if the Emperor agrees to die first.

Offered through the Germanics Department, Jews in German Culture was among the classes I took Fall quarter

Offered through the Germanics Department, Jews in German Culture was among the classes I took Fall quarter

Upon my arrival to the Opera, I did not have much of an expectation. I had never been to an opera, let alone experienced a performance that captured the essence of Jewish thought during WWII. I was not a big fan of them ever since I was little. The thought of sitting in one place for two hours listening to high pitched performers sing at the top of their lungs did not sound appealing. I enjoy pure symphonies more. But I’m all for new experiences, so I decided to give it a chance.

Along with the performance of “Emperor of Atlantis,” the concert opened with Benjamin Shmidt, a young cello soloist performing Prayer accompanied by a string quartetBenjamin was incredible. For a freshman in high school performing such an elusive piece and capturing the audience’s attention at such a young age was remarkable. I was impressed to hear him play so beautifully.

Viktor Ulmann, sketch by Peter Kien. [Courtesy of Jewish Museum, Prague.]

Viktor Ulmann, sketch by Peter Kien. [Courtesy of Jewish Museum, Prague.]

Overall, I’m glad that I went to the opera. It exposed me to the cultural legacy of Jewish art, and enlightened me with something different than what I was already used to. Being exposed to new artists and various styles of performances is beneficial. It expands your knowledge and submerses you into a world of cultural diversity. As a young person, it is important to embrace everything that shapes our perspective.  “Emperor of Atlantis” is one of many pieces that have the capability of educating and allowing the past to come back to life through music.

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