Glendon professor directs music drama exploring the Holocaust

Canadian director Guillaume Bernardi (right) returned to the Frankfurt Opera in Germany this month to direct Through Roses, a music drama by American composer Marc Neikrug. Through Roses is a poignant piece about a violinist trying to survive his memories of the Holocaust. The production features the collaboration of two other Canadians, choreographer and dancer Heidi Strauss, who performs the role of “The Woman” and costume designer Peter DeFreitas.

The Toronto-based Bernardi has a number of scholarly publications to his credit and teaches drama at York’s Glendon campus. He is a director, choreographer, dramaturge and scholar who has collaborated with many leading figures in the world of music, theatre and dance, including conductor René Jacobs; singers Suzie LeBlanc and Andreas Scholl; and choreographers Peter Chin, Heidi Strauss and New York-based Trisha Brown. Bernardi is a member of the newly-formed Académie Montréal Baroque with soprano Suzie LeBlanc and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann.

Composer Marc Neikrug was born in 1946, and was commissioned to write the music and text for Through Roses in 1980. Neikrug created the central role for renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman, himself the son of a musician who survived Auschwitz. Neikrug’s work draws on the musical memories of a Holocaust survivor who is struggling to deal with his memories of the war. During the Second World War, musicians in Nazi death camps were kept alive in order to perform. Among these were anonymous musicians, as well as such well-known personalities as Austrian composer Gustav Mahler’s niece, Alma Rosé, who conducted the women’s orchestra in Auschwitz.

Right: Gustav Mahler’s niece, Alma Rosé , who was forced to conduct the women’s orchestra in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

For Neikrug, the performance of music in such a horrific context raises many questions which he addresses in Through Roses: “The foundation of all spirituality and elevated humanity in music lies, for me, in the tradition of great German music: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.,” said Neikrug. “The grotesque paradox of playing that music in those camps is an unfathomable act of a supposedly civilized and cultured people. I have no explanation. Yet I felt compelled to raise these issues.”

The text is spoken and accompanied throughout by the eight solo instrumentalists, who also quote from Bach to Berg and other music.

Performances of Bernardi’s version of Through Roses continue until Jan. 27 at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt, Germany.