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Music in Desparate Times"Music in Desperate Times: Remembering the Women's Orchestra of Birkenau"

"Music in Desperate Times: Remembering the Women's Orchestra of Birkenau" is a production by Ars Choralis, an amateur first-rate community chorus/orchestra from Woodstock, NY. Their concert combines the music of the Birkenau Women's Orchestra, readings from the women's diaries, and choral works of peace and resistance. They researched what instruments were used (guitars, mandolins, violins, flutes, recorders, etc) and what composers were played (Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, etc).

Despite the non-traditional instruments, the Birkenau orchestra created beautiful music . Had they not, these women musicians would have been killed. The power of the music, the conflict of having to play for the pleasure of the SS, the fact that every woman in the orchestra (except the conductor) managed to survive one of the worst death camps in history all make this an amazing concert.

During the depths of World War II, women musicians (mostly Jewish) incarcerated at the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camp were required to play for their Nazi captors. This is a story about how music saved the lives of those women. It is also the story of a small-town chorus that has brought back the music, hope, grief, and resilience of these women.

More than one million Jews were murdered in the Birkenau gas chambers. In exchange for their survival, this women's orchestra was formed by the S.S. at Birkenau. During the year and a half it existed, 54 women participated in the orchestra.

The concert is being performed three times, first at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Saturday March 28, 2009 at 8 PM. In April Ars Choralis travels to Germany where the group was invited to perform at the Heilig Kreuz church in Berlin on April 17 and at Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Ravensbrück, the former Ravensbrück concentration camp memorial, as part of the annual liberation/memorial service. The performance at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is also a fundraiser for the Germany trip.

Two years ago, Barbara Pickhardt, conductor of the Woodstock, NY chorus, Ars Choralis, researched survivors' memoirs and created “Music in Desperate Times: Remembering the Women's Orchestra of Birkenau.” The concert interweaves orchestral music by Schumann, Chopin, Puccini, Mendelssohn and others with spoken memoirs and songs of hope, peace and resistance sung by the chorus. Donning the simple lavender scarves and white blouses worn by the Birkenau musicians, the members of the reconstructed orchestra always feel a shiver of connection to the original orchestra as they play arrangements of the same music played in the camps.

Ars Choralis has performed “Music in Desperate Times: Remembering the Women's Orchestra of Birkenau” to great acclaim in Hudson Valley churches, colleges and synagogues. The audience response was so powerful that repeat performances were demanded. Now Ars Choralis has been invited to perform this concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan and then in Germany.

You can read more at: http://www.arschoralis.org/mdt-concert.html

Read the concert review in the New York Times, 3/25/09.

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