Celebrating Our Shared Humanity: "Kaddish" to Debut in Keene

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On May 3, the voices and lives of those touched by the Holocaust will be transformed into a compelling musical experience in the debut performance of the "Kaddish," a new work by New Hampshire composer Lawrence Siegel.

Commissioned by the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies at Keene State College, "Kaddish," will be performed for the first time on Saturday May 3, 2008 at 8:00 P.M. at the Redfern Arts Center on Brickyard Pond in Keene, New Hampshire.

The Cohen Center, one of the nation's oldest Holocaust resource centers, commissioned Siegel to create "Kaddish" in honor of the Center's 25th anniversary. A chorus of 50 voices, professional soloists and a chamber orchestra will perform the work at this debut performance.

The word "Kaddish" refers to the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, recited as part of the mourning rituals at funerals and on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. A Kaddish focuses on the sanctity of life.

The personal nature of "Kaddish" inspires more than just empathy. "It's a unique opportunity to use the power of music to teach about the Holocaust," says Jan Cohen, executive producer of the "Kaddish" Project. "It emphasizes the Jewish principle of 'tikkun olam' ˆ healing, or repairing the world, and expresses our collective responsibility to make the world a better place."

According to Cohen, "Kaddish" is not merely a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, but about lifting our voices to prevent tragedies like it in the future.

"We're hoping to enlighten people about the genocides that are occurring today," she says. "Genocide is an ongoing global crisis. In places such as Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Kenya and the former Yugoslavia, communities have been devastated by ethnic violence. The fact that the intentional and systematic destruction of entire cultures continues makes 'Kaddish' relevant to people of all backgrounds."

In his two-year quest to develop this new work of music, composer Lawrence Siegel traveled to sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and met with Holocaust survivors around North America. What has emerged is a celebration of the human spirit through the beauty of song and the power of individual testimony.

The stories that he heard come through the music are the core of "Kaddish." The evening length concert work is a cycle of songs in fifteen movements, each conveying a distinct facet of the survivors' experiences before, during, or after the Holocaust.

Siegel wrote "Kaddish" to include elements of folk music, weaving in themes and melodies suggestive of klezmer and other traditions. "As a musical composition for chorus and chamber ensemble, 'Kaddish' is quite distinctive," he says. "It can bridge cultural, racial and religious boundaries˜to move, awaken, inform, warn, heal, unite and inspires to acceptance of differences."

Siegel is a composer, artist, scholar and performer with a national reputation. As artistic director and founder of Tricinium, Ltd., and director of The Verbatim Project, he has facilitated participatory, interdisciplinary residencies in the creation and performance of original works of music-theater for more than sixteen years. A three-time Fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, Siegel's grants and awards include a Continental Harmony grant from the American Composers Forum for the production of Kaddish. He has also received three New Works Grants and an Artist Fellowship in Composition from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

Jan Cohen, an advisory board member of the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies at Keene State College since 1999, considers this an opportunity to reach new audiences. "'Kaddish' is a reminder of our shared responsibility as humans to respond with empathy and understanding, and to confront intolerance, injustice and hatred," she says. "The 'Kaddish Project' transcends Jewish issues˜going beyond even the Holocaust itself˜to capture the value of remembrance: in recognition of human tragedy, the responsibility to create beauty in the world and celebrate our shared humanity."

The "Kaddish Project" was conceived and launched in partnership with the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies at Keene State College in Keene, NH. It will go on to make its professional world premiere with the renowned vocal ensemble VocalEssence, under the direction of maestro Philip Brunelle, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 15, 2008, as part of the 40th season of VocalEssence. The Minneapolis performance will be dedicated to the memory of Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress; Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who took action by rescuing Tom, his wife Annette, and many others during the Nazi reign of terror; and Stephen Feinstein, the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.

The American Composers Forum has awarded a Continental Harmony grant to help underwrite the making of Kaddish. It was funded in part by a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

More information may be found at http://www.kaddishproject.org.

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