World Premiere of they burn, the fires of the night: lamentations from the ashes

The Heller Museum and Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music partnered with The Defiant Requiem Foundation to present composer and HUC-JIR faculty member Gerald Cohen’s world premiere of they burn, the fires of the night: lamentations from the ashes on October 25th at HUC-JIR’s New York Campus.

Man standing by a monumentThe song cycle is inspired by Menachem Z. Rosensaft’s Poems Born in Bergen-Belsen, which powerfully impart the legacy of Jewish suffering and resilience during the Shoah.

The Defiant Requiem Foundation addresses the dangers of antisemitism, Holocaust ignorance and denial, and contemporary issues of bigotry, human rights violations, mass atrocity, and genocide crimes through art performances. Rosensaft, a noted Holocaust remembrance and human rights activist who teaches about the law of genocide at Columbia and Cornell law schools, is the son of survivors and was born in the Displaced Persons camp in Bergen-Belsen.

Gerald Cohen headshotGerald Cohen is a celebrated composer of chamber music, choral music, opera, and liturgical music. In an interview with OperaWire, Cohen said, “It was an honor to have The Defiant Requiem Foundation commission me to write this piece. By crafting a selection of these poems into a 30-minute song cycle, my composition aims to bring out the sentiments in the poetry with the emotions that music aspires to achieve. I hope it will give the audience a visceral and deeply human experience of what happened in that terrible time—and the need to remember, and continue to retell, that history.”

Mezzo soprano Leah Wool and baritone David Kravitz are featured performers in this live concert. Instrumentalists include clarinetist Jon Manasse and cellist Julian Schwarz.

The program also includes music by composers who were imprisoned at the concentration camp at Terezín during the Shoah, including Viktor Ullmann, James Simon and Robert Dauber; as well as selections from Olivier Messiaen’s seminal Quartet for the End of Time.

A post-performance discussion with the poet and composer was moderated by Murry Sidlin, President and Artistic Director of The Defiant Requiem Foundation.

This concert is presented in conjunction with the Heller Museum’s exhibitions in which contemporary artists explore Jewish text, including Frank Stella: Had Gadya and Debra Band: Qohelet – Searching for a Life Worth Living.

This concert is underwritten with a generous gift from the House of Julius Meinl.