Elastic house concert was 33 years in the making

Alice Maxwell, violin, and Deborah Nemko,piano, with Jack and Evelyn Cowan from Catacol in the audience.

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Alice’s Wonderland Bed & Breakfast in Lamlash certainly lived up to its nickname as the elastic house on Thursday September 12 when owner Alice Maxwell welcomed more than 40 guests for a concert of Music in the Time of Anne Frank. All had arrived to hear renowned American pianist Deborah Nemko in a recital featuring her recent research into Dutch composers who suffered under the Nazis.

After sharing buffet refreshments, the audience settled into chairs for the concert. But what they didn’t realize was that this concert had been over three decades in the making. In 1986, Deborah Nemko, a student at the University of Illinois,arrived at Manchester University to study for a year. There she met fellow music student Alice Maxwell, and the two women cemented their friendship with a visit to Alice’s family home. But they lost touch over the decades as their lives and careers took them in different directions.

Alice became a popular musician and teacher on Arran, as well as a B&B owner. Deborah pursued a PhD, and was especially inspired by her mentor Alex Ringer, a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In his memory, she began researching the music of Dutch composers who suffered under the Nazis. Now a Professor of Music at Bridgewater State University and faculty member of New England Conservatory’s Piano Preparatory and Continuing Education Program, Dr Nemko has also performed in concerts in top venues worldwide including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, and the Bethanienklooster in Amsterdam.

In 2015 Deborah was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, during which she visited Amsterdam. There she interviewed families of Holocaust survivors, met with Eva Schloss – author of several works on the Holocaust and a well-known Dutch survivor of the camps who was Anne Frank’s childhood playmate and posthumous stepsister – and discovered many previously unpublished handwritten manuscripts.

Deborah assembled a selection of these pieces into the concert programme she’s presented in concert venues around the world, including the Anne Frank Awards at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Talking about these composers, she says: ‘Their music is often jazzy and sometimes influenced by French and American composers, and though largely unknown, deserves to be heard.’

Alice invited her old friend to perform on Arran. With support from the Netherlee and Clarkston Charitable Trust, The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, and the Jewish Music Institute, the Arran Jewish Cultural Association offered to sponsor Deborah’s visit to Arran to perform her recital programme

Last week when the two friends met again for the first time in 33 years, Alice reminded Deborah she’d left her suitcase at her family’s house on that first visit three decades ago, and that her father was keeping it for her. Deborah can’t have been surprised, because recovering items lost for decades has been her goal as she researched and salvaged music of holocaust-era composers.

The concert audience was riveted as Dr Nemko played pieces by several composers and told their stories. She began with compositions by HenriëtteBosmans and GézaFrid, important composers who survived the war. This was followed by Daniel Belinfante’s poignant Lento Mystiek, with its echoes of bells heard while in hiding from the Nazis. The composer, who was part of the Dutch Resistance, and was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Tragically, he was in hospital in a satellite camp when the Nazis decided to burn the hospital just days before the camp was liberated in 1945.

One of the most prolific young composers was Leo Smit, who was killed three days after arriving at Sobibór extermination camp in 1943. His compositions with their jazzy influences of Ravel and other twentieth century composers continue to be widely performed today.

Fania Chapirowas a well-known concert pianist whose compositions are only now being discovered and played. Finally the audience heard the vibrantly jazzy music of the young composer Dick Kattenburg, who was 24 when he was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. Although it was believed that only one of his pieces survived the war, more of his music has recently been rediscovered.

The concert programme finished with a prelude by Gershwin, and with the special treat of a duet with Alice Maxwell on the violin playing a brightly toe-tapping tango (Corncob by Angel Villodo) that had the audience applauding and demanding more. Barb Taub thanked the audience for their support, and revealed that the Arran Jewish Cultural Association will be sponsoring additional musical events on Arran including a family Klezmer Ceilidh next July. For more information or to be notified of future events, please email arran@scojec.org.)

Over shared desserts after the recital, audience members agreed it had been a brilliant concert, warmed by the home location, and illuminated by the pianist’s stories of the composers’ lives and the music we’re only now discovering they left behind. Many members of the audience wanted to know when Deborah would be back for her next Arran concert. Hopefully, it won’t take another 33 years.

Barb Taub

Alice Maxwell, violin, and Deborah Nemko,piano, with Jack and Evelyn Cowan from Catacol in the audience. 01_B38frank02

Alice Maxwell and Deborah Nemko after the concert. 01_B38frank03

The audience listen intently to Deborah Nemko. 01_B38frant04