The Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio Celebrates the Forbidden Composers Banned by the Nazis

click to enlarge Guest conductor Gemma New - Roy Cox
Roy Cox
Guest conductor Gemma New

The Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio's new series, appropriately (if melodramatically) dubbed Forbidden Composers, kicks off Saturday at the Tobin Center. Featuring the music of politically oppressed artists throughout history, the inaugural concert presents works by three Jewish composers who were stifled by the Nazi regime. Each of these individuals and their works — Hanns Eisler's "Suite for Orchestra No. 4," Erwin Schulhoff's "Suite for Chamber Orchestra," and Alexander Zemlinsky's "Chamber Symphony" — were, in their time, treated as threats to the Third Reich.

The result of this oppression was dire in the composers' own time and left their stellar works to be forgotten by history. Until now, these pieces have only very rarely been performed. Thus, the performance of these particular works becomes one part memoriam and one part education.

"This is an important performance because it's an opportunity to hear composers that were directly affected by the Nazi regime," said Paul Montalvo, artistic director of the chamber orchestra. "Because of the [70th] anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation, and in light of recent anti-Semitic events in our city, the evening will carry added significance."

Gemma New, guest conductor and associate conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, said, "This program is special because these composers had their lives turned upside down ... Especially like Schulhoff, who actually perished in a concentration camp, and this of course prevented them from continuing their remarkable work."

The compositions, New said, are more light-hearted than you might imagine. Schulhoff's piece "Suite for Chamber Orchestra," in particular, incorporates elements of ragtime, jazz, tango and waltz. Meanwhile, Eisler's "Suite for Orchestra No. 4" is a piece of a film score that "has a certain old-Hollywood sound" that also fuses jazz with classical composition. Meanwhile, the heavy hitter of the trio, von Zemlinsky's "Chamber Symphony" plays like an updated Brahms or Mahler — romantic with intriguing departures in tonality. It will leave listeners with "something to really chew on."

The Forbidden Composers

$45, 8pm Sat, Oct. 3, Tobin Center, 100 Auditorium, (210) 223-8624,

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