Composer Gerald Cohen to Lecture on His Musical Compositions Commemorating the Holocaust Cohen’s talk, “Music as Witness: a Composer Commemorates the Holocaust,” will be held at 4 p.m. on Feb. 13 in Hillel 101.
Composer Gerald Cohen will visit the Washington and Lee University campus on Tuesday, Feb. 13 to discuss three of his compositions related to the Holocaust. The event, slated to begin at 4 p.m. in Hillel Room 101, is free and open to the public.
Cohen is visiting W&L as part of the Class of 1963 Scholars in Residence Program, supported by the Religion Department, the Music Department, Hillel and the Office of the Provost. In addition to his scheduled lecture, Cohen will also participate in professor Terry Vosbein’s Applied Music: Composition class, as well as Judaism: Tradition and Modernity taught by assistant professor Emily Filler.
“We are delighted to bring Gerald Cohen and his exquisite music to campus for events that will engage not only the W&L community but musicians and audiences from Lexington, Rockbridge County and beyond,” said Alexandra Brown, Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion and interim chair of the Religion Department. “Through his compositions, Cohen voices his deep commitment to peace and humanitarian efforts worldwide.”
Cohen’s music reflects his embracement of both Western classical traditions and his Jewish roots. The recorded compositions that Cohen will present to W&L convey varied dimensions of the deep human story shared by those who lived and died during the Holocaust. Cohen will also reflect on his connection to the Holocaust through his parents, both refugees from Europe, and his close relationships with many Holocaust survivors.
The first composition, titled “they burn, the fires of the night: lamentations from the ashes,” is a song cycle inspired by Menachem Z. Rosensaft’s “Poems Born in Bergen-Belsen,” a series of poems that powerfully impart the intense emotions that result from the sharing of personal stories and the larger terror associated with the Holocaust.
The second composition, titled “Playing our lives,” is a string quartet in tribute to the music and musicians who were interned in the Nazi concentration camp Terezín. Terezín was considered a transit camp where Jews and other prisoners were kept until transport to death camps such as Auschwitz.
The final composition, titled “Steal a Pencil for Me,” is an opera set in two acts that conveys a love story and drama about overcoming great adversity in the Westerbork transit camp and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
In addition to his lecture and teachings on campus, Cohen’s musical works will be offered to the Lexington community through Grace Episcopal Church.
At 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 11, Cohen will engage in conversation with the Rev. Tuck Bowerfind about music and interfaith dialogue, and he will serve as guest cantor and pianist for the 10:30 a.m. liturgy. Additionally, the choir will sing his composition “Adonai Ro’i.” Later that evening, at 5 p.m., a community gathering will be held in the Grace Episcopal sanctuary, where Cohen will lead an exploration of nigunim, a traditional Jewish mystical song without words. This will be a lively, educational and participatory community singing event.
At 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 12, the Chamber Music Society of Lexington will present “Beloved of my Being: The Music of Composer Gerald Cohen,” an instrumental and choral program consisting of Cohen’s compositions.