On November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht — literally translatable to “night of crystal,” but also referred to as the “night of broken glass” — brought extreme destruction to parts of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
“Kristallnacht owes its name to the shards of … broken glass from the windows of synagogues, homes and Jewish-owned businesses plundered and destroyed during the violence,” reads the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s recount of the tragedy.
“That’s when all hell started breaking loose in Europe,” says Kate Steinbeck, director of Asheville chamber music collective Pan Harmonia. “Whatever the Nazis were talking about doing before then, that’s when it became overt.”
For six years now, Pan Harmonia has organized a Holocaust Remembrance Concert, almost always scheduling the event to roughly coincide with Kristallnacht‘s anniversary — a way to swing the focus back to remembering a grave era that may be slowly fading from the modern mind. The seventh annual production, ELEGY: Songs of Lamentation, takes place at UNC Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the Manheimer Room on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 5 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.
“We have often done composers that died in the Holocaust, but this year we’re not doing that so much,” Steinbeck explains. “It’s just beautiful tunes. I call it Songs of Lamentation.”
Steinbeck, a flutist, plus pianist Ivan Seng and cello player Franklin Keel will perform in different iterations, covering the following compositions: Danse Lente (1924), written by Joseph Jongen and performed by Steinbeck and Seng; From Jewish Life (1924), written by Ernest Bloch and performed by Seng and Keel; Lief (1986), written by Hilary Tann and performed by Steinbeck and Keel; and Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839), written by Felix Mendelssohn and performed by all three musicians.
Steinbeck says the recurring event began when Pan Harmonia partnered with the Center for Diversity Education on an Anne Frank exhibit. Now, it’s underwritten by a local family, “so it’s a gift for the community,” she says, adding that the matriarch of that family escaped the Holocaust by fleeing on a boat at 6 years old. She lost family members who were unable to break free.
Although the goal is to foster thought, Steinbeck says she’s refraining from adding any speeches, history lessons or religious ceremonies into the programming — instead leaving the hard work to the instruments and their players.
“I think you can transcend with music in a way you can’t with anything else,” she reasons. “Anytime you listen to music, it’s your own experience. You can be sitting there in communion with an audience, but anytime we’re experiencing something and there are no words, it’s really powerful.
“Acoustic music is especially powerful, because it’s really immediate,” she says, adding that none of Pan Harmonia’s concerts are amplified. “Once you put anything through a microphone, it is changed. It’s not quite the same thing. Your body has a visceral reaction to acoustic music.”
Although she calls classical music performances a hard sell, especially for youths, Steinbeck hopes the event will provide a quick, low-key opportunity for people of all ages to “hear some beautiful music and reflect on that part of our history.”