RITA KRAMER: A SYMPHONY OF COURAGE ****
The remarkable story of the Holocaust-era formation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra by famed, Polish-born violinist Bronislaw Huberman is engrossingly recounted in the documentary “Orchestra of Exiles.”Writer-producer-director Josh Aronson (2000’s Oscar-nominated “Sound and Fury”) tracks Huberman’s early life as a child prodigy performing violin concerts across Europe through his adult years — transformed as they were by the rise of Nazi Germany.
How few and far between they are, real heroes. In these dismal days it is a gift to be reminded of what some of our fellow human beings are capable of and be cheered and inspired by the lives they lived.
A new film titled Orchestra of Exiles is about such a man and the difference he made in his world and ours. Bronislaw Huberman, all but forgotten today, was one of the great musicians of his day, a peerless violinist recognized worldwide. With just a touch of irony, filmmaker Josh Aronson, who produced, wrote and directed Orchestra of Exiles, has called Huberman a Jewish Schindler because of the nearly thousand Jews he saved from extinction at the hands of the Nazis.
Huberman was born in the Polish town of Czestochowa in 1882. A violin prodigy, he toured throughout Europe as a child but received no schooling other than in music. At the height of his fame he was shattered by the carnage of the First World War. He cancelled his lucrative concert schedule and enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied political science. Throughout the 1920s he devoted his time and energies to the Pan Europe Movement, an organization meant to prevent future wars which attracted such other notables as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and Sigmund Freud.
Huberman was among the few public figures whose prescience measured the threat that Hitler and the rise of the Nazi Party posed to the Jews of Germany and to the culture of the entire civilized world. And when Jewish musicians began being fired by the orchestras of Hitler’s Europe, an idea occurred to Huberman which was to dominate the remaining years of his life, rescue many leading musicians from extinction at the hands of the Nazis, and create one of the world’s great orchestras. It is the realization of that idea that is portrayed in Aronson’s fascinating and moving film.
Orchestra of Exiles shows Huberman’s search for potential members of what would become the Palestine Philharmonic and later the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He traveled tirelessly throughout Europe to audition leading musicians, overcoming the odds against bringing them to Palestine, and using his influence to secure the permits necessary for them to stay. Along the way there are surprising–who knew?–moments and eminent historical figures portrayed in a seamless blend of documentary footage and the enactments that reproduce the characters and their milieux, faithful to their natures and their times. The actors chosen to represent Huberman and his various associates look much like their photographs, and their actions, for the most part voiceless, are filmed with a slightly veiled effect, with the result that one is drawn into the story with little awareness of where archival footage gives way to narrative film.
Because the story is true, because the unique gathering of musical talent that became first the Palestine and eventually the Israel Symphony Orchestra can be traced from its beginnings under Arturo Toscanini to the present, and because one man’s sacrifice of fame and fortune in order to realize his mission of rescue and his vision of a great musical heritage resonates with us today, Orchestra of Exiles is a must-see for anyone interested in music, in history, or in how both came together in the Yishuv. The film is an artistic as well as an emotional experience.
Rita Kramer’s books include Flames in the Field and When Morning Comes.
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