It has been now 15 years since I performed Bruch’s Kol Nidre at the Vatican for a concert commemorating the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust . The memory continues to vibrate my soul and I think of these ten minutes of music in my career and life as a seminal to my personality growth as an artist and man.
With Gilbert Levine conducting, the Philharmonia of London was brought to Rome especially for this event. Levine spent years working in Poland where he met John Paul II and started talking with him about a possible event that would be meaningful for both Christians and Jews with the theme of a memorial for the Jews who died in the war. At that time, the Pope-to-be confessed having had school friends who were taken away and never seen of again, making the time very alive and real in this holy man’s psyche.
For me, this connects the idea that terrible events in history are balanced with great creative bursts of mankind, even when the personal loss may be nearly unbearable. The concert came and went for many, I suppose. But for me, I was changed, altered forever. Here I was, asked to play one of the most Jewish works, meant for the most important day in the Jewish year, in the world center of the Christian faith.
So many connections were made for me at that time, all due to the Holocaust’s impact on history. Lev Aronson and I would have never met in Dallas, Texas if it hadn’t been for this tragedy.
Lev survived the camps to end up in the U.S. instead of a full life as a cellist working in Germany. So, he had to make an entirely new life in a foreign country with no family and only very few friends from Europe whom he had known before the war. So, settling in Dallas, he turned to teaching to supplement his income. This turned out to be his true calling in life.
What courage and imagination it must have taken to make this leap of faith! In a new country with none of the secure bonds of mid-European culture supporting him, he started fresh, with no assurances, just like the Yom Kippur’s Kol Nidre asks us to do.
How could I ever forget this in my own history? I cannot, and am honored to have had such influences as a cellist and as a human being.
Postscript: as a special offering, I’ve posted a video of the full performance below, you can watch this along with my interview for the documentary at my video page. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it today and remember.