The sounds of darkening clouds eclipsing a silver lining that followed a destructive storm stripped away any sigh of relief that the end of strife was indeed the end.
As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were displaced from their homes on the third day of the fiery, unprovoked war by Russian armed forces, a theater in New Jersey hosted a two-hour peace concert dedicated to the European country besieged.
On Saturday, the New Jersey Youth Symphony, a multi-level orchestral program from the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts providing ensemble training for students in grades 3 through 12 spanning the Garden State, presented a poignant performance of the works of two of the world’s foremost advocates for peace: three-time Oscar-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch and Pulitzer Prize winner for “A Chorus Line,” and Leonard Bernstein, winner of 16 Grammy Awards.
Under the direction of Helen H. Cha-Pyo, principal conductor of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts, the 19-instrument symphony fusing violin, viola, cello, horn, tuba, trumpet and many others performed Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 “Jeremiah”. ” for orchestra and mezzo-soprano and “Anatomy of Peace, a one-movement symphonic suite” by Marvin Hamlisch.
“The anatomy of peace was undoubtedly framed by her parents’ harrowing escape from Vienna during World War II,” Hamlisch’s widow, Terre-Blair Hamlisch, of her late husband’s parents, told a crowd of at least 300 spectators at Union County Performing Arts. Rahway Center. “His father was a musician and when he prepared for his escape Marvin’s mother was afraid if he wasn’t killed he would starve to death. So she forced oranges into the bell of his saxophone. The problem was that Marvin’s father got on the train under the auspices of playing a musical concert in Liechtenstein, Nazi soldiers boarded the train and a soldier was rummaging through his father’s instrument case and he opened the lid and the humiliation of the fruit falling on this soldier’s face angered the soldier, and the Nazi soldier threw himself on Marvin’s father. But with the help of the kindness of the strangers on the train, the Marvin’s father, Max, jumped off the moving train and the passengers threw him, his musical instrument and his belongings and he escaped.
She continued, “Needless to say, Marvin Hamlisch never took freedom and peace for granted. With anti-Semitism on the rise, he would believe that everyone deserves to pray in places that are safe and free of gunmen. That schools should be safe and peaceful places to learn That war and suffering are over and we all have the inherent right to live in peace That the escalation of political rhetoric that divides families and friends obscures what we have in common: our humanity. That something limits us beyond our ideological identifications, our humanity. No one wants to suffer. And we each deserve to live a life in a peaceful and safe world.
Ms. Hamlisch then directed her monologue to the artists of the evening who hold the power to change the trajectory of the future of the world.
“To the musicians on stage, the New Jersey Youth Symphony and choir, it is you tonight who will lead the way musically. We will listen to the notes Marvin wrote amid the relevance of chaotic dissonance in today’s world. We will hear your voices and the unifying melodic theme remind us that music is the language of transcendence, and you will take us beyond ourselves and beyond our differences and remind us of what connects us. But it is your youthful call to the world now your world to create and perhaps inspired by the symphonic work of Marvin, it will be a world of peace and a world of security that we all deserve.”
The compositions were as chaotic as they were cathartic. Typical of the nonlinear path to peace, sounds of confusion, pain and distress preceded pleasant bursts of hope and dreamlike states of idealism. During Bernstein’s “Jeremiah”, which is loosely based on the book by wailing After the biblical story of the weeping prophet traveling through the loss and restoration of faith in humanity, mezzo-soprano Cierra Byrd’s staged pain was palpable. Between the belts of her melodious operatic singing voice that spanned several octaves, she thoughtfully held her head skyward as the flutes and violins wept behind her. Hamlisch’s “Anatomy of Peace” was captivating, as the wind ensemble surprisingly pierced the dark, complicated composition with clarity and optimism like dawn in winter. The youth choir, the voice of the next generation, sang of hope with a resounding message from musical theater lyricist David Zippel demanding his cynical outlook on life be turned upside down:
Some fear the world
They hear the dissonance
And say it will always be
i see the world
as one community
This must be joined by a law
A law for me
One law for all of us
This will unite us one day
And I believe
It’s not impossible
If we accept a law
National pride will cease
The world will live in peace
And I believe
It’s not impossible
Because we are capable of change.
Pictures of Lianna Albrizio