On September 17th, The BABI YAR 75th Anniversary Commemorative Concert was held at Arts Centre's Hamer Hall. The purpose of this concert was to commemorate and remember the ruthless slaughter of Kiev's Jews by the Nazis at Babi Yar.
In 1941, 33,771 Jews were stripped naked, told to line up on the edge of the ravine. They were then gunned down and fell to their deaths, 25 meters into the precipice. Some were dead, others barely alive. Moans of hell were heard for days after this massacre. It was like a moving sea of the dead.
In 1961, Yevgeny Yevtushenko penned a poem about the tragedy that took place at 'Babi Yar'. The poem was written at a time in Russia where Yevtushenko's payment for free speech and thought may have cost him his life. This poem has become the living monument and the voice of the tragic events at 'Babi Yar'.
Shostakovich identified with Yevtushenko and his poem 'Babi Yar'. The 19th-century composer was inspired to write his Symphony 13 to this dedication. Today, we remember these atrocities through music and poetry. It is a rare occasion that a concert such as this is organised. Sunday 17th of September was a tight collaboration with some of Australia's leading artists and composers.
The program started with Crossway for Orchestra by Harry Sdraulig, a young Australian composer, whose works are played locally and abroad. Crossway was a delightful contemporary 4 movement piece.
Soon, we were introduced to the music of Elena Kats-Chernin, who is well known worldwide for her compositions for theatre, ballet, orchestra and chamber ensembles. Her Flute Concerto Night and Now is reminiscent of both Russian and gypsy melodies. The music changed from dark and nostalgic to light and airy. It was beautifully interpreted by soloist, flautist, Sally Walker and the Zelman orchestra. When the music stopped, the crowd at Hamer Hall were enthralled. They were clapping. Some were whistling for more. And so, after a while, Sally and Elena performed a duet, Eliza's Aria, - piano and flute. Over 1500 people were sitting in the audience and there was complete silence as we listened to this absolute magical piece.
Everyone knows that it is not possible to translate poetry. Translation creates a new poem altogether. Fortunately, I speak Russian. I have read Yevtushenko's poem 'Babi Yar' in Russian. The poem is chilling and vivid. It fills me with darkness, helplessness and fear. Only a real master can evoke such feelings through poetry.
I was taken aback by the translation of 'Babi Yar' into English. The English poem captured the essence of what Yevtushenko wanted to convey. Equally important to the words is the presentation. Brendan Zlatkis recited 'Babi Yar' to us. It was a moving and powerful recitation. Yevtushenko would have been pleased.
We then heard the Kaddish, composed by the 19th Century composer, Ravel. This is the Jewish Prayer for Mourning. The audience arose, I looked around. There was not a single person seated. We all paid respect.
The Kaddish was followed by Shostakovich's Symphony 13.
This Symphony is composed of five movements, the first being the most powerful. The first movement is called Babi Yar. Adrian Tamburini, who amongst other achievements, is an operatic soloist with Opera Australia, a powerful bass-baritone voice, performed the first movement in Russian.
There was so much feeling that oozed from the artists on the stage, it was contagious and the audience felt the impact.
Symphony 13 was long. It was best to listen to with a program on hand because the music then became so much more meaningful. Each movement was accompanied by poetry.
When the concert came to an end, people rose from their seats. They were clapping through tears, affected by the sincere and moving performance by all on stage.
There is a good reason why the audience was so touched by this concert.
I feel privileged to have been an audience member at this very important event.