Volkswagen has an orchestra which plays works by murdered composers

Volkswagen has an orchestra which plays works by murdered composers


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2016

Remarkable that an icon of Nazi industry should have staged a Holocaust memorial ceremony this week (report here).

Even more remarkable:

Musicians from the Philharmonic Volkswagen Orchestra then performed the Third String Quartet by Jewish composer Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944), who was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The piece was written in the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1943, and was first performed at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg.


Volkswagen has a phiharmonic orchestra which performs works by murdered composers…


  • Jonas says:

    Is there any orchestra playing works by murdered Palestinian composers?

  • Robert says:

    A refreshing bit of corporate self-awareness.

    How active is the Volkswagen orchestra?

  • Rosana says:

    A very nice action by Volkswagen if the orchestra performs regularly. They should also include music by the many composers who were forced to flee Europe during the dark Nazi period.

    • Max Grimm says:

      The orchestra does indeed perform regularly and was not merely put together for this memorial ceremony. The Philharmonic Volkswagen Orchestra counts roughly 80 regulars and has been performing since its founding in 1949.

  • Stuard Young says:

    Makes up in a very tiny way for cheating on engine emissions in the USA!

  • Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

    Bayer also has an orchestra. Many years ago, they did a tour of the US cities in which Bayer has manufacturing facilities, and their reps did a site visit to my theater. The visitors were 2 very nice German gentlemen and their translator, who asked me if I spoke German. Since the only German I know is “Juden araus!” and “Arbeit macht frei,” I told her I did not.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Here is some more German for you to use next time you are asked that question, Jeffrey:
      “Natürlich nicht, ich bin doch Amerikaner, also kann ich gar keine Fremdsprachen und ich bin auch noch stolz darauf!”
      You can also say:
      “Ich habe so viele alte Feindbilder und Klischees im Kopf, da ist einfach kein Platz mehr für irgendetwas anderes!”

      • Heath says:

        Michael, when you grow up Jewish in the shadow of the Holocaust these phrases tend to stick. Even if you’re not Jewish. Stupid comments on your part, und ja, ich kann Deutsch.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          We all grow up in the shadows of history, Heath, and most of them are very dark. I am not Jewish, but several members of my family were killed by the Nazis, too. But that’s not really that relevant either. Nothing entitles anyone to stick to old stereotypes and historical grievances and celebrate them as an excuse for ignorance and lack of interest in other cultures. And the latter is one of the roots of that kind of evil.

  • Max Grimm says:

    “araus” = Augmented Reality Assisted Urologic Surgery
    out = raus

  • CDH says:

    It’s 70 years since the end of the war. New generations might look at things rather differently, and while not complicit in anything they have to feel guilt about, might wan to do things that make it clear that their firm, and Germany, have moved on.

    This seems to me a very good thing Volkswagen’s orchestra has done.

    • Eddie Mars says:

      Yes, entirely agreed! When we played the Russian premier of The Emperor Of Atlantis, about 5-6 years ago, the performance (and festival) was sponsored by the Goethe Institute, and supported by the German Embassy. The Ambassador gave a very moving speech about Germany’s guilt towards Ullmann (and the others killed by the Reich) after the performance.

      One other point deserves mentioning… Ullmann’s work should be played, first and foremost, not because of his victim status, or because of the unusual and remarkable nature of The Emperor’s genesis in Auschwitz… but because it is first-rate music that needs no external justifications for its well-deserved performance!

      • Michael Endres says:

        Agreed !
        Ullmann’s music is indeed first rate, e g his piano sonatas are a gold mine of quirky and highly original music.
        I have also always being very fond of his one act opera ”Der zerbrochene Krug”, based on Heinrich von Kleist’s play, one of the cornerstones of classic German theatre repertoire.
        Ullmann’s burlesque and colourful music is an ideal partner for the lighthearted but ambigous comedy.
        The Kleist opera was the last work before he was sent to Theresienstadt, where he composed a considerable number of works, among them his last 3 piano sonatas, The Emperor of Atlantis, many songs and — something I would love to see –cadenzas for Beethoven’s piano concertos Nr. 1 and 3 !

  • Max says:

    Despite the meager grasp of some individuals on past roles, it isn’t “remarkable.” It’s just “today.”

  • Bill Gross says:

    Prior to WWII in the US many companies had either a company band or orchestra. The New York City Sanitation Department had its own symphony until budget cuts let to its demise.

  • Philip arkinstall says:

    It just doesn’t feel right . Giant corporations with all the rights and powers of an immortal individual . One who can wear whatever mask it chooses and never be held responsible . The relateduncomfortable stone in the shoe is that On one hand cheating boldfacedly from a legal and ethical perspective ( emissions) , on the other supporting a beautiful art form that is being used to present a humanistic , law abiding face to the world .

  • William Safford says:

    Who knew that there was such a thing as the “Philharmonic Volkswagen Orchestra.”

    Kudos to them for this symbolic gesture.

    I’ll have to explore Ullmann’s music.