Germany gets a Jewish orchestra

The Orchester Jakobsplatz of Munich has a new name.

From next season it will be known as the Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich.

Its leader Daniel Grossmann explains: ‘Our action is intended clearly, aggressively and with obvious ease to communicate our Jewish content.’

The ensemble, founded in 2005, is made up of Jewish and non-Jewish musicians.

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  • Since when is music ‘Jewish content’, Jewish composer or not.
    Wrong direction to go.
    Music is by nature inclusive, not exclusive.

    Is the air a Jew exhales also ‘Jewish air’?
    Is the water he swims in ‘Jewish water’?

    • The term Jewish content is to distinguish the composers the ensemble performers from the overwhelmingly Gentile composers that dominate classical performance.

      The group initially focused on forgotten Jewish composers. It now also performs and commissions contemporary Jewish composers. Other groups in other places have similar programs focusing on women composers, African-American composers, Middle-Eastern composers, Asian composers, and so on.

      What term would you prefer?

      • What is a ‘Gentile composer’?
        What is a ‘Jewish composer’?
        If you identify yourself as a Jew, culturally, religiously, maybe ethnically, does that make your music as a composer ‘Jewish’?
        Or is it much more complex than that?
        Was Mahler a ‘Jewish composer’? I would say no, he was born as a Jew, but his music is much more than only that.

        All this is a terrible distortion of the mind by nationalism and racism.

        • Are you objecting to ensembles that focus on music of a specific origin or to the term “Jewish content” (jüdischen Inhalte)?

          If it’s the former, this is the tired discussion of whether organizations should promote works by groups that are outside the dominant culture. Refer to the endless threads on this site and countless others. If it’s the latter, again, what term to you prefer?

          • I object the term ‘jewish content’. Because a composer who is also Jewish does not compose jewish music. He composes music.

            If a Norwegian farts, it’s not a Norwegian fart. No flag is on the fart. It’s just a fart, good or bad as anyone else’s.
            I guess you get my way of thinking.

          • How would that work other way round?…still Catholic, practicing Judaism?
            Who makes up these rules?
            This one reflects the Nazi definition of who is a Jew, does it not?

          • Staying ethnically Jewish no matter what appears to be one of the few things that Jews and anti-Semites agree on.

            In my case, Jewish practicing nothing.

          • James, the Nazi definition of Jewishness was purely racial/ethnically, decided at birth. (or conception more precisely.) One could not escape the Nazi terror by converting.

        • We can debate ad nauseam about the Jewishness and Catholicism of Mendelssohn or Mahler.

          Things are more straightforward in a 2/1/2018 Orchester Jakobsplatz program I just noticed, with works by Józef Koffler, who died in 1944 at Ghetto Wieliczka. To me that seems a good example of what a Jewish orchestra can do.

          • To me that seems a good example of what any orchestra can do.
            Are you also advocating the performance of Jazz music by players of African American descent only, if the composer was African American?
            Or Russian composers, passport please at stage entrance, only Russians allowed to play it?
            I don’t understand these mindsets? Aren’t we all one humanity after all, and particularly in music?

          • A Jewish one is more likely to perform music by a jewish victim of Nazism. But any group or artist could and perhaps should. For instance, mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter, herself not a Jew, recorded a decade ago a very interesting CD with works associated with the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

            The other mindsets you are talking about are not mine.

            That said, there is something to cherish about idiomatic performances. One is more likely to find them among native musicians, but there are always outstanding exceptions: for instance, Chinese born pianist Fou Ts’ong is deservedly well known (among connoisseurs at least) exponent of Chopin Mazurkas. I suppose that’s as politically correct an example as it gets. (May I now go ahead and criticize other Chinese pianists for their stylistic shortcomings?)

          • I’d like to clear up something since I’m about as a big a fan of Gustav Mahler as one is likely to find. Mahler converted purely for the purposes of landing the Vienna Royal Opera conducting gig. Cosima Wagner, among others, was opposed to Mahler’s appointment on the basis of him being a Jew. Mahler himself said that he was attracted to the trappings of the Catholic church (incense, stained windows, chanting, etc.), but not the dogma. All of this is covered somewhat cynically – yet, rather truthfully – in Ken Russell’s “Mahler”. Mahler did not practice either religion. He was a full time musician and part time father (meaning that he was away quite a bit).

            Anyway, Mahler married Alma Schindler – a Catholic – in Karlskirche in Vienna. Mahler’s sister, Justine, married Arnold Rose – concertmaster of the Vienna Phil. and founder of the Rose Quartet – in the very same Catholic church shortly after. It still stands today on the Ringstrasse.

            As for this Jewish chamber orchestra, I fully support the idea. Note that the orchestra itself includes Gentiles.

          • “As for this Jewish chamber orchestra, I fully support the idea. Note that the orchestra itself includes Gentiles.”

            Woahhhh, what an ugly load of racist thought. “Gentiles”.

            Look in the mirror:

            “As for this Aryan chamber orchestra, I fully support the idea. Note that the orchestra itself includes Non-Aryans.”

            How does that sound to you? Would be the same kind of mental excrement.

          • Not the same at all, tamino. Your example is a race, while Jews are not – in fact there are Jews of all races and many ethnicities. And besides, the word “Aryan” carries a well-deserved negative baggage with it from recent history that the word “Jewish” certainly does not. If an orchestra in Germany wants to dedicate itself to performing music by Jewish composers and/or on Jewish-related themes and/or based on Jewish melodies (folk and/or traditional and/or liturgical), then that is a positive development that should not be discouraged. Of course we are all one humanity, but that does not mean that we are all the same, and if a certain group of people wants to contribute their accomplishments in a particular artistic field to common culture, they should be free to do so and all of us will always remain free to buy tickets or to stay away.

          • No, tamino, it wouldn’t be the same. The word “Aryan” refers to nothing but race while “Jewish” does not because there are Jews of all races and of many ethnicities. Besides, “Aryan” comes with horribly negative baggage from recent history the like of which “Jewish” certainly does not have. If an orchestra in Germany is interested in presenting music by Jewish composers and/or with Jewish-related themes and/or music that uses melodic/harmonic content based on Jewish folk/traditional/liturgical originals, then it is to be welcomed – and the name would simply be truth in advertising. Meanwhile all of us will certainly remain free to either support or ignore it in accordance with our tastes and interests.

        • We live in the age of self-identification – be that trans gender, black, Jewish or anything else for that matter. If you subscribe to the idea of self-identification then you must accept that if somebody wants to identify as a dog then that’s OK. Let both sides play this game!!

      • Surely, mankind is overwhelmingly ‘Gentile’. Upwards of 99%.
        One must make allowances, don’t y’know.

        • Allow me to change what I wrote in an effort to appease all the hair-splitting:

          “Note that orchestra also contains members who are not Jewish”.


  • Germany has been involved with a decades long project to rebuild its Jewish community. This has naturally been a slow and difficult process, but it has seen notable progress in recent years. The Jakobsplatz Orchester took its name from the plaza where the main synagogue of Munich stood before it was burned to the ground by the Nazis in 1938. In 2005, a new synagogue was completed near where it once stood. It cost $57 million. Much of the financing came from the City of Munich and the State of Bavaria.

    In 2003, the police uncovered a plot by a neo-Nazi group called the Kameradschaft Sü bomb the ceremony for laying the corner stone of the new synogouge. The police found the plans for the terror act and 30 pounds of explosives. The carnage would have been immense. Eight people were given long prison sentences. The ceremony was attended by the entire Bavarian government cabinet and many prominent people including the diplomat of Israel. The area was secured by 1500 police.

    An underground passageway that connects the synagogue to a community center contains the names of 4500 Jewish people in Munich who were murdered by the Nazis.
    When I lived in Munich in the 80s and early 90s, the Jewish community was small and for all practical purposes kept itself very low profile, if not hidden. We were once visited by a Jewish friend who wanted to go to one of the small synogogues in Muncih that existed at that time. For security, it was in an unmarked building in a residential part of the city. She couldn’t find the building and asked someone on the street for directions. It happened to be a member of the synagogue, who told her she shouldn’t go around asking for the synagogue because it might cause her trouble.

    It’s a sign of real progress that this orchestra can now call itself the Jewish Chamber Orchestra of Munich. It demonstrates the progress that has been made. I trust it won’t end in misfortune. It’s important thet the Jewish community confidently signal its return with an orchestra like this, and I’m sure it is very much welcomed by the vast majority of the people, especially in Munich, which due to its history, struggles with its Nazi past more than any other German city.

    • it doesn’t look like progress to me. To me it looks more like a regress, a self inflicted walk back into the ‘ghetto’, even if only a mental one.
      Bring on the music, no doubt about it.
      But stop the ethnic divides and segregation and racism.
      After all it mostly is probably a publicity and fund raising stunt.

      • Correct. And honestly, as the daughter of Holocaust survivors I find it humiliating to use the “Jewish card” in Germany for fundraising and PR because it is bound to initiate the opposite effect for which it was intended. May as well have the orchestra wearing yellow stars.

          • certainly you are aware of the kippah incident last week in Berlin, where the head of Germany’s Jewish community Schuster advised Jews not to wear kippot in public as a defense measure. Same goes for what I feel is deliberately changing the name of this orchestra, which was I believe was originally intended to enrich the cultural lives of the Jewish and Gentile communities in Munich because it was connected to the Synagogue, which is the center of the Jewish Community…or should be. And now whose life and career is the newly named orchestra enriching? I tend to consider politics at play here.

          • If “politics at play” make the word “Jewish” harmful, then you should be against such “politics” and not against the word that truthfully describes the mission of the orchestra.

        • Historically the strategy of attempting to lay low and disguise our ethnicity has failed. It is better to stand up for our rights and our identity.

          I speak as a grandchild of Holocaust avoiders (they snuck out before things got really hairy) who lives in Germany.

        • Yes, in general that’s true, but in particular, if you build a house for a community for instance, you have the choice to build it with doors and windows and a garden and open to the world around you, or you can build it with impenetrable walls like a fortress to keep others excluded and outside. If one wants to be part of a bigger community with his or her own sub-community, one has these choices. Be part of it or separate from it…

          • Which is exactly why that orchestra is not excluding non-Jews either from its ranks or from its audiences.

          • No M2N2K, you don’t know that. It would be simply illegal to form an orchestra in Germany that receives some public subsidies, and discriminates employment along racial or religious lines.

          • In that sense every word is by definition exclusive: “orchestra” plays orchestral music and “quartet” plays quartets. So drawing the line between a kind of exclusion that is ok and a verboten kind is an arbitrary exercise.

          • No, not all things are equal, our common values and ethics in our societies state, that we do not discriminate along racial, religious or blurry ethnological lines.

          • True, but because of the fact that majority rules, an enlightened democratic society must take special care in promoting the rights of minorities – especially those that were persecuted in the past – to achieve true equality.

  • Tamino, I know that.

    ‘This one’ refers to Scotty writing that Jewish remains Jewish, whether convert or unbeliever…
    or a Mahler, who apparently wished to put all things Jewish out of his life.

    And this ‘Jewish remains Jewish’ is what the Nazis maintained and practiced.

    Does a Catholic who converts to Judaism remain ‘ethnically’ Catholic?

    Do I, a 4-fold 11th generation New England Yankee unbeliever, raised a Fundamentalist Protestant by born-again parents, lose this regal status if I take up with another religion?
    I admit, NE Yankees seldom have need to deal in questions and quandries of ethnic identity, but the racial-ethnic matter among whites often seems to be rather a self-service shop….if I may put it that way, looking in from the outside, as it were.

  • The conductor is a cousin of Adam Fisher, and the conductor’s mother is a publicity hound. But why not? Los Angeles has a “Jewish” music themed and Jewish named orchestra….so why not Munich. Dresden has an excellent so-called Jewish orchestra too, so shall we say, “the more the merrier?” or is this a blatant act of defiance which will cause a great deal of publicity….thank you NL.. leading to ugly acts of anti-Semitism following it everywhere and a heyday for the press to focus on anything but the music and music making itself..

    • I did listen to an interview this afternoon Baverian Radio – Daniel Grossmann. I am sure the orchestra does get more attention now with the new name. They are already in a huge opera project (Noahs Flut – Britten) with hundreds of children. All they do plan sounds huge and they do need much sponsoring. They did play some music with an orchestra from Budapest – Grossmann conducting – it did sound very good.

  • What ignorant, racist comments. Unbelievable. Much of classical music is irrevocably tied to the national culture in which it arose. To label an orchestra as Jewish in Germany is to make an additional statement, a bold one. Even in the USA, there are few orchestra named so, even if based at a Jewish Community Center. This is a slap in the face to the kind of people who can’t see why it should exist. It says Jews exist. And Jewish composers are discriminated against in many cases, in programming. And converting to another religion does not stop you from being a Jew, according to my rabbi, and to Hitler.

    • “Much of classical music is irrevocably tied to the national culture in which it arose.”

      That’s simply not true. The opposite is true. Classical music was always ahead of its time in its international exchange of ideas and character.

      • Without actual differences between various “ideas and character”s, there wouldn’t be any “exchange”.

        • Obviously, but said differences are mostly personal, not national.

          We don’t have to go that far back, look for example at the life and work of Leonard Bernstein. His passport played a minor role in what he was and what music he wrote and how he conducted it.

          • If that is your best example of a “minor role”, then you are missing huge part of American Jewish character in much of LB’s music and indeed the rest of his life.

          • Not American, but Ashkenazy.
            Your mental condition is so terribly narrow, and divisive.

          • Yes, his parents were Ashkenazy Jews, so one might say that his Jewishness was of Ashkenazy variety if one wants to be more “divisive” than I allegedly am. But calling Leonard Bernstein “not American” is simply ignorant. He was definitely very American not only in his passport but equally so in his music and in his life.

          • You know where you lose me, where your mindset frightens me?
            That you would say “Jewishness of Ashkenazy variety”.
            But you would never say “Humanity of Jewish variety”…
            And that is also the problem I have with name and program of that orchestra.

          • You are the one who introduced “Ashkenazy” into this conversation. My comment clearly showed that I am not the one who would be saying this. So, be frightened by your own mindset.

          • No, my mentioning of Bernstein’s Ashkenazy heritage was a response to your oversimplified reduction of Bernstein’s multicultural upbringing and reflection of that in his oeuvre.
            And for the other fact, you know very well what I mean.

          • All I am saying is that there are many aspects of his music and in his life that show clear evidence of how strongly he was influenced by his identification with being Jewish and being American – and that therefore your statement of “minor role” is demonstrably incorrect. Adding “Ashkenazy” to it is in my opinion a minor detail indeed when compared to his “Jewishness” and his “Americanness”, which is why I consider such exactitude excessive and unnecessarily divisive.

    • What do you imagine the differences are between Sephardic and Ashkenazi? And why would you mention the Hasidic, who, by the way, are Ashkenazi? We are all the same people.

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