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ARC Ensemble Releases New Album, Prepares for Special Dachau Concert

The Grammy-nominated ARC Ensemble is one of Canada's pre-eminent cultural ambassadors, and has earned an international reputation for its exploration and recovery of a vast corpus of music lost or marginalized due to political suppression. In advance of its free Culture Days performance in Koerner Hall, the ensemble has released its fifth album, the first recording dedicated to the Polish-American composer Jerzy Fitelberg.

We caught up with Artistic Director Simon Wynberg to learn more about the recording, as well as the ensemble’s upcoming performance commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

Why did you choose the music of Jerzy Fitelberg for your latest recording?

I suppose it chose us. There was such variety and high energy to the music and his life was fascinating, having left Warsaw for Berlin, Berlin for Paris and then Paris for New York, where he died tragically young at the age of 48 when his career might well have taken off.

How would you describe Fitelberg's music for those unfamiliar with his work?

His style changed over the years. To begin with he was much influenced by Baroque music and as a teenager In Berlin he was exposed to a huge range of different styles. In studying with the brilliant Franz Schreker at the Berlin Hochschule – probably the finest conservatory in Europe – he was encouraged to experiment. In Paris he met a very different group of composers, including Ravel, and in America composers such as Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland.

In your personal opinion, what are the album highlights?

I am really taken by the very strange early piece Fisches Nachtgesang (Night Song of the Fish), which has its roots in a bizarre, wordless poem by the poet Christian Morgenstern. It was published as a pattern of dashes and u symbols and I think this must have struck a chord with Fitelberg. It’s scored for clarinet, cello and, unusually, celeste.

On October 10 The ARC Ensemble will participate in a special concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau prison camp. Tell us more about this concert and the philosophy behind it.

Memorial concerts, especially one as significant as this, present huge programming challenges. The typical Holocaust program starts with the notion that the featured composers should all have perished in concentration camps. I find this absurdly reductionist, and it's had the really unfortunate consequence of ghettoising a number of composers who fully deserve a regular place in ordinary concert programs. For the Dachau concert I have tried to include a range of music that I hope will encourage the audience to think more broadly about the war and its consequences. For example I’ve included a string quartet by the German composer Hanning Schröder. The work is based on the Peat Bog Soldiers Song composed in Börgemoor, a labour camp that housed political prisoners. Schröder and his wife were extraordinarily heroic, hiding a Jewish couple during the war. I have also included Ben-Haim's Piano Quartet which was composed before the war and only recently re-introduced to the repertoire. He was born in Munich just south of Dachau.

How do you think the work of The ARC Ensemble supports the mission and mandate of The Royal Conservatory?

ARC has been particularly active in resuscitating suppressed music. This in itself says a lot about the priorities of the organisation and its willingness to begin initiatives that involve a long-term commitment. I think the excellence of the ensemble, both the faculty members of The Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School and the special guests drawn from The Conservatory's students and alumni, speaks volumes about the organization's extraordinarily high standards.

Visit performance.rcmusic.ca to reserve tickets for ARC Ensemble’s free Culture Days concert on Sept 26. The concert is part of The Bloor St. Culture Corridor Culture Days hub.

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