Defiant Requiem One Of The Most Powerful, Deeply Moving WWII Stories Ever Told

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Defiant Requiem is one of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013 and one of the best documentaries of 2013, period.  If ever there was a work that proved the importance of supporting PBS, this documentary is it.  The near ninety-minute program tells the story of a group of Jewish captives that used music as a means to tell the world of their mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.  It is a piece that will appeal not only to those with a love and respect for classical music, but also for anyone that has ever had or has any interest in the history of World War II.  It is so deeply moving that it must be seen to understand and appreciate this.

As a bit of background for viewers, Verdi’s Requiem is one of the most beautiful yet intense works in the history of classical music.  What makes this musical masterpiece by itself so interesting is that it was considered sacred music, despite the fact that Verdi himself was supposedly an agnostic.  Its ten-part “Dies irae (Day of Wrath)” segment incorporates themes of mortality and judgment.  These themes definitely are in contrast to Verdi’s own alleged beliefs.  Put into the context used by the Jewish prisoners of the Terezin concentration camp, these themes take on a whole new meaning as they were sung towards the very individuals who treated them as less than humans.  This was absolutely brilliant of fellow prisoner and composer Rafael Schachter to do.  As audiences will learn through the course of the program, it was because of Schachter’s efforts that the Jewish prisoners at the camp were able to use their rehearsals and performance of the music as a source of strength both personally and as a people.  It allowed the prisoners to confront their captors in the presence of the Red Cross without fear of retribution.  This alone is deeply emotional.  Whether one is an expert in music history, war history, or history in general, it will still leave any viewer deeply moved on a number of levels.

The music of Verdi’s Requiem is itself extremely moving and powerful.  Once one understands the extent of its emotional influence, it makes the story told by the Terezin survivors that much more moving.  The program features interviews with the survivors, and shows their reactions to the Requiem being performed for them and their families’ decades later at the very sight of the pain that took so many lives.  The symbolism of the performance left barely a dry eye in the house during the performance.  The sight of the survivors’ emotions will bring about certain emotions among viewers at home, too.  The inclusion of archived pictures ties directly into the stories shared by the survivors.  It brings everything into crystal clear view, expertly illustrating the horrors experienced by Jewish prisoners at Terezin.

Along with stories from the survivors of Terezin, Defiant Requiem also features re-enactments by professional actors.  The re-enactments on the part of the actors in Defiant Requiem are on par with another of PBS’ major documentaries from earlier in 2013, The Abolitionists.  It’s something that is being seen less and less frequently on certain other networks by comparison, making this documentary that much more impressive and necessary both inside and outside the classroom.  It also makes PBS that much more important for those searching for educational programming, and that much more worth financially supporting with viewer contributions.  If the archived pictures from Terezin made the story crystal clear, the re-enactments made them crystal clear at an Ultra High Def level, for lack of better comparison.  As painful as it is to learn of what happened, these re-enactments, archived pictures, and performance of the Requiem help bring history alive.  They help viewers of any age understand what happened within the walls of Terezin.  All assembled together, everything included in this new documentary makes it one that crosses interests and in turn makes it one of the best documentaries of 2013.  It will be available Tuesday, July 23rd and can be ordered online from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427106&cp=&kw=defiant+requiem&origkw=Defiant+Requiem&sr=1.

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Young Avenue Kids A Fun Introduction to Classical Music For Kids

Courtesy: Ilana Melmed/Naxos

Courtesy: Ilana Melmed/Naxos

Young Avenue Kids, the brainchild of South African born Ilana Melmed, has released what is one of the year’s best children’s albums.  It is a compilation of classical pieces written by great composers such as Rossini, Strauss, Hayden and others.  The album came about as a result of Ilana’s lifelong passion for classical music and opera.  Given, most of the songs included on this album are not the full works that most classical music aficionados know.  But they do make for a suitable introduction to a whole new world of music for young listeners who would otherwise likely not give classical music a chance.  A prime example of this is the compilation’s opener, ‘Blast Off With Suppe.’  This piece provides only a little over ninety seconds of what is in reality a roughly seven minute-plus work.  So no one involved in cutting its length down can be criticized for that, especially considering the length of younger listeners’ attention span.  The inclusion of lyrics and young people singing said lyrics makes the song clips chosen for this record all the more relatable for younger audiences.

The music itself is just one part of what parents and kids alike will enjoy about this record.  While it is in essence one more way to introduce young audiences to the joys of classical music, the record also boasts a pair of songs that not only are classical pieces, but also are songs that promote positive lifestyles.  One uses a classical backing to encourage young people to clean up their messes.  The other does much the same.  Only this time, instead of promoting cleanliness, cleanliness in terms of personal oral hygiene is promoted.  To say that this is smart would be an understatement.

The use of classical music to promote both itself and healthy lifestyles is very smart when presenting this genre of music to audiences who would otherwise be more interested in the next big pop sensation.  So this record already has two positives to its reputation.  It has one more positive that should be noted.  That positive is the album’s sequencing.  The same songs used in the first half of the album are brought back again for the album’s second half only with a minor tweak.  That tweak is that they are presented sans children singing and with an introduction on each composer by the children instead.  Yet again, this maintains the album’s ability to relate to young listeners and vice versa.  Again, not all of the songs are presented as they might be on one’s public radio station.  But they are still just enough to hopefully grab the interest of the album’s key audience and keep them turned on to classical music.  And that is what is most important.  It is the goal of the album.  Given the opportunity by parents, it will achieve that goal, too.  Whatever I Want To Be will be available May 28th.  Kids and their parents can check out pieces of the songs on this compilation now online at http://www.yougnavenuekids.com/CD/html.  Parents and kids can also find out all the latest on this CD and more from Ilana Melmed on the official Young Kids Avenue website, http://www.youngavenuekids.com.

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Lord’s “Concerto” Is A Modern Musical Work Of Art

Courtesy: Thompson Music/Eagle Rock Entertainment/Eagle Records

Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra is a modern musical work of art.  One part classical and one part rock concert, this opus proves more than ever that music truly is the universal language.  It’s a modern classical work that could so easily put modern masters the likes of Hans Zimmer and John Williams to shame.  The way that the musicians so perfectly complement each other throughout each movement makes it sound just as much a movie soundtrack as a general modern classical opus.

The style and dynamic contrasts of this three movement piece will pull in audiences from both sides of the fence.  And the addition of a top notch group of musicians on both ends to bring it all to life makes it that much more of a joy to hear.  Steve Morse, Joe Bonamassa, and Darin Vasilev all join in on guitars, with Vasilev heading things in the first movement.  Bonamassa comes in on movement two, while Morse finishes things off in movement three.  Brett Morgan and Guy Pratt add their own touch to the work’s rock based sections.  On the other side, the control of the orchestra (especially the strings) throughout what would seem to be the “B” section of the first movement.  That section repeats later near the end of the movement, too.  Classical fans will also recognize what is a reference to Gusatv Holst’s The Planets.  As noted in the liner notes, there is a reference in the first movement to “Jupiter.”  But it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s no mention that the final moments are equally similar to the final moments of “Mars.”

The immediate contrast of the brashness from the first movement into the second movement adds so much more emotion to the overall piece.  It’s a total mood change.  The way that it the second movement changes moods so much from one section to the next makes for even more discussion and enjoyment.

The intensity from the concerto’s first movement returns in its third movement full force, with the orchestra’s percussion and low brass holding court first.  The woodwinds come in next, followed by the strings, and then even Hammond organ.  It all comes together for what is without a doubt the entire concerto’s finest moment.  While the entire movement is nearly eleven minutes long, it’s nearly eleven minutes well spent as even rockers who have never been fully introduced into the world of classical music will find themselves listening intently to the musicianship of this group, along with the rock elements.  When it’s all said and done, it will leave audiences soundly appeased yet wanting more.  That is the sign of a good recording.

Concerto for Group and Orchestra offers so much for both fans of classical and rock.  One can only hope that it will serve its purpose and bring both sides together, perhaps making for new fans of the other side all the way around.  This is a standout album, all the way around.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Eagle Rock Entertainment’s website, http://www.eagle-rock.com.

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