ARC Ensemble’s Acclaimed Chandos Recording Series “Music in Exile”

Shines a Light on Suppressed and Marginalized Composers and Careers Derailed

by Nazism’s Rise and the Holocaust

Given his prodigious talent, comprehensive classical training, nimble musical mind, and connections with prominent people such as Albert Einstein and conductor Bruno Walter, composer Walter Kaufmann (1907-1984) should have enjoyed widespread recognition, his pieces reverberating through concert halls worldwide. Instead his career became a casualty of the war and the Nazi regime that forced scores of Jewish musicians to flee Germany. Kaufmann’s intriguing and extensive body of work remains largely undiscovered, and certainly underappreciated, and perhaps most tragically, unperformed.

Continuing its dedication to the research, recovery and recording of marginalized composers and music lost to political suppression, ARC Ensemble presents “Chamber Works by Walter Kaufmann,” the fourth in its acclaimed series of Music in Exile recordings for Chandos. The CD is slated for release on August 28, 2020.

With three Grammy nominations under its belt, the Toronto-based chamber group – drawn from senior faculty and guest artists from the Royal Conservatory’s prestigious Glenn Gould School – has built an international reputation by uncovering and playing works by composers like Kaufmann, whose lives and careers were totally upended with the rise of the Third Reich.

“In addition to the human cost, the complicated story of the Holocaust has to do with how bigotry and war utterly changed the course of musical history by disregarding the work of so many survivors,” ARC Ensemble Artistic Director Simon Wynberg says.

What was lost is a cultural heritage, thousands of operas, symphonies, chamber music and solo instrumental pieces. Thanks to the ARC Ensemble’s series, these previously overlooked or undiscovered 20th-century masterworks are now entering the classical repertoire.

Walter Kaufmann is among those talented artists whose music remains almost completely unknown. The ARC Ensemble CD represents the first recording devoted to his work. The CD spotlights the exceptional chamber pieces Kaufmann wrote between 1934 and 1946 as a refugee in India.

Prior to his arrival in Bombay (now Mumbai), Kaufmann contacted Albert Einstein asking his help in securing entry into the US. Throughout the Hitler years, Einstein used his fame and influence to assist émigrés trying to enter the United States. The composer had met Einstein while a student in Berlin and accompanied the renowned physicist and amateur violinist on the piano.

Correspondence indicates their friendship lasted until Einstein’s death in 1955. Einstein championed Kaufmann on a number of occasions, writing to executives at both MGM and Universal Pictures.

He wrote to Universal’s studio head Carl Laemmle:

“ The breadth of his musical talent and his great sense of style place him in the forefront, and his ability to… improvise on a given theme by the classical masters surely represents a unique achievement.”

Before National Socialism forced him to flee Europe, Walter Kaufmann seemed destined for an exceptional career, his huge musical gifts accompanied by a disarming charm and an infectious enthusiasm. As a student in Prague, Kaufmann was welcomed into the intellectual circle that had supported Franz Kafka –– Kaufmann had lodged with the writer’s mother and later married Kafka’s niece, Gerty. Kaufmann’s music is an extraordinary blend of Eastern and Western traditions, both adventurous and accessible, and no less compelling for the eighty-year delay since its first performance.   

“The hallmark of this remarkable music,” Wynberg says, “is its striking originality. Although Kaufmann received his training in the Western classical tradition as a composer and ethnomusicologist, he held a particular appreciation and fascination for the music of the east and especially India. His chamber pieces represent a true synthesis of both the western and Indian tradition. No one in the 1930s was doing anything remotely like this. He was composing world music before we ever used that term.”

Ironically, millions of Indians are familiar with one piece of Kaufmann’s music, though few know it’s the work of this Czech-born Jewish composer who in 1936 wrote the sinuous signature tune that All India Radio (AIR) still plays every morning. While in India, Kaufmann served as the Director of European Music at AIR and founded the Bombay Chamber Music Society. The group’s Thursday night concerts featured a talented young violinist named Mehli Mehta, whose son Zubin would earn world renown as a major contemporary conductor. Mehta fondly recalls meeting the Czech composer as a child.

Following the war, Kaufmann moved to Canada, becoming head of the piano department at the Halifax Conservatory of Music in Nova Scotia, and then the first professional conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Under his tenure, the orchestra attracted a host of international soloists, including a young Glenn Gould who performed Bach’s D Minor Piano Concerto. After the performance, Gould wrote to Kaufman: “I have played this concerto many times, but this was the most perfect accompaniment I have ever had.”

In 1956, Kaufmann finally received an offer in the United States, spending the rest of his career teaching at Indiana University’s School of Music in Bloomington, composing, conducting and producing seminal texts on Indian and other Eastern music.

The “Chamber Works of Walter Kaufmann” showcases his String Quartet No. 11, Sonata No. 2, Op. 44, String Quartet No. 7, Sonatina No. 12, andSeptet. “Kaufmann’s chamber music, especially the two string quartets are musical gems,” Wynberg says. “They exhibit an unusually eclectic musical style, a breathtaking amalgam of Western, Indian, and Eastern musical traditions that gives them a capricious and quite contemporary quality. There are flashes of Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky, and hints of Bohemian and klezmer music, but the end result is a world of inventiveness and surprises.”

The CD is also a testament to the passion and flexibility of the ARC Ensemble. With no recordings or composer to consult, the ensemble beautifully and sensitively captures the style and spirit of the music’s time and context. The CD provides a pathway for these sublime works to find their way into concert halls and take their rightful place in the canon of 20th century masterworks.

EXIT: MUSIC, a critically acclaimed documentary describing the ensemble’s work, premiered in November 2016 and has been screened at a number of international festivals. It is distributed internationally by First Run Features in the US and Euroarts, Berlin in other territories.

James Conlon, Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera and a pioneer in the recovery of lost twentieth century repertoire, serves as the ARC Ensemble’s Honorary Chairman.

The chamber group has appeared at major festivals and series, including New York’s Lincoln Center Festival, Canada’s Stratford Festival, London’s Wigmore and Cadogan Halls and Washington’s Kennedy Center.  The ensemble’s previous Music in Exile recording, which was devoted to Szymon Laks, an Auschwitz survivor and onetime conductor of the camp’s orchestra, was nominated for a 2018 Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy.

The “Chamber Works of Walter Kaufmann” features Erika Raum (violin), Marie Bérard (violin), Steven Dann (viola), Thomas Wiebe (cello), Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet) and Kevin Ahfat (piano), with special guests Jamie Kruspe (violin) and Kimberly Jeong (cello).

Catalogue number: CHAN 20170