Camp Songs

Year of Premiere: 
2002
Composer: 
Paul Schoenfield

World premiere: April 7, 2002, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA, at Music of Remembrance's Holocaust Remembrance Day concert.

Recording: Camp Songs is available on the MOR CD, Art from Ashes, Vol. 1 (Innova), with the composer at the piano, joining vocalists Julie Mirel, mezzo-soprano, and Erich Parce, baritone, along with MOR musicians Mikhail Shmidt, violin; Laura DeLuca, clarinet; David Tonkonogui, cello; and Jonathan Green, doublebass.

Camp Songs is a setting of five poems written in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during World War II. The poems are part of an extensive collection of music, art and poetry by hundreds of camp prisoners, compiled by Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a non-Jewish Polish survivor who was incarcerated because of his politics. After liberation, Kulisiewicz devoted his life to collecting these works, which are now housed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. MOR Artistic Director Mina Miller discovered the collection while doing research in the Museum's archives. She decided, "There was no question that I wanted Schoenfield to do something with this." Miller and Schoenfield met in July 2000 at the Museum to delve into the collection, with the guidance of resident musicologist Bret Werb. Schoenfield selected five poems, all by Kulisiewicz himself. Schoenfield was especially drawn to the mocking, sarcastic ones. As he told a Seattle public radio audience, "When I saw the movie The Producers, I decided that if I were ever going to express my anger to God about the Holocaust, it would be like that." Camp Songs challenges the expectations of even the most hardened student of Holocaust art. Schoenfield has selected poems that lay bare the raw life and fury seething beneath the terrors of the camps. "The poems that I am setting," he writes, "are caricatures which (in Joseph Conrad's words) 'put the face of a joke upon the body of truth.' They are an affirmation of dignity; a declaration of man's superiority to all that befalls him." Camp Songs received its world premiere at MOR's Holocaust Remembrance Day concert on April 7, 2002, at Benaroya Hall. Mina Miller, to whom the work is dedicated, was the pianist for that performance. Camp Songs was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The work, in a new English translation by Katarzyna Jerzak, was featured at MOR's concert on November 8, 2004, marking the 66th anniversary of Kristallnacht.