David Fligg: Gideon Klein would grow up to become a Bernstein-like personality

25 September 2019, 2:00
David Fligg: Gideon Klein would grow up to become a Bernstein-like personality

Doctor Fligg talked to us about one of the most talented composers and musicians of the first half of the twentieth century – Gideon Klein. He is at the same time one of the organizers of the project Gido‘s coming home, which commemorates a flat one hundred years from the composer’s birth.

How did you even get to Gideon Klein? I would not expect him to be as famous as that in the UK.

That‘s a very interesting story! I was aware of Gideon Klein, but not to any great extent. I knew him along with the others such as  Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása and Pavel Haas. I also knew he was one of the Terezín composers. I‘d been doing some research and discovered that many of his manuscripts, photographs and personal papers were in the archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague. In particular I was interested in an orchestral arrangement from his student days. It was Mozart‘s Sonata in  C for four hands. I wanted to look at the original manuscript – which, however is not available in the public domain – and to create an edited version for performance. I obtained a small research grant in order to do that. One outcome would be the performance and the other one would be I would write an article. I went to Prague and saw the manuscript and in actual fact it wasn‘t quite as exciting as I had thought. But a very interesting thing happened. Lots of material about Gideon was written, which has never been evaluated. Lots of family photographs, correspondence, all sorts of personal documents, birth certificates, school reports and so forth. I thought: There is a life-story here. And I spent few days in the archives. I tried in a way to sort all of this information. Then on the last day in the archives the taxi was going to pick me up from there,  the archivist asked me, whether I had seen this one of the last letters that Gideon ever wrote, which was smuggled out from the Fürstengrube concentration camp. This would be in the winter of 1944/1945. It was addressed to the non-Jewish mother-in-law of his sister. And somehow by some miracle the letter found its way back to Prague. The whole story sounds like a detective story. The letter is the last documentary evidence we have of Gideon. It was heart-breaking, because he writes to his family and hopes they are all well. He didn‘t know that by that time all his family were dead apart from his sister Lisa. In the letter he repeated three times "do not forget about me". And that was a final message that I took away from this archival visit. I was on the flight back to the UK and that quoted phrase "do not forget about me" just kept going through my head. Since that day Gideon has become part of my family. That is how it all started.


The whole event Gido se vrací domů started in July and it ends in the first half of December. Visitors are going to hear Gideon‘s (but not only his!) music in Holešov, Přerov, Brno and in Prague. What connection does Gideon have with these towns and cities?

He was born in Přerov. He had a very happy childhood in a fabulous family. When we are talking about Gido se vrací domů [Gido's coming home], Přerov was an obvious choice. We are dedicating a memorial plaque there in the Jewish cemetery as well. There is going to be music, not only his but also music inspired by him. In Holešov we were invited by the Ha-Makom, The Festival of Jewish Culture. We‘ve had an evening of Gideon‘s music there. It would be really appropriate for him to go to a Moravian town – his roots were Moravian and he culturally identified as Moravian. He  was inspired by Janáček. The concert itself was in the beautiful synagogue. It would be really lovely to get him to connect to that town and to that beautiful building. And Brno simply because it is the second largest city of the Czech Republic. Brno is a very cultural city. We are performing the music in villas that belonged to Jewish families. Brno is a city that I fell in love with. And Prague obviously goes without saying. Gideon loved Prague, he was absolutely intoxicated with the city, as you can imagine. And in that period between the wars when there was that wonderful flowering of Avant-garde art and culture. I think these places chose us rather than we chose them.

Was it difficult to create and manage a project that took place in all these cities and towns?

The biggest challenge was probably in Přerov, because it doesn‘t have a tradition of classical music any more. They used to in the early days of the last century, when they had opera. And when we were planning to do something we were told by local people that it will be a challenge. But I have to say that the town and people have been tremendously supportive. We couldn‘t wish for better support. Everybody was so enthusiastic in every way.


In Czech Republic the financing of the culture is kind of problematic and all sorts of wonderful projects don‘t get enough support to actually shine. Did you have to solve this problem as well?

Money is always a big issue. For example, the situation in the UK is,  that if you go there to an organization or a concert hall and tell them you would like to make a concert there, they will start to talk about money immediately. They will say: „Fine, you can do this concert but it will cost you five hundred pounds.“ You get nothing for free in the UK, not even a  cup of tea. Here in the Czech Republic, it was different. Once we explained what we are trying to do, we were offered venues if not for free then at a very reduced rate. There also a great number of musicians who feel deeply passionate about Gideon Klein. Even if we wouldn‘t pay them, they‘d still do it, I am certain. But of course we are paying them. (laughter) We had some generous funding from some Jewish organisations, from the Gideon Klein Foundation, and various others. But most of our money comes from Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK who are generously founding all our activities.

The project gives also the space to new compositions inspired by Gideon Klein. Who wrote this new pieces and how the authors get to the project?

Well, one of these pieces is the world premiere of Fünfundzwanzig, a piece  for clarinet and piano by Martin Konvička. It‘s a very interesting title, because Gideon only reached the age of 25 and Martin Konvička has reflected on what the opportunities might have been had he lived long enough. So, it‘s a very interesting and provocative title, with a premiere in Přerov and a repeat here in Brno. Martin is also from Přerov. And the other composer that we are working with is Daniel Chudovský. We worked with him previously on the festival  ZE STÍNU: hudba a divadlo židovského archivu [FROM THE SHADE: Music and Drama from a Jewish Archive]. He‘s not Jewish himself, but he‘s using the aspects of Jewish music and tradition. He wrote a piece for soprano and a string quartet, also a world premiere.


What is the notion of Klein‘s (or other Jewish composers) music in the UK? Were there any refugees that managed to flee and to continue their musical life in Britain?

One composer had quite a significant revival in the past few years. That‘s Hans Gál, a very interesting composer. His music was widely popular in the pre-second-world-war Austria and Germany. He managed to get in the UK, he was then imprisoned for a short while as an enemy-alien. That was sort of a shameful blob on the British policy. But nonetheless he was released and then pursued a career of a musicologist, although he was a famous composer in central Europe. When I was a student Hans Gál was known as a musicologist, not as a composer. And now I am rediscovering his music, which is being performed more and more frequently in the UK. Not so long ago on the BBC he was a composer of the week. When you listen to his music, he is writing in that Austro-German late Romantic musical tradition. Something  like Richard Strauss. So, he is not a modernist,  but has an immense amount of interesting craft. So, that is one story with happy ending, but unfortunately he didn‘t live long enough to see this. Other composers weren‘t so lucky. There are not many of those still being performed. Only sometimes they are commemorated. Our goal should be to place these musicians and composers among the peers of their age, out of the ghetto, because that‘s where they belong, not behind the glass in a museum.

How often do you come for a research to Czech Republic? Are you interested in other Jewish composers?

I come here regularly. This my fourth visit in six weeks. So, I am always here, which is always nice, because I love the Czech Republic and Czech people. I just feel like home here. As if I were connected with this country. And it‘s fine to get out of the UK, where it‘s starting to get very stressful. Anyhow, I am interested in other composers, but at the moment Gideon is not allowing me to investigate them.


In December the day before Gideon‘s birth you are launching your book called A letter from Gideon. Could you tell us something about the book and give us an insight what can readers find in it?

The godfather of the book is going to be Josef Třeštík, who is Franz Kafka‘s grand-nephew. Also his grandfather Erik Saudek was a friend of Gideon. I am thrilled that Josef is now the dramaturge of the Prague Spring. The book itself is based on the evaluation of, and research into, all of this wonderful source material. It is not only about the letter. For me that was a starting point, but in the book it is going to be the end point,  where everything is leading to. But there are also testimonies from survivors who knew Gideon.  There‘s a lot of information about his activities, about his personality, his amazing family. During the war his mother for example was delivering leaflets for resistance in Prague. There is some analysis in the book, but hopefully it won‘t put the average reader off too much! Maybe it will at least partially rehabilitate Gideon and put him on another journey.

What other projects would you like to realize in the future?

I think that I would like to write more or investigate more about the activities of the Klein family, especially during wartime. His sister Edith was part of the Czech resistance in Prague along with her husband Jaroslav Dolák, though he was arrested and eventually executed in Munich. She was arrested as well and sent to Auschwitz where she died. So, the story of Gideon Klein’s family hasn‘t fully been told yet, and that there will be more to do. But that of course won‘t necessarily be a musical story. It will be a challenge for me though, because I am a musicologist. Apart from that I would like to convince people that Gideon would have made a big noise in the music world. From all accounts he was a fantastic pianist. Unfortunately we don’t have any recordings of his playing. But if you are an 18 year old and you are graduating with the performance of Beethoven’s 4th Piano concerto, well that tells you something. He was not only a great pianist, but also a wonderful educator (especially in Terezín), an amazing composer and a great communicator as well. If we were to look at his future, I think he would become a sort of a Leonard Bernstein type personality, which sounds really ambitious, but that’s my feeling about him.

David Fligg/ photo by Jiří Sláma 



No comment added yet..

The municipal council of Velká nad Veličkou decided already in mid-April that this year's Horňácké Festivities (original name: Horňácké slavnosti) would not take place on the traditional dates around the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and their scope, previously meant to be of three to five days, would also be modified. Obviously, it was impossible to foresee the development of lockdown measures towards the third week of July, but musicians from the Horňácko district tried to come up with at least a partial alternative solution in order to maintain continuity. Eventually, two concerts were officially held on two consecutive Saturdays:  On 18 July,  live broadcast of a public radio recording of Czech Radio Brno under the title Hrajte že ně, hrajte aneb Horňácké trochu jinak (Play for Me, or Horňácké Festivities in a Slightly Different Fashion) took place at the Culture House in Velká nad Veličkou. A week later, at a sports complex in Javorník, a traditional competition for "the biggest expert on Horňácko peasant songs" was held under the auspices of the Horňácko Dulcimer Band of Libor Sup. Needless to say, both events have found their spectators and listeners.  more

The Brno-based rock band Kulturní úderka (which translates loosely as "Culture Brigade"), led by singer and guitarist Štěpán Dokoupil, did not keep its fans waiting for too long this time. While there was a fifteen-year break between their first and second albums, the new album Black Metall was released less than two years after the previous album Sarajevská Katarzija (Sarajevo Catharsis). The name of the new album must be handled with care. Úderka has never had anything to do with black metal as a music genre. And once again, we are treated not to metal, but to relatively raw rock, which in some moments is pleasantly softened by the keyboard of Omer Blentič, or the trumpet of their guest artist Jan Kozelek.  more

Cultural life has endeavoured to move into a sterile and "life-safe" social networking environment in an unequal struggle against the viral phantasm and government lockdown regulations. In the darkest months, music institutions competed with one another in staging recordings of memorable concerts, and major opera houses broadcast to the world those of their performances that gained the most success from spectators.  more

Shortly before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, the Brno-based group Plum Dumplings released a new album. As opposed to their official debut L'épitaphe des papillons (The Epitome of Butterflies, 2014), sung in French, the band went for Czech lyrics this time. We are talking to the band's vocalist, who presents herself as Adéla Polka.  more

Oldřich Veselý, a Brno-based singer, composer and keyboard player, died in January 2018. In February 2019, the 10th Brno Beatfest, dedicated to his memory, took place in the Semilasso music hall. And a year later, a CD recording of this concert was released under the title Malý princ [The Little Prince], complemented by several bonus items.  more

On the twenty-fourth of May of this year, five days before her ninety-second birthday, Mrs. Anna Kománková passed away – and with her departed her particularly extensive songbook of ballads (not only) from the Javornicko and Horňácko districts, which she had always carried in her head. She was able to perform all the songs conserved in her memory in a distinctive and inimitable style. All her life she safeguarded the rare legacy of her ancestral heritage – all the more interestingly because she did not write down the hundreds of often complicated tunes and many dozens of verses and variants of ballads, but she knew them all by heart. Even after she reached the age of ninety, when she no longer enjoyed good health and did not perform in public, she remained in contact with the Javornický ženský sbor [Javorník Women's Choir], which she had revived and eventually led for many years. She never pushed herself forward anywhere, while at the same time she learned a lot from the skills of her ancestors: apart from singing (dozens of songs from the hymn-book  and hundreds of folklore songs) she was an excellent embroiderer: She sewed and embroidered with her own hands every part of the folk costume she wore.  more

The Brno Contemporary Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Šnajdr, concluded its ninth season with a concert called Con certo: With Certainty or with the Devil?, held in the hall of the Convent of the Merciful Brethren. The programme featured works by authors already established in the world of contemporary classical music: Alexej Fried, Olga Neuwirth and György Ligeti, whose violin concerto was performed by the violin virtuoso Milan Paľa.  more

When pronouncing the name Jiří ‘moravský’ Brabec (1955-2018) (the name is partly a pun referring to a typical Moravian dish called "moravský vrabec", which is pork roast with braised cabbage and  dumplings – translator's note), anyone, who until recently had any business concerning the Czech-Moravian folk and country scene, is reminded of the unmistakeable figure of a mighty man wearing a beard, with a strong voice and an inexhaustible source of information, and an enviable general knowledge of not only the above-mentioned music genre. We are speaking here about a complicated but deservedly respected personality who was able to surprise us with his knowledge in a number of disciplines, but also with his self-deprecating humour and unexpected physical dexterity. Unfortunately, for the last time he surprised people around him with his sudden departure, only a few days before his sixty-third birthday in June 2018, almost unnoticed by the public media, for which he had worked for so many years.  more

Electronic music, big beat and clubbing go together - but that’s only a small part of the truth. In fact electronic music was here long before clubbing, and thanks to enlightened teachers at JAMU it was doing very well indeed in Brno as early as the 1960s. That is, long before synthesizers and sequencers appeared on rock podiums, long before any old band had a computer, long before the first dance parties in glittering halls and dark cellars. Today electronic music is one of music’s most omnipresent genres: neither dance parties nor contemporary operas can do without it. Electronic big beat music has occupied reggae and swing, remixing is a daily affair, Brno artists have learned to sell instruments they built themselves to the whole world and to amplify an old knitting machine. As early as 1907 the composer Ferruccio Busoni dreamt of the future potential of electronic music, but not even his imagination and genius could have anticipated what Thaddeus Cahill’s first weird experiment with an immense electrical organ would lead to one day.  more

After Easter, an official statement that ruined every folklore lover's day appeared on social networks and in the media. The folklore festival in Strážnice will not take place this year. The reasons are well known to everyone. Yesterday, another wave of coronavirus lockdown easement began, and this was not the only reason why we talked to Martin Šimša, director of the National Institute of Folk Culture (NÚLK) in Strážnice. Well, is there really a reason for mourning? What can we look forward to in the immediate future? And when is the best time to visit the castle park and the open-air museum in Strážnice? These questions, and not only these, will be answered in the following interview.  more

Although cultural life has suffered significantly in the last two months, people's desire for an artistic experience has not faded. On the contrary – art and its role in our lives are perhaps needed even more than before. Hence, although concert halls are empty and listeners are forced to visit them only through recordings of their favourite concerts, a number of well-made music media  created (not only) in the beginning of the year helps to bridge over this unfortunate period.  more

”It’s a long journey to the West, / Pointless, fruitless is the longing,” began the first cowboy song recording issued by R. A. Dvorský’s publishing house in 1939. The theme and tone reflect the “tramping” movement, with its idealized vision of “America” and its unspoiled “nature”, which led Czechs to take to the woods, where they hiked, met round campfires and sang songs modelled on American folk songs and country music. So widespread was the tramping phenomenon that it made its way into popular music, where it long remained. Over time, the romance of the cowboy and the idea of a free life on the Great Plains found their way not only into songs sung by such late twenti- eth-century stars as Karel Gott, Helena Vondráčková and Waldemar Matuška but into social life itself: very few countries in Europe have such liberal laws when it comes to sleeping overnight, or even setting up camp, in the woods. In the past young people in Brno could choose whether to be “city slickers” hooked on discotheques or “wander- ers”, who would head for the main train station every Friday afternoon or Saturday and from there set out on the first train for wherever in the countryside it was heading to.  more

Bands that have been present on the scene for several decades have two options: Either they make a living from their own substance, and therefore from hits of the past. Or they are still trying to come up with something new, sometimes with the wishes of conservative fans in spite of it. The "Brno-based" group Poutníci (meaning Pilgrims in Czech), who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, are somewhere halfway in between. They still play Panenka [The Doll], which the audience demands, but fortunately they didn't get stuck and – maybe after a long time, but still – they come up with a new serial album, which should not pass unbeknown to the fans of Czech country and bluegrass.  more

The double album Hrubá Hudba, which was jointly created by producer Jiří Hradil (Lesní zvěř, Tata Bojs, Kafka Band and others) and the Horňácká muzika band of Petr Mička, is an extraordinary musical achievement that puts together genuine Horňácko singing (the CD Hlasy starého světa [Voices of the Old World]) and folklore shifted to modern musical expression (the CD Hrubá hudba [Rough Music]). In an extensive two-part interview, we talked to the two fathers of the project, Jiří Hradil and Petr Mička, about their long-term cooperation, their path to Hrubá Hudba and finally about the double album itself and the possible continuation of the project.  more

The Czech Radio Brno folklore section decided that it did not want to idle during the isolation that affected almost the entire world. In addition to "home" broadcasting taking place directly at editors' homes, it also announced a challenge. Listeners can now submit their music recordings to the radio editors; these recordings will eventually be broadcast on air.  more


Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and her husband, conductor Sir Simon Rattle, will perform together in Brno for the first time as part of the Brno Music Marathon festival. A song recital of Kožená, arranged exclusively for this evening from compositions by Czech authors, will be accompanied by Simon Rattle on piano. The concert takes place in Villa Tugendhat, but it will also be available for viewing in the courtyard of the Governor's Palace (Místodržitelský palác), in the "Scalní letňák" cinema and in other selected cinemas.   more

Václav Věžník ranks among important personalities of Czech opera directing of the second half of the 20th century. During his artistic career of more than fifty years, he directed over 200 productions and almost half of them were created in Brno. Věžník acted as a director also on foreign stages. He celebrates 90 years today.  more

Májový Petrov ("May Petrov") is a charity concert held in support of the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute, which also wants to pay tribute to all health care professionals for their commitment during the Covid-19 pandemic. The concert was supposed to take place already in May this year, but due to lockdown security measures it will not be staged until September. Featured performers will be Andrea Tögel Kalivodová, a soloist at the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague, accompanied by the Virtuosi Brunenses musical ensemble from Brno and the Kantiléna children's choir.  more

Metro Music Bar will open its Metro Open Air stage in the middle of August. Hence, in response to government regulations, the club concerts will be moved outdoors. The former post office building, which faces the club directly across the street, features a large inner courtyard. This particular venue is where all the concerts will be taking place for two weeks, starting from mid-August. The first two days of the new outdoor programme will be dedicated to the Brno Music Marathon festival.  more

The last premiere of the ballet season will be a performance entitled Radio and Juliet written by Edward Clug, a renowned European choreographer. The ballet with the subtitle "What would happen if Julie decided not to die" is accompanied by music of the UK band Radiohead.  more

The Bartered Bride by Bedřich Smetana will have its 100th rerun as part of the National Theatre Brno's Summer Menu. Jitka Zerhauová, Jana Šrejma Kačírková, Jakub Tolaš as a guest and others will be starring in this Brno production directed by Ondřej Havelka.  more

The Ibérica Festival of Ibero-American Cultures is entering its 17th season on new dates. Due to the current pandemic situation, it will not take place until August. In addition to Brno and Prague, the festival will also visit the castles in Lysice and Čechy pod Kosířem. The talented flamenco dancer Mónica Iglesias will be featured this year. The Brno part of the festival will also host the guitar player Pavel Steidl.   more

The management of the Brno Philharmonic has announced a selection procedure for the position of Executive Editor, who will be supposed to start work from 1 November 2020.  more

The festival for the Jewish quarter of Boskovice will take place in a more intimate version with a limited number of visitors this year. The organisers invite you to a three-day festival to take place this August. The programme promises representation of the Czech-German jazz scene, blues, theatre performances, site-specific projects, readings and lectures.  more

Despite coronavirus measures, the 16th Znojmo Music Festival will take place unchanged and in full. During July, more than 25 music events will take place in Znojmo and its surroundings. The central theme is the blending of theatre and music. The subheading is "Music in theatre, theatre in music".   more