The 2015 Festival

Throughout history, oppressive regimes have established a brutal control over their people through various methods: violence, imprisonment, rules...but one of the most dehumanizing means of control is by censoring art. This August, the Gesher Music Festival’s 5th anniversary season celebrates and brings to life the art and music that was shunned and deemed DEGENERATE by the Nazi regime under Hitler’s reign.

Degenerate art? Nazi propaganda?? Boy, that sounds like a real upper….

Yeah yeah yeah, I hear you! Going all World War 2 on everyone’s summer vacation might sound like a depressing move, but believe me when I tell you this, because I swear I’m not exaggerating: this year’s festival is going to be AMAZING.

So first, let me start by explaining how this all came to pass. Last fall, we became aware of the Missouri History Museum’s upcoming State of Deception exhibit. Since the Museum was looking to partner with other local organizations, we realized this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Working with the incredible staff at MHM, we were able to come up with a program that fit in seamlessly with their exhibit: a program that shines a spotlight on the ways the Nazis used art as a means of propaganda. And once we established this bridge, or gesher (if you will), we decided to make THE DEGENERATES the theme of the whole festival, since there is such a wealth of great music to fill 20 festivals worth of programs on this topic! Let me walk you through this season’s programming:

On Sunday, August 16th, our official opening concert features vocalist Rebecca Fletcher. A trained cantor and classical singer, Rebecca has created a program specially for Gesher this year entitled GRIT & GLAMOUR: A Night of European-Jewish Kabarett. As any musical-theater lover well knows, the cabarets of Germany were more than just looked down upon by the Nazis; they were targeted because of both the music and the people inside of them. Turning the Wool Studio Theater into a nightclub, Rebecca will introduce audiences to both well-known and obscure music that would have been played in these clubs between the wars. Also….wine is included. Just sayin.

Thursday, August 20th, is our Missouri History Museum program, and this one is FREE to the public! Think of this program as a little guided tour, led by yours truly! I will be giving history and background between each piece about the huge range in styles and composers that were deemed “degenerate,” explaining along the way what that word might have even meant anyway. The music on this program literally goes from romantic to sarcastic to atonal to jazzy, as the Nazis had quite a lot of music on their naughty list, so to speak.

On Friday, August 21st, we’ve got a special little treat. At 6:30pm, Gesher patrons are invited to an exclusive FREE tour at the St. Louis Art Museum led by a docent who specializes in the museum’s Degenerate Art collection. He will lead you through the various galleries at SLAM to give you a full understanding of what artists were up against in the Third Reich from the visual art standpoint. (Note: you can sign up for this tour right HERE!

Arnold Schoenberg is one of the many composers that fled Europe and landed in Hollywood. His famous Transfigured Night is featured on the Saturday night concert.


Arnold Schoenberg is one of the many composers that fled Europe and landed in Hollywood. His famous Transfigured Night is featured on the Saturday night concert.

We head over to the 560 Music Center on Saturday, August 22nd, for a program we’re calling FROM DEGENERATE TO HOLLYWOOD. Crazy as it sounds, there was a huge wave of migration during this oppressive time of composers who were being shunned in Germany and moved to...wait for it….Hollywood! Many ended up leading successful careers writing music for films and stayed the rest of their lives in the Golden State. This program features four of those composers, and their music couldn’t be any more different!

Our last concert of the season on Sunday, August 22nd, takes place back at the Wool Studio Theater. VOICES FROM IMPRISONMENT celebrates the memory and the spirit of those who created art in the most dire of conditions. The music on this concert includes a set of songs featuring poetry by a Holocaust survivor, a piece written by a composer who perished in the Wurzburg Concentration Camp, and an utterly gorgeous piece that we will perform in homage to those who kept their dignity by keeping their art alive.

So are you inspired yet? Well, just in case, I’ve got one more bit of excitement for you. This year’s Gesher Artists are incredible!! If you didn’t already know that, you should read about them! Because they’re all so awesome, we wanted to give you the chance to get to know them in a more intimate setting. So on Thursday, August 13th, we’re hosting a little happy hour event at the Tavern of Fine Arts where you’ll get to know the musicians much more intimately in both a musical and personal sort of way! This is another free event, and a percentage of your food and drink purchase benefits the festival, so what’s to lose?

Gesher is growing by leaps and bounds this year, and we are so, SO, SOOOOO thrilled about this year’s lineup. If you’d like more information or have a question, don’t hesitate to get in touch, and hey--if you happen to be interested in hanging out with a bunch of fun, cool, interesting artists, consider hosting a meal for the musicians! It’s a great way to get to know the people who create the art, and who knows--chances are good that your living room might unexpectedly turn into a night-long chamber music party…. (email us at dhotle@jccstl.org if you're interested!)

We can’t wait to see you all in August for what is sure to be an enriching, engaging, inspiring set of concerts and events. Until then!

Sara Sitzer
Artistic Director, Gesher Music Festival