Spotlight on Music & Music Education Alumni Haakon and Martha Smith ☆

Amy Wolf | June 25, 2012

Martha and Haakon Smith at a Helsinki concert

Recently, the Music and Music Education program checked in with alumni Haakon and Martha Smith (he has a Master of Arts, a Master of Music Education and an Ed.D.C.T. from TC ’96; she completed post-graduate studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and has an Ed.D.C.T. from TC ’87).  The Smiths are directors of the non-profit organization International Voice of Justice, whose mission is Holocaust education through music and the arts in Europe.  Additionally, they are the founders of the Oslo Music Academy in Norway, with Haakon teaching piano and Martha instructing in voice, opera, oratorio and lieder.

“We are very grateful for the excellent education we received at TC.  It has been a basis for the work we have been doing in Europe, both as educators and as performers.  We will always be thankful for the opportunity to study at TC, for the guidance of our professors and our wonderful advisor, Dr. Hal Abeles. Haakon and I feel that our time in TC gave us the foundations and confidence to do what we are doing today.  It is a great privilege to carry TC’s name with us wherever we are in the world,” Martha offers.  Here is what she had to share about their experiences and achievements:

Our major work has been of a humanitarian nature.  When we moved back to Europe we soon realized that there was a mounting tide of anti-Semitism spreading through Europe.  In response, I created a work called “Voices of the Holocaust” based on the lives of survivors who lived in our neighborhood in New York’s Washington Heights.  The work is a song cycle for soprano and piano with spoken vignettes (text:  Martha Smith, music:  Marilee Eckert and Martha Smith.  Marilee and I premiered the work in New York City in 1997).   Haakon and I made the first European premiere of this work in Norway at the Edvard Munch Museum in November of 2000 as a Kristallnacht memorial.  Since then we have produced Holocaust memorial concerts using this work as the basis in Helsinki, Finland (with members of the Helsinki and Tampera Philharmonic Orchestras, Juhani Aaltonen, Finland’s Musician of the Year and Xaris Finland Dance Ensemble). Gratefully, we received excellent reviews (the audience of around 900 in Finland’s Aalto Concert Hall gave the concert a 20-minute standing ovation).

The next performance of ”Voices of the Holocaust” was in Tallinn, Estonia, one week before the opening of the first synagogue in Estonia since the Holocaust. Since then we have performed the work in Berlin, Germany, St. Ettiene, France and Riga, Latvia as part of the first annual Jewish Music Festival. We worked with Rabbi Bar Kahan, the chief rabbi of Latvia to produce this concert series and the Holocaust Memorial Concert was the final concert of the first year. The festival is now in its fourth year.

Another work I wrote, “Voices of the Resistance” is based on the lives of resistance workers during World War II.  This work has been performed in Berlin, Germany (in German) narrated by Dr. Richard Haas, director of the German Museum of Anthropology.  A Holocaust Memorial Concert was then produced in St. Etienne, France, narrated in French by Ardoine Clauzel.  The work has a series of spoken vignettes based on the lives of resistance heroes with instrumental music from various composers.  Currently, a recording of the work with vignettes is in progress.

Fidelio: A Holocaust Memorial Production

In 2010, working together with the Beethoven Association of Krakow, Poland (Krystof Penderecki’s umbrella organization), we produced a concept I created in 1994, “Fidelio: A Holocaust Memorial Production” in five cities of Poland: Lublin, Wroclaw, Lodz, Warsaw and Krakow.  Taking Beethoven’s concept out of Spain, 1700, I designed sets and costumes that placed the opera in Auschwitz, 1945 and removed the original German text.  After the suggestion of our stage director Julia Pevzner (from the Israeli Opera), I wrote text for an elderly Leonore who takes her grandson (played by an actress and boy actor) to Yad Vashem to tell him the story of his grandfather, Florestan, a leader of the Polish resistance.  The singers are performing the story as if it is seen from the imagination of the little boy hearing it from his grandmother for the first time.  To supplement the production, over a period of several months I sorted through film and photo archives at Yad Vashem, Auschwitz Memorial Museum in Poland and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  The Holocaust films and photos were then shaped to fit the music of the Fidelio and Leonore overtures which was quite a job. But in the end it worked quite well with the music.

Julia Pevzner, our marvelous stage director, (who is now Artistic Director for the Jerusalem Opera) did a magnificent job with the direction.  Maestro Pjotr Sulkowski and the Beethoven Academy Orchestra along with the soloists and the Polish National Radio Chorus were excellent, as well Haakon spent may hours developing the promotional prospectus, went through the lengthy contract application process with our partners and managed the vast amount of paperwork, including grant applications.  Oslo Music Academy was the official partner with the Beethoven Association in this production of “Fidelio,” and the majority of the funding was provided through this partnership.  We secured substantial financial support through funding from Norway Grants, EEA Grants and the Polish Ministry of Culture. International Voice of Justice also supported the work through a grant from the American Embassy in Warsaw and through grants from other U.S. philanthropies and private donors.

“Fidelio” received a very fine review in the world’s leading opera magazine, Opera UK, from Chief Editor John Allison who flew to Krakow for the final performance.  In a personal email to me, Allison communicated that it was the most moving Fidelio he had ever seen.  The Polish press was favorable as well, and a major Polish musical magazine stated that the “importance of the Norwegian concept cannot be underestimated.”

In 2008, Haakon and I had registered and received approval for a U.S., New York State-based non-profit organization, International Voice of Justice.  IVOJ is an organization whose mission is Holocaust education through music and the arts in Europe.

Ardoine Clauzel in "Hanna's Treasure Box"

Last summer, my newest work, a play called “Hanna’s Treasure Box” (La Boit aux Tresors d’Hanna) premiered in St. Jean du Gard, France.  This is a resort town with a summer theater festival. The one-woman play traces anti-Semitism in Europe from the time of the Spanish inquisition to the present through the lives of a Sephardic family living in the north of Norway during the German occupation in the 1940’s.  Again, Julia Pevzner did a wonderful job with the direction.  Ardoine Clauzel played the role of Hanna, and Daphna Talithman of the Israeli Opera designed the production.   “Hanna’s Treasure Box” has recently been accepted for presentation in the United Solo Theater Festival in November 2012 in the Theater Row complex in New York City.

Aside from the productions for IVOJ, in the last two years, I have directed Oslo Music Academy’s opera workshop in performances of ”Don Giovanni,” ”Magic Flute” and “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”  The performance of “Amahl” on December 10, 2011 was dedicated to the memory of TC Professor Dino Anagnost.  (Dino was the Conducting teacher to Haakon and me, and a great friend and mentor.) Dino conducted “Amahl” every year at Lincoln Center, often with Menotti present.  It was also the hundredth anniversary of Menotti’s birth.

Oslo Music Academy’s "Amahl and the Night Visitors" dedicated to TC Professor Dino Anagnost

I teach at the Folk University in Baerum just outside Oslo, where I have directed musical theater, taught group voice, opera history and have given lectures on opera in Folk University branches in various cities in Norway.  Haakon and I have also performed concerts related to Folk University events.  (I might add that I started at the Folk University as an English instructor, which was the first work I found when we came back to Norway after Haakon’s TC studies.  I was considered qualified for this work because of having a the Ed.D.C.T.–Again, many thanks to TC.)  Due to the work with IVOJ and an increased course load and private voice studio at Oslo Music Academy I now am teaching only English at the Folk University, which helps me maintain my English skills.

Aside from our pedagogical engagement, Haakon and I are actively performing in concert.  As a member of the Norwegian Opera Singers Association, I have performed many concerts with Haakon in the Norwegian Theater in Oslo and have appeared as soloist for the Oslo Opera Club and many other venues, as well.  Haakon is active as a solo pianist, accompanist and organist.

To learn more about the International Voice of Justice, visit www.ivoj.org.

To learn more about the Oslo Music Academy, visit www.oslo-musikkakademi.com.