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Jewish Lives | Music Sarah Shieff

Jewish Lives | Music Sarah Shieff


Jewish involvement in music only begins to register later in the nineteenth century once professional touring companies and artists started to include New Zealand on their itineraries. That many visiting musicians were Jewish simply reflects the historical over-representation of Jews in any profession that would admit them.

Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century visitors included Hungarian violin virtuoso Eduard Hoffmann (who reputedly inspired the ‘Hungarian’ works of his friends Brahms and Liszt), pianist Mark Hambourg, violinist Mischa Elman, the Cherniavsky Trio, and a young Jascha Heifetz. Pianist Jascha Spivakovsky made the first of several visits in 1922;  Russian violinist Efrem Zimablist and Polish pianist Ignaz Friedman arrived in 1923. Shura Cherkassky first visited in 1928, and Joseph Szigeti played with the Wellington Symphony Orchestra in 1932. Yehudi Menuhin visited on his first world tour in 1935.

Most refugees from Nazism had Jewish affiliations; some had studied music to an advanced level and already had established careers. These included cellist Marie Vandewart (1911-2006) who had studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, violinist Erika Schorss, also from Berlin, and Austrian-born conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999). Tintner directed the Auckland Choral Society from 1947, and from 1948 until 1953 conducted both the Choral Society and the Auckland String Players. The String Players included Viennese violinist Ernst Specht, German violist Joseph Spring, violist Otto Hubscher and Czechoslovakian violinist Frank Hofmann. Their repertoire included ambitious works by Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Arnold Schoenberg and Douglas Lilburn.

Jewish members of the new National Orchestra, which gave its first concerts in 1947, included Czech cellist Greta Ostova, Schorss and Hubscher. Violinist Francis Rosner joined in 1948 and Viennese cellist Peter Langer belonged from 1956 until 1964. Hungarian violinist Clare Galambos-Winter, a concentration camp survivor, joined the Orchestra in 1951 and played until 1983. Wilfred Simenaur arrived in New Zealand as a teenager, worked as an orchestral musician and soloist in London, and returned to New Zealand in 1965 as the Orchestra’s co-principal cello.

Hungarian-born pianist Lili Kraus had already established an international reputation before arriving here in 1946, via internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Java.

Jewish refugees also helped develop an infrastructure for musical performance. Fred Turnovsky and Arthur Hilton organised chamber music, and the philanthropist Denis Adam supported financially.

A later generation brought Jewish musicians into the public eye again. Unlike their predecessors, many of whom found Judaism first a source of mortal danger and then something they may have wished to hide in assimilationist post-war New Zealand, younger musicians such as Jonathan Besser, Herschal Hirscher, and the Wellington-based Klezmer Rebs express their Jewishness as a positive aspect of their performing personae and their musical heritage.


Image header (above): Frank Hofmann, Georg Tintner, 1961 Image courtesy of Estate of Frank Hofmann

This abridged version of the chapter titled Nathan’s Kin: Jews and Music in New Zealand by Sarah Shieff, was created for JoM with the kind permission of the authors of Jewish Lives in New Zealand: A History, edited by Leonard Bell and Diana Morrow, and published by Random House in 2012. 


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