AN ANGEL AT DACHAU (2014)

clarinet in A, violin, cello, piano

11 minutes

PREMIERE: January 18, 2014, Eric Umble (clarinet), Hayne Kim (violin), Vivian Chang (cello), Jacob Sievers, (piano), Firehouse Space, Brooklyn, New York

CONCERT NOTES: While I was traveling in Israel in the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to visit the country’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. I was particularly struck by the testimony of a man who had been liberated from the Dachau concentration camp at the end of the war. In lieu of describing the atrocities he witnessed there, the man only spoke of a woman he saw in the camp. When their eyes first met, his heart was warmed by her kind and beautiful face. He and the woman had been placed in different divisions, so he was never able to meet her, but the glances they shared helped the man endure his years in the camp. When Dachau was liberated, he searched for the woman he saw in the distance, but he was unable to find her. In fact, no one he spoke to knew anyone matching the woman’s description. It was as if she never existed at all. He described her as his “angel at Dachau,” come to help him survive.

I was so captivated by this man’s story that I felt compelled to share it by translating it to music. I have always been hesitant to address the Holocaust through my work, as I do not believe it is possible to capture this colossal tragedy through a single piece of music. It is too immense, too distant. For many years, I myself found it difficult to comprehend this calamity through facts and photographs, and even through the art that grew out of this time. But when I heard this man speak, I felt more connected to our lost generation than ever before and knew I had to memorialize his words through music, so others might hear his story and remember.

The instrumentation for this piece is the same as that of Quartet for the End of Time, a piece also closely linked with the Holocaust, and the music herein pays homage to Messiaen’s powerful quartet.

This piece is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the concentration camp at Dachau.