‘Not your average concert’: Baritone brings music banned by Nazis to Manchester

A show consisting of music banned by the Nazis will be brought home by Manchester-born producer Peter Brathwaite later this month.

The show, entitled Degenerate Music, arrives at the Manchester Jewish Museum on Holocaust Memorial Day and celebrates music that was deemed immoral and banned by Hitler at the height of his regime.

Peter, who is regarded as one of the UK’s finest young operatic talents, came up with the idea for the show after reading into the Nazi’s infamous crackdown on some of the era’s most popular artists.

“I was looking for an idea for a show and I read about the 1938 Degenerate Art exhibition which featured works of art that the Nazis thought were damaging to the general public,” Peter told MM.

“At around the same time, a music exhibition was held in Dusseldorf – Entartete Musik [Degenerate Music].

“It was basically a house of horrors where the public was led through a series of rooms with listening booths and pictures of Jewish composers and black musicians. They were told that this music was bad and why they shouldn’t listen to it.

“The most interesting thing is that this music was the most popular of the day and was dominating the music scene in Germany. The music that was forbidden was loved by the German public.”

Peter saw a fascinating idea for a show and decided to travel to Germany to learn more.

What came from his research was a multi-media show featuring spoken performances and visual imagery as well as interpretations of songs by a variety of artists of the time, such as Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht.

“I took a trip to Munich in 2013 to do more research and from there I started to develop the idea over a long process which included a year of collecting music and working out how to put it together,” he said.

“The show includes numerous styles that were banned including opera, jazz, classical and cabaret, as well as readings from the exhibition brochure in between.

“There’ll also be a visual element in pictures and paintings. I worked with a designer who produced projections of featured artists to be displayed behind me during the performances as well as scenes of everyday life from the Weimar Republic in order to add extra impact.

“It’s quite a short show which moves at a pace so it’s not too heavy either.

“I wanted to make sure there was enough rhythm and variation so it’s not too much of any one specific style of music and there’s something for everyone.”

Peter has already taken the show to festivals in London and Alderny and can’t wait to share his creation with the people of Manchester.

“In Manchester we have a ready-made venue in a former synagogue which of course will have a lot of resonance so hopefully it’ll be a very special evening,” he said.

“It’s amazing how many people aren’t aware of these composers and it just shows how successful the Nazis were in eliminating a huge wave of composers, academics and artists who were killed or displaced.

“It’s a great opportunity to show people what music is available when you just look a bit harder for it.”

A graduate of London’s Royal College of Music, Peter’s performances have received rave reviews, and Degenerate Music could well be a milestone moment in the young baritone’s career.

“It’s great to be doing something that’s original and that I have ownership of,” he said.

“It’s also great encouraging people to integrate this music into concert programmes.

“I think the most important thing, though, is this music doesn’t become ghettoised.

“It’s an extraordinary repertoire and I hope the show encourages people to find out more about it and perhaps even listen to these composers that they wouldn’t have heard of beforehand.”

Classical music typically attracts older audiences, but Peter hopes the compelling subject matter and multi-media aspect of Degenerate Music will attract a diverse crowd.

“It’s certainly not your average classical concert and I hope people of all ages come along,” he said.

“The show has contemporary resonance too as it reminds us of censorship that unfortunately is an issue in the arts today and the important lessons we can learn from history.”

Degenerate Music will be performed at Manchester Jewish Museum on January 27 from 7pm-10pm.

Tickets and further information can be found here.

Image courtesy of Dockers, via Youtube, with thanks

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