Music of the Holocaust: UVM Pianist Paul Orgel’s Latest Composition

“This feels much more meaningful than recording piano music from the standard repertoire that might have been recorded by many great pianists many times before…the idea of giving these pieces a truly first-rate recording carried some urgency for me.” For UVM professor Paul Orgel, classical music was not something that he had to learn to like, as a pianist-he liked it right away. Orgel, who officially started piano lessons at age 8, but started fooling around on the keys a few years prior to that, grew up in a home filled with music of all kinds, including classical. But Orgel also found interest in many other types of music, including those of Czech origin. Orgel heard music that had been composed by Czech prisoners of the concentration camp “Terezin” and took a profound interest in it. He decided to do more than just listen to it though, and greatly inspired, he decided to play it. “The inspiration came from discovering new composers whose styles of musical expression I identified with very strongly,” says Orgel. He made up a program of four strong pieces and, after playing through it many, times decided to record it. One of his reasons for doing this was that few recordings of the pieces existed and the ones that did were either not played or recorded well. Orgel decided to change this situation and created “Music from the Holocaust,” a compilation of the four pieces, which includes an essay written by Orgel and his friend Philip Silver, a professor at the University of Maine and an authority on the composers. “Music from the Holocaust” offers listeners a glimpse into the tragedy that was the Holocaust but also the beauty in the music of that period.What does the holocaust mean to you personally? One side of my family were refugees from Europe. None of my immediate family died in the Holocaust, but more distant relatives did. Much of my growing up, and certainly a good part of my involvement with music were heavily influenced by my European relatives – classical music was a vital, important part of their thinking, their memories, and their daily lives, though they weren’t performing musicians. They all immigrated to New York City, having been uprooted from rather comfortable middle-class lives in Vienna. I think that I gained a sense of not quite belonging in America from them. My mother, Doris Orgel is a children’s book author and perhaps her best-known book is “The Devil in Vienna” based on her experiences as a young girl as the Nazis came to power. As a child growing up in the 1960s, the Holocaust was rarely mentioned. It was only in later decades that my relatives began to talk about it. I now think about it on a daily basis. It is a constant reminder that supposedly civilized human beings are capable of the most terrible brutality, and that masses of people can be easily manipulated to accept insane ideas and government policies.How did you choose the piano to play the pieces on and what kind of piano did you use? I was one of four people from the UVM Music Dept. who, three years ago, spent a very enjoyable day at the Steinway factory in Queens, New York charged with the task of choosing from ten 9-foot concert-grand Steinways one that we would buy for the UVM Recital Hall. This resulted from the fundraising efforts of Ed Colodny who was the interim president of the university a few years ago. It had come to his attention that the school didn’t have a good concert instrument. A few years later, I was lucky enough to be able to use the instrument that we picked out for my recording. It may be the best piano in Vermont.What do you hope people gain from listening to “Music from the Holocaust?” I hope that people will enjoy hearing the music of these unfamiliar composers and will enjoy my playing. I hope that listeners will read the essay as they spend some time listening to the CD. Orgel is currently working on several new projects ranging from one with Haydn’s last four sonatas to one with an American/Native American theme. “Music from the Holocaust” is available from Orgel himself, from phoenixcd.com, amazon.com and soon, Tower Records in New York. For more information, go to paulorgel.com.