A Holocaust Victim Remembered: JoAnn Falletta on Marcel Tyberg

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JoAnn Faletta serves as the Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.(Photo: publicity photo)
JoAnn Faletta serves as the Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.(Photo: publicity photo)

It is reaffirming when voices thought silenced forever find a way to make themselves heard.

In the advent of Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, I had a chance to speak with acclaimed conductor JoAnn Falletta, who led the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the world premiere performances and recording of the Third Symphony of one of the Holocaust’s victims, Austrian composer Marcel Tyberg.

The story of Tyberg’s fate at the hands of the Nazis is, sadly, all too much like millions of others. But the story of how his music survived the horrors of World War II and came to be performed sixty years after its composer’s death is as heartwarming as it is astonishing.

Tyberg had been living with his mother and working as a music teacher in Abazia (then in Italy) when the Nazi conquest of Europe was gaining momentum. A law decreed that everyone of full or partial Jewish background must officially declare his background to the authorities. Tyberg’s mother conformed and reported her Jewish ancestry to the authorities.

Tyberg began to fear the Nazis would imprison him. He left the manuscripts of his compositions with Dr. Milan Mihich, a friend of his family’s and the father of one of his students, Enrico Mihich. Not long afterward, Tyberg was imprisoned by the Gestapo and eventually taken to the Auschwitz death camp, in Poland.

The Mihich family fled Europe for the U.S. Tyberg died at Auschwitz, his music never having been publicly performed.

A Family Friend Holds Out Hope

When Enrico (Henry) Mihich inherited Tyberg’s manuscripts, he held out hope that the music in them would someday be heard. For more than half a century, Enrico Mihich, who eventually settled in Buffalo, NY, and became a successful physician, tried unsuccessfully to entice various conductors to study and perform Tyberg’s scores.

But everything changed in 2005, when an aging Enrico Mihich knocked on JoAnn Falletta’s door:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/Falletta_interview_bite_1.mp3"]

Falletta took Mihich’s shopping bag of scores and set to work reading Tyberg’s Third Symphony, handling its yellowed, crumbling pages with kid gloves and trawling at a snail’s pace through the composer’s challenging musical handwriting.

But, she says, Tyberg’s musical influences came through from the very first notes:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/Falletta_interview_2_mix.mp3"]

Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmnic Orchestra gave the Third Symphony’s world premiere on May 10, 2008. They will give what is believed to be the world premiere of Tyberg’s Second Symphony April 30, for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and have plans to record that work for the Naxos label.

As Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, Falletta recalled her experience of walking in Tyberg’s footsteps while on a visit to Auschwitz.

Her words are a moving testament to the suffering – still ongoing – the Holocaust unleashed on the world:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/Falletta_interview_bite_3.mp3"]

We can look forward to many more recordings of Tyberg’s music, including an ongoing series of recordings of his chamber music, as well as a possible recording of Tyberg’s First Symphony. Because Tyberg’s music has conquered the evil that would have silenced it forever, it now gets the last word.

Here’s a taste of the triumphant finale of Tyberg’s Third Symphony, a light unextinguished by the darkness of the Holocaust:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/Tyberg3_finale.mp3"]

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