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DAVID BLOCH: IN MEMORIAM

Emilie Berendsen-Bloch

David was born in Seattle on June 26, 1939, and from an early age took a keen interest in literature, poetry and music. He earned the B.A. in Music from the University of Washington (1961), the M.A. from Stanford University (1962), and the Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Washington (1972) with a dissertation on Edgard Varèse. While working on the dissertation he taught at Portland State University, where he founded the Group for New Music in 1963. Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation the Group performed up and down the West Coast introducing the music of Luciano Berio, Henri Pousseur, Bruno Maderna, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The Group commissioned pieces from William Bolcom, Mort Subotnick, Steve Reich, William Albright, George Crumb and others. David introduced each concert with a lecture on the program.

When David completed the Ph.D., he and his family immigrated to Israel, where he took up a position in the music department of Tel Aviv University. He quickly reconstituted his Group for New Music, and during the next ten years introduced many 20th century composers to Israeli audiences, among them Crumb, Giacinto Scelsi, Richard Wernick, Charles Ives, Charles Koechlin and Stefan Wolpe. David was also fascinated by ragtime and Broadway musical theatre. His courses on American composers (including Gershwin), European composers and ragtime fascinated his students, as they were like multi-media events. He required students to write short compositions “in the style of” of the composers they were studying, and to perform them at the end of the semester.

While on sabbatical during which he was in residence at the University of Washington, David happened on the book Music of Terezin: 1941-1945 by Joza Karas. He was curious about this chapter of the Holocaust and resolved to learn more about the Transit Camp situated outside of Prague during the Second World War. On returning to Israel he sought out members of the Czech community, most of whom were survivors of Terezin. One was the pianist Edith Kraus, who had been a child prodigy and student of Artur Schnabel. While at Terezin she premiered the sonatas of Viktor Ullmann, who perished at Auschwitz. Edith began to play once again, performing the pieces she had given in Terezin, but now for audiences in Israel, the USA, England, France and Germany. It was through David’s efforts that the renowned Czech baritone Karl Berman was allowed to leave Czechoslovakia to perform with Edith in England, the first time that they had seen each other since l945.

When David visited Prague in 1987 to further his research on Terezin, he found that few wanted to speak to him about the nearby concentration camp. However, immediately after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 he returned and was welcomed by people who were more than willing to help. During the succeeding years of knocking on doors of publishing houses and record companies, David gained the help of Boosey & Hawkes and Bote und Bok to publish the Terezin music, and as director of the Terezin Music Anthology for Koch he produced a series of CDs. He also servied as adviser on the BBC documentary The Music of Terezin, and Swedish Television’s Goethe and Ghetto on Viktor Ullmann.

As people became aware of the Terezin project they brought David original manuscripts that their relatives had left with them. It was through such personal contacts that he recorded over 100 interviews with Terezin survivors the world over. As director of the Terezin Music Memorial Project he was assisted in his research by the Jewish Museum in Prague, and Beit Terezin and Yad Vashem in Israel.

It was not just the resurrection of a people’s past that fascinated David, but also breathing new life into the works of composers whose careers and lives were so tragically cut short. To teach young students about the history of this music, he joined with Volker Ahmels of Hamburg, Germany, to hold summer master classes that included musicians from the camps among the instructors. From 1999 to 2003 international students up to the age of 18 performed in classes led by the survivors Paul King (violinist) and Edith Kraus. In 2000 the master class was in Prague, in 2002 in Schwerin, Germany, and in 2003 at Beit Terezin in Israel.

For more than 25 years David worked passionately to unearth the lives and the music of the people of the Ghetto Terezin. The last five years of his life were afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, and he died at his home in Kfar Sava, Israel, on August 6, 2010. David left behind much unfinished work, including masters for at least four more recording. The Bloch family is custodian of his Terezin archive, which is currently being digitized. It will eventually be made available to all who wish to make use of it for educational purposes.