Coming in August: “Immersion: Defiant Music," with Mark Ludwig

Mark Ludwig is no stranger to the Berkshires – a long-time violist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Ludwig has presented programs for Federation as Terezín Music Foundation director, most recently last summer at Knosh & Knowledge. He talked then about his outstanding book about the doomed musicians and artists at Terezin, Our Will to Live: The Terezín Music Critiques of Viktor Ullmann.

On Friday, August 11 and Saturday, August 12, Ludwig and the Foundation will collaborate with the Tanglewood Learning Institute on a two-part series, "Immersion: Defiant Music," which explores cultural creators persecuted by Nazis during World War II. He assures those interested in coming that these programs at the Linde Center will be “very different even if they have attended programs of mine before. They’ll be experiencing other composers and other works that will most likely be new to them and delving into how did this all, in a sense happen. We go farther back than, say, the late 1920s and ultimately 1933, when the Nazis obtained power. We’ll go back to the previous century and consider the root influences that would guide the Nazis towards creating these policies.”

We caught up with Ludwig in early June, when he was a few days away from flying to Mongolia, where he was to lead a series of master classes with the Mongolian State Philharmonic Orchestra and then talk at the United States Embassy in Ulan Bator. After, he was going “on a self-sustaining ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert. It's 155 miles in six days with a 25-pound pack at high altitude, and you’re on wild terrain you have to navigate. So you're essentially doing a marathon each day, six days in a row.” He adds he’s been doing these kinds of extreme hikes for four years.

Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.

How did this program come together?

It's almost eight years since I retired from the BSO and I've maintained really close ties with the orchestra. They asked if I'd like to do a series of programs where we look at the music that the Nazis had targeted as part of what they called their degenerate music and degenerate art policies. These polices worked in tandem with the Nuremberg racial laws and their so-called cleansing not only in Germany, but what would subsequently be in occupied lands during the war.

So what we have is two days of immersion into a world that that is rather surrealistic and brutal. We look at the genesis of how these cultural policies were connected to the racial policies of the Nazis, and how they were implemented. We'll then look at the response of a few composers whose music was active defiance. The first part [on Friday, “Degenerate Music—Voices That Could Not Be Silenced”] will be about composers who were fortunate enough to go into exile – Schoenberg immediately comes to mind, but there's [Berthold] Goldschmidt and [Ernst] Krenek. They were targeted and responded in their music. In part two [on Saturday, “’Our Will To Live’ — Music and Art in Terezín’”) we see how these policies of the degenerate art and music led tragically towards the Final Solution. We’ll look at the Terezin composers and their works as acts of defiance, but we’ll also look at the promise of these composers, getting acquainted with some of their music before the war so that we see that ultimately all of this music would stand on its own merit, regardless of its composers’ tragic fates.

We just did a story about the Barrington Stage Company’s production of Cabaret, which deals with some of the same themes – a liberal society and arts community that developed coming into conflict with the Nazis when they rose to power.

In the second program, we actually go into cabaret and Terezin, because cabaret artists ended up in Terezin and were immediate targets. But they were already targets for the Nazi party that was formulating in the 1920s. By the 1920s, the Nazis were targeting not only pieces [of music], but composers – this didn't just come about in 1933. Even dating back as far back to the 1830s, you’ll see influences that eventually were absorbed within the Nazi policies, that then evolve into the Nuremberg racial laws and then ultimately the Final Solution.

The Nazis weren't just racialists or militarists. They were also culture warriors and they sought to remake culture in their own image, as well as society and geopolitics.

A lot of the language that was used, the terminology and the policies of that period, are textbook being used today. The fact that people are declaring a war on segments of society is a warning, a red flag. You can't help but make connections to that time period that have an unfortunate resonance in the political landscape, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. It also gives you a sense of the degree that regimes and politicians who tend to be in the more totalitarian realm are fearful of the power of the arts.

I think people will be struck by similarities. But more importantly, I find that these two talks are a journey into what is the power and the inspirational aspect, not only of these composers and visual artists, but of the arts overall. It sounds very dark. And of course, it is an incredibly dark chapter. But with it is an understanding not only the power of the arts for them, but for us in future generations when we look at the inspiring act of creating and being, of having that role of defiance and looking at the role of music as an agent of not only resistance, but of hope and survival and ultimately transformation.


“Immersion: Defiant Music,” is a two-part event collaboration between the Tanglewood Learning Institute and the Terezin Music Foundation exploring cultural creators persecuted by Nazis during World War II. The program will be facilitated by Mark Ludwig, Terezín Music Foundation director and Boston Symphony Orchestra member emeritus. Both presentations will be presented at the Linde Center, Studio E.

Immersion: Defiant Music Part 1: “Degenerate Music—Voices That Could Not Be Silenced,” on Friday, August 11 at 4:30 p.m.: Explores the Nazi "cultural cleansing” policy targeting jazz, modernist, and non-Aryan—including all Jewish—composers before and during World War II. This will include a sampling of art, historical photos, and performance videos.

Immersion: Defiant Music Part 2: ‘“Our Will To Live” — Music and Art in Terezín’ on Saturday, August 12 at 3 p.m.: An artistic and musical journey into the astonishing cultural community of imprisoned musicians and artists in Terezín, a Nazi camp where 33,000 people died. This program will include art and historical photos with live performances by BSO members.

Tickets for each day are available for $25 per seat and may be purchased at the Tanglewood box office or online at


Image: Mark Ludwig, Terezín Music Foundation director (Photo: Michael J. Lutch)