In tandem with three New York concerts given by the Berlin Philharmonic in February, New York University’s Deutsches Haus has opened an exhibition of Holocaust survivor David Friedmann’s “Lost Musician Portraits” from the 1920s. These sketches of Berlin Philharmonic members were drawn from life, and captured each of the artists in the act of performing. Before World War II Friedmann’s sketches of various personalities in all fields appeared in hundreds of newspapers, but have only recently been rediscovered. His talent helped him survive Auschwitz, where he drew portraits of SS guards, their families, and even their dogs.
The exhibit, which is also sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute and the consulate general of Germany, includes short biographies as well as recordings of all the musicians shown in the sketches, many of whom were Jewish. It is on view until March 30. (WNYC broadcast a substantial interview about the artist with his daughter, which can be heard here.)
The Berlin Philharmonic has always been one of the finest orchestras in the world. But only since 1989, when Claudio Abbado took over from Herbert von Karajan, and more recently under the direction of its current music director, Sir Simon Rattle (whose contract has just been extended to 2018), has the orchestra once again begun to have the kind of adventurousness it was known for at the time these portraits were made. It is currently a surprisingly young orchestra — the average age of its musicians is 38 — and almost half the members are not German.