Stirring Concert at Samuel Bak Museum At Vivace Vilnius Festival

The August 3rd concert of Vivace Vilnius was a testament to the strength of the Jewish spirit. Lithuania, like many European countries, and Vilnius in particular, must live with a very painful history. Panerai, just outside Vilnius, is the first site of mass killings in World War II. The site commemorates the nearly 100,000 lives that were lost there, and museums within Vilnius itself describe the unthinkable atrocities that too many citizens endured.

Samuel Bak, an art prodigy born in Vilnius in 1933 depicts the scenes that he observed in what became a ghetto, cramped with human life, and deprived of humane living conditions. Extremely overcrowded homes, windows that are shuttered, lack of proper provisions, Bak is able to evoke the trauma that he and all the others were subjected to, as well as his impressions of what followed, during and after the war. The scars run deep, making even more remarkable his continued striving for healing.

Introducing the exhibit currently at the Bak Museum, the 90 year old says, “My art has always tried to propose images that question the human condition within its raw extremes. My images surge from the depths of my imagination, and their creation, an ever evolving process of search for meaning and form, has let me overcome inhibiting grief. Little by little they brought me close to a sense of resilience and serenity; they have also committed me to the preservation of both historic and personal memory. Today, the mere presence of these paintings in Vilnius allows me to show gratitude to my rare heroes who in times of horror and destruction had risked their lives to save mine. It also allows me to dedicate my art to all good people who keep on fighting racism, intolerance, genocide and the unspeakable harm that man does to man. I strongly feel that my art, by bringing me back to my ancient birth-town, places me on the threshold of something sacred.”

The concert performed at the Samuel Bak Museum as part of the Vivace Vilnius Festival was a musical tribute to everything Bak was trying to convey, performed with open hearted brilliance by Luigi Piovano (cello) and Inga Vyšniauskaitė (piano). The program of all Jewish composers began with Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, Op.47. The rich tones of Piovano’s cello express the request that is being made of God to forgive the promises that are being asked to annul. For whatever reason, the supplicant cannot fulfill some vows that were made. How many people were forced to do things that they could never had imagined, and were seeking forgiveness from God? The request is made three times, once softly in reverence for speaking to God directly in such a manor, then louder with each repetition. Piovano poured himself into the piece, breathing audibly as the emotions surfaced, demanding expression. The beautiful haunting tones of Bloch, in Supplication, Jewish song, and Prayer were rendered with sensitivity and passion by Piovano, his 1692 cello, and Vyšniauskaitė’s rich accompaniment.

The immediacy of the venue, and close proximity to Bak’s searching, yearning and expression helped to infuse this virtuoso performance with the same gravitas as the paintings themselves. The swelling phrases conveyed the soulful urgency felt by Piovano and Vyšniauskaitė.

It is the expression of grief that allows it to ease. The depth of this performance links us to those who have been lost, and to the history that continues to unfold. The setting in the Bak museum brought the art and music together to respect the power and utter devastation of the past, as well as the resilience of the human heart to survive and overcome seemingly insurmountable sorrow.

Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata No 2, D Major, Op 58 offers hope, the beauty of possibility and healing. Together we honor the pain of the past, and reach for the melodies that can salve the most wounded souls.

After the audience’s insistence on hearing more, Piovano and Vyšniauskaitė treated us to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. Art and Music rescue us when words fall short, and our gratitude that this can be achieved is reciprocated with the performers. The result is the spontaneous connection that can emerge, and our ability to be the bridge for each other. It is an experience we carry forward in our hearts, a defining part of our humanity.


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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.