The Brundibár Arts Festival – the Holocaust in music, words, film & education

Newcastle is playing an active role in helping to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 – a global day of reflection that takes place on Friday January 27th. The City-wide programme spans a month of activities, closing on February 7th, with a number of venues hosting a variety of events including art exhibitions, workshops, lectures, films and music recitals.

Included in the programme is the Brundibár Arts Festival – a wealth of music, spoken word, theatre, education workshops and lectures [30 January – 7 February].

Now in its second year, the Newcastle and Gateshead-based festival aims to curate an annual programme of arts and music events that showcase the ‘little known music’ written during the Holocaust by victims and survivors.

The festival was named after the children’s opera “Brundibár” (meaning Bumblebee), written by Czech composer, Hans Krása.

The opera was performed 55 times by children who were incarcerated at Theresienstadt concentration camp in Terezin (Czechoslovakia). Of the 15,000 children who went through Terezin only 100 survived.  The organisers named the Festival after the opera as a lasting tribute to those children who suffered and perished.

The Brundibár Arts Festival venues include Newcastle City Library, Kings Hall, Newcastle University, Sage Gateshead, Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Arch 16 Café, Lit & Phil, Alphabetti Theatre and Brunswick Methodist Church.

The Brundibár Arts Festival is supported by Newcastle City Council, the Radcliffe Trust and the Community Foundation.

The Festival has a strong educational focus with workshops taking place at Wyndham Primary School, Kingston Park Primary School, Sir Charles Parsons School, Great North Children’s Hospital and Thomas Bewick School.

The Brundibár Arts Festival is the brainchild of Russian-born Alexandra Raikhlina. The 33-year old, mum-of-one, lives in Jesmond with daughter Avital (aged 3) and her husband Lewis, who works as a patent attorney. She moved to Newcastle from Belgium eight years ago to take up the role of violinist with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, a job that takes her all over the world.

Alexandra moved from Moscow to Brussels with her family when she was only eight-years old. Her parents and sister still live in Brussels; and a small part of her family remain in Russia – an aunt and a cousin.

Alexandra Raikhlina, Artistic Director of The Brundibár Arts Festival, said: “The seed for the festival was planted in my mind a few years ago, after I was asked to perform at the Holocaust Memorial Day in Newcastle.  I was given open choice in the repertoire to perform, and started to research music on the Internet.  I came across loads of absolutely fascinating music that I had never heard or played myself before. All music that had been inspired and born out of the devastation of the Holocaust.

“Even though music is at the heart of the festival, there is so much more for people to experience. We’ve tried to programme a variety of events that reflect the emotions of the Holocaust, through theatre, art, film, education workshops and music. This is a chance to let people, young and old, learn about a part of history that should never be forgotten.

“Today we stand at a crossroad and we need to choose our path carefully. Let’s learn from our mistakes, be proactive in our actions, and read and learn from history. Let’s not say empty sentences like “Never again” and walk away satisfied.

“The Brundibár Arts Festival aims to positively document the astonishing achievement of artist victims of the Holocaust. We cannot bring lives back but we can carry on their work. Through their music, the composers live on.”

Cllr Joyce McCarty, Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “Music and the arts are a very emotive way to reflect on a serious subject like The Holocaust.  The Brundibár Arts Festival is unique to Newcastle and Gateshead, and the organisers have programmed an inspiring array of music, theatre, film and speakers that provides people with an opportunity to think about the past but also allows the audience to look towards the future as we aim to learn from the atrocities of genocide.”

The Brundibár Arts Festival is proud to be bringing over Holocaust survivor, Ela Weissberger from America to deliver a number of fascinating talks in the City.   Ela performed 55 times in the original production of “Brundibár”, and she will share the incredible story of her survival with audiences and schools during her visit to Newcastle.

You can see where Ela will be talking by visiting The Brundibár Arts Festival website which provides the event programme, details of workshops and how to purchase 

People can also see the full Holocaust Memorial Day programme for January and February programmed in association with the City Council’s Arts Team by

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Filed under Holocaust in the news, Listening materials

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