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WW2 concert shows music is a power for peace: Gergiev

By Michael Roddy
/ Source: Reuters

By Michael Roddy

Musicians from 40 countries gathered in the heart of former Nazi-occupied Poland on Tuesday to mark the outbreak of World War Two with a concert to persuade people making music is better than waging war.

"Someone who plans a suicide bombing doesn't pay any attention to our concert, of course," said Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, whose conducting the World Orchestra for Peace coincided with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attending a memorial ceremony in the eastern Polish port city of Gdansk.

"But the people who hear just great music, maybe they will pay some attention and if out of 100 potential least 10 will start thinking...other things than just killing each other are important in this life, that's already the power of music," Gergiev, a close friend of Putin's, told a news conference on Monday.

The concert, beginning at 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) in Saint Peter and Saint Paul's Church, just off the main square of this intellectual and artistic hub that was the headquarters of a Nazi administration, will be broadcast live on Polish television and streamed over the Internet (

The orchestra, founded in 1995 by the late Hungarian-born Jewish conductor Sir Georg Solti, brings together some 90 of the world's best musicians from all parts of the globe and from some of the world's best orchestras.

Among them were violinist Nabih Bulos of Jordan, who plays with Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and Israeli viola player Doron Alperin, whose Polish grandfather survived a Nazi camp in Poland and was traveling to Krakow to hear his grandson play live in concert for the first time.

Alperin, 30, was so choked with emotion at the thought of performing in a city whose 64,000 Jews were deported or exterminated by the Nazis, with several thousand killed at the nearby Auschwitz death camp, he was unable to play a solo version of the Jewish "Kol Nidre" call to prayer outside a remnant of the ghetto wall on Sunday.

"It's something inside my gut," Alperin said, explaining why he asked a colleague to step in to play the haunting tune.

Alperin's grandfather Adam Neuman-Nowicki, who left Poland in 1957 to settle in the United States, said he was very excited to see his grandson perform. Even at age 83, he returns to Poland regularly and thinks his talking to young people has helped to steer people away from anti-Semitism.

"This is a disease, there's no antibiotic to cure it, nevertheless there are changes and I am working for the changes."

The performance with Gergiev, an ethnic Ossetian who led a controversial concert in 2008 in the Russian-backed breakaway Georgian enclave of South Ossetia to draw attention to the deaths and bombings there, came against a backdrop of controversy over Russia's role in World War Two.

Gergiev said he did not think the chequered history of Russian-Polish relations, including Polish insistence that Russia apologize for Josef Stalin's order to massacre the entire Polish officer corps at Katyn in 1940, should overshadow his role in the concert, or Putin's visit to Gdansk.

"I think if he (Putin) didn't want to contribute to peace he wouldn't come," Gergiev said.

The church accommodates about 600 people but the performance of Mahler's 5th Symphony and the world premiere of a "Prelude to Peace" by composer Krzysztof Penderecki, a Krakow native, may be heard and seen by millions more over Polish television and radio and an online streaming video over the CNN website.

Penderecki, 76, said his short prelude, scored for brass and percussion and including a glorious, uplifting fanfare, was a distillation of his childhood memories of the Nazi invasion, and the subsequent communist rule in Poland that ended in 1989.

"We had a dark 45 years, first the Germans then the Russians, and now we feel the release," Penderecki told Reuters after a rehearsal.

"What you hear in this music is the release, it is not the war fanfare."