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August 11, 2017

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 11, 2017 By Tom Tugend Hulton Archive/Getty Images Pyotr Tchaikovsky's works include six symphonies and three piano concertos, only two of which are finished, a violin concerto and 11 operas. LOS ANGELES (JTA) - While researching his latest one-man show, "Our Great Tchaikovsky," Hershey Felder--a playwright, ac- tor and composer who has brought the loves, torments and soaring music of some of the world's greatest com- posers to the stage--faced a moral question. Does towering talent exculpate a composer, or any artist, for a racist or anti-Semitic remark, even at a time and place where such comments were com- monplace? The answer isn't simple. "This is avery complicated matter," Felder, 49, who was raised in a Yiddish-speaking home in Canada, told JTA in a phone interview. In a letter written in 1878, Pyotr (Peter) Ilyish Tchai- kovsky wrote that when his train stopped at a Russian railroad station, he noticed "a mass of dirty Yids, with that poisoning of the atmo- sphere which accompanies them everywhere." "Tchaikovsky was a man of Hershey Felder as Pyotr the 19th century, when the intelligentsia in Russia and other European countries was anti-Semitic almost by reflex," said Felder, whose father survived Auschwitz. By way of analogy, Felder If you're like most people, you'll probably wait until the last minute to send your annual Jewish New Year greetings. And, like most people, you will probably truly regret having waited so long. However, once a year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, you have the opportunity to wish your family and friends and the Jewish community Happy and Healthy New Year" through the Special Rosh Hashanah Edition of HERITAGE. No Postage -- No Problems -- No Excuses! 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Tchaikovsky in his latest show, "Our Great Tchaikovsky." noted that George Gershwin, The same struggle also is living in New York and Los reflected in Tchaikovsky's Angeles, commonly referred music, Felder said, nowhere to his 1925 one-act jazz opera more clearly than in his Sixth "Blue Moon," the predeces- Symphony, the"Pathetique." sor to "Porgy and Bess," as The composer conducted his "nigger opera." its premier performance in Although considered ex- St. Petersburg in 1893, and tremely offensive now, inthe he died suddenly nine days 1920sand'30s--whenAlJol- later at 53. son regularly performed in Initially, his death was blackface--suchanappella- attributed to cholera, but tion, while certainly deroga- a widespread belief persists tory, hadn't become what thatTchaikovskycommitted journalistFaraiChideyahas suicide. called "the nuclear bomb of As for Felder, he has racial epithets," at least steadily added to his reper- among most white Ameri- toire of one-man musical cans. bio-dramas over the past "Porgy and Bess" pre- 22 years. His productions miered in NewYork in 1935 have celebrated the lives with an all-black cast, and and works of classical gi- is still embraced by many ants Ludwigvan Beethoven, African-American perform- Frederic Chopin and Franz ers. Did Gershwin's use of Liszt, as well as more the epithet mean that he was contemporary (and Jew- racist? Felder asked, ish) composers Gershwin, Answering his own ques- Irving Berlin and Leonard tion, he said, "We can't Bernstein. correct or apologize for his- In "Our Great Tchai- tory, and I don't feel that I kovsky," audiences get a have to go into that aspect generous sampling of the [ofTchaikovsky's life] in my Russianmaster'swork, from stage presentation." such favorites as the "1812 Also, Felderadded, Tchai- Overture," selections from kovsky's putdown of "Yids .... The Nutcracker" and"Swan was countered by his ac- Lake," to the little-known tions.Heprovidedascholar- "Jurisprudence March." ship from his own pocket for Not all reviews of Felder's the young Jewish violinist presentations have been Samuli Litvinov; he main- ecstatic, but the large major- tained a deep friendship ity have been highly lauda- with composer-conductors tory--especially compared Anton and Nikolai Ruben- to the sharp criticism that stein; and he defended Felix manyofTchaikovsky'sworks Mendelssohn against Rich- received in his lifetime. ard Wagner's anti-Semitic The current run of"Tchai- slurs, kovsky" was extended for a What Tchaikovsky feared third week, to Aug. 13, even most was that he would before the July19 opening at be outed as a homosexual, theWallisAnnenbergCenter Felder said, which would for the Performing Arts in have ruined him and led to Beverly Hills. The show will likely exile in Siberia. To move to the Hartford Stage scotch rumors, Tchaikovsky in that Connecticut city, married--anideathatwould Aug. 19-27. prove disastrous. The union In late September and ear- lastedless thanthree months ly October, Felder will return andthe ex-spousewouldex- to London for overlapping tort blackmail payments for runsas Berlin and Bernstein a lifetime, at the Other Palace, a theater The composer's struggle in the West End. After that, with his homosexuality-- Felder said he will select compounded by his fear one final composer, not yet of exposure--is a central chosen, as the final entry motif through Felder's per- in his lineup of one-man formance.WhileFelderuses concert plays. a Russian-inflected accent He then expects to con- while speaking as Tchai- centrate on creating his own kovsky, he reverts to his compositions, which cur- own voice and accent when rently include the "Aliyah" denouncing the discrimina- concerto, the opera"Noah's tion and persecution suf- Ark" and a recording of fered by gay men in Russia, love songs from the Yiddish then as now. theater.