The Worlds of Refugee Musicians

By the mid-20th century, Elizabeth Braw reports, “virtually every American conservatoire and symphony orchestra [included] highly skilled musicians from countries ravaged either by the Nazis, the Soviets, or both.” Since that time, a sort of community has formed around musicians who fled violence and brought distinctive musical traditions to their new homes. As Braw notes, many such musicians will soon assemble in the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, a project of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera.

One day in 1939, a sixteen-year-old named Menahem Pressler from the German city of Magdeburg arrived with his family in Israel after having escaped the Nazis’ persecution of Jews. Seven years later, the piano prodigy was a famous soloist in American and European concert halls. To this day, the now-ninety-nine-year-old remains a venerated professor of music at Indiana University (IU) and continues to teach the piano. He’s just one of countless musicians who have been uprooted by war or persecution—to the benefit of conservatoires, orchestras, and concert halls in other countries.

When, in 1955, Pressler decided to scale back on his soloist career and joined the music faculty of at Indiana, he became part of a conservatoire that was already home to several other refugees from Nazism. The European refugees, in fact, helped raise the Jacobs School of Music to such heights that it was often said that the conservatory should thank two men for its success: IU’s President Herman Wells and Adolf Hitler.

[Among the best-known refugee musicians are] the Jewish-German cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (a former member of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz), the Jewish-German conductors Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, the Jewish-Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg, Jewish-Austrian violinist Max Rostal, [and others]. Many other exiled musicians were far less famous, serving as orchestral players or instrumental teachers. But all brought a phenomenal skill and verve to orchestras, conservatoires, and teaching.

Read more at Engelsberg Ideas

More about: Classical music, Refugees, War in Ukraine, World War II

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia