Review: Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish

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When this performance was scheduled, no-one could have known about the unfolding nightmare of the Islamic State, the violence unleashed in Gaza, or indeed the decision by the little big men on Edinburgh Council to raise the Palestine flag over the City Chambers.

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Usher Hall, one night only

I hope some of those pigmies who backed that decision were at the Usher Hall last night, not just to feel the raw power of the RSNO’s stunning performance of Bernstein’s interpretation of the ancient Hebrew prayer for the dead, but to hear for themselves the words written and delivered by Bernstein’s collaborator Samuel Pisar.

Pisar, now 85, is one of the few remaining Auschwitz survivors. In his own words he is “a humble messenger from a world that once collapsed, alarmed to see the present world heading for another collapse”.

Set against Bernstein’s jagged and haunting score, his description of the murder of his family is all the more moving for his calm and almost monotone delivery, when we know he suffered the most unspeakable ordeal which would surely leave most of us contorted with hatred and emptiness.

He has updated his original words to take into account the violence in Israel and Palestine, the plight of the Yazidis and the growth of intolerance and they have all the more power for it.

A mention too must go to National Youth Choir of Scotland National Girl’s Choir, who’s angelic voices were an aching reminder of how low zealotry can sink.

The combination of Pisar’s impassioned prayer for God to guide humankind towards tolerance and peace, the energy of the RSNO and once again the raw emotional power of the superb Festival Chorus must have made this one of the most moving finales to any performance the Festival has seen.

Personally? I have never witnessed anything quite like this.

Meanwhile British politicians argue about whether it is in the national interest to attack the religio-fascists of the Islamic state, as children are fighting for their lives in the besieged town of Amerli.

As a man who spoke of his joy at the arrival of American soldiers in the death camps, I wonder if Samuel Pisar thinks this is time for a debate.