Ben Uri Gallery & Museum and the Royal College of Music (RCM) unite for Ben Uri’s centenary year with the exhibition ‘Arts in Harmony: An Art Gallery’s Musical Heritage’. This collaboration is inspired by the recent rediscovery of material from Ben Uri’s extensive archives (1), together with the RCM’s research and performance project ‘Singing a Song in a Foreign Land’. Since their respective formations, both institutions have brought educational and cultural opportunities to a diverse range of individuals and, crucially, provided creative outlets for émigrés fleeing Nazi pe rsecution during 1933-45.
Including artworks, photographs, cuttings, correspondence and programmes, the exhibition will highlight Ben Uri’s musical heritage whilst revealing powerful stories of émigrés and emerging second generation musicians, such as the Austrian pianist Ferdinand Rauter and polyglot Lieder singer Engel Lund (2), who stood up to anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1930s by refusing to stop performing Yiddish songs. Other émigré musicians featured in the display include Yehudi Menuhin, Thomas Rajna, Franz Reizenstein, Emanuel Hurwitz and Paul Hamburger.
Ben Uri not only organised regular recitals but had its own orchestra, chamber orchestra, choir and opera appreciation circle, which even today is unique within the context of an art gallery. Furthermore, Ben Uri brought art and music together: Alexander Goehr, who came to England as a small child, premiered a new composition in 1953, only a year after his photographer mother Laelia Goehr had exhibited her works at the Ben Uri Gallery.
Accompanying artworks have been selected from Ben Uri’s unique collection of over 1300 works; usually kept in storage, these provide an expressive visual and narrative counterpoint to the archival items. Embracing both traditional and modernist responses, the artworks include a folk-art inspired design (1915) by Ben Uri founder, Lazar Berson; a glorious colourist Still-Life with Guitar (1935) by Mark Gertler, key ‘Whitechapel Boy’ and associated with the Bloomsbury set; Isaac Lichtenstein’s angular Blind Fiddler (1924), showing the influence of Cubism and the ‘Ecole de Paris’; Josef Herman’s poignant sketched recollection of a life destroyed by the Holocaust (c. 1940-43); and Mark Wayner’s satirical jibe at celebrity of the day, Sir Henry Wood (1931, recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the RCM).
The exhibition runs alongside ‘Singing a Song in a Foreign Land’, RCM’s research and performance project led by Norbert Meyn, which investigates the impact of émigrés on British musical life (3). Video testimonies from eminent performers and composers including Dame Janet Baker, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and Alexander Goehr will be shared in a free online resource available from 14 May 2015, and a Grove Seminar at the RCM Museum of Music on 31 May will f ocus on estates, archives and music restitution.
The collaboration takes place at a critical time for the RCM museum, which is about to embark upon a major redevelopment programme, and for Ben Uri, celebrating its centenary year in 2015 with a major exhibition at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, in association with the Cultural Institute at King’s College London, from July to December 2015 (4).
Norbert Meyn, professor at the Royal College of Music:
“Ben Uri’s musical history is almost as impressive as its legacy in the visual arts. Hundreds of concerts, performed by first-rate artists in major London venues, as well as among the paintings in the art gallery, give evidence of Ben Uri’s importance for classical music, featuring world famous musicians, many of them émigrés from Nazi Europe, as well as emerging composers and performers through the 20th century.
The exhibition ‘Arts in Harmony’ is a major coup for the RCM Museum of Music, showing evidence of the importance of music within the Jewish Community with fascinating archival materials, as well as valuable original paintings with musical themes.”
David Glasser, Chairman, Ben Uri Gallery & Museum:
“Nothing is accurately valued until it is needed and missed. This equation and conclusion reflects the universality of culture in general, and music and art in particular, especially in times of chaos, war and austerity, all of which Europe continues to experience.
Ben Uri before, during and after the Second World War, was a wide-ranging cultural centre a focal point for Jewish émigré artists, musicians and academics, fleeing for their lives from Nazi-controlled Europe. Without Ben Uri, so much talent would have been lost to London, across both music and the visual arts.
This exhibition at the RCM, highlighting Ben Uri’s long, passionate and distinguished musical heritage, which accompanied its principal pre-occupation in the visual arts, is a perfect expression of partnership in a perfect setting, and we thank the RCM.”
Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Curator Museum of Music, Royal College of Music:
“I am particularly proud to host this exhibition at the RCM Museum of Music, a small treasure in the heart of London. Ben Uri’s musical activity occupied a prominent role in London when it started one hundred years ago and thanks to the collaboration between Ben Uri and Royal College of Music professor Norbert Meyn this activity is now re-emerging”.
1 Ben Uri’s own extensive archives have recently been professionally catalogued for the first time with the aid of a generous donation from a charitable trust.
2 Blog about Engel Lund
3 Singing a Song in a Foreign Land
4 Press release about Ben Uri’s Centenary Exhibition