Songs of Truth: A Holocaust Awareness Project for Benicia and Beyond
Photos by Luke George Photography
“Dear Urs & Kate – Hoorah. Bravo, Bravo! …truly we are so floored at the incredible accomplishment of today. The intimacy and powerfulness of the day was palpable and impactful.” – Fraidy Aber, Director of Education and Civic Engagement, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
Urs Leonhardt Steiner has directed the Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for the past 30 years, and its Benicia Chapter Chorus since 2019. His wife, Kate Stilley Steiner is a filmmaker who co-founded Citizen Film, a San Francisco-based nonprofit production company which “creates films and online media that foster active engagement in cultural and civic life.”
Their latest endeavor, Songs of Truth: Holocaust Awareness Concert and Conversation Project is a collaboration with the New York-based organization Holocaust Music Lost and Found and the Benicia Performing Arts Foundation. It will culminate with concerts in Benicia on June 2, and San Francisco on June 4.
The music is heartbreakingly beautiful.
It will be performed by a full orchestra with both choruses, San Francisco and Benicia, as a tribute to the talent and resilience of the Jewish composers who wrote it while imprisoned in WWII-era concentration camps. The concert also features contemporary music dealing with antisemitic violence.
The concert’s multimedia storytelling will feature a suite of documentary media clips created by Citizen Film, providing historical context and telling the backstory of the composers and their work. The multimedia, music and live narrator will be woven into a complete experience accessible to all audiences. Kate Stilley Steiner, of Citizen Film says, “The Songs of Truth Project reminds me personally how important it is to stand up to intolerance and hate in my everyday life. If our work in this project can do that for even one more person, then I will feel like we have done our job.”
The project’s goal is to promote Holocaust awareness.
By sharing music made during a time of unspeakable violence, it hopes to humanize Holocaust victims by performing their music and help us consider how to recognize and resist the rise of antisemitism and disinformation today.
Small ensembles are also performing program excerpts and leading facilitated discussions in Bay Area schools, libraries, and community centers, museums, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and Benicia High School, free of charge. Young musicians are invited to perform at these events with the ensemble. Including and mentoring young musicians is a core goal of project collaborator, the Benicia Performing Arts Foundation. Benicia High School Band Director Candice Crismond has two students, a trumpeter and a trombonist, who she says “are very excited to play with the Golden Gate Symphony at the concert for Benicia High School.”
After the project’s premiere, it will be offered to other organizations around the nation.
It will be distributed to youth orchestras and choruses so young musicians have a chance to perform the music and learn the history as well. A classroom curriculum is being designed in collaboration with Holocaust Music Lost and Found to further promote Holocaust awareness.
Janie Press, President of Holocaust Music Lost and Found writes, “Holocaust Music Lost and Found is thrilled to help bring the Songs of Truth Project to San Francisco and Benicia. We are proud to share Maestro Steiner’s vision and his passion for Holocaust awareness — and with the current climate, sharing these stories, and the music that was written during the Holocaust, could not be more timely.”
The Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra and Chorus has a history of creating an atmosphere of inclusivity and unity for diverse audiences.
As part of an ongoing initiative to that end, they are offering 250 free tickets to underserved audiences. Their newest project, Songs of Truth, presents us all with an opportunity to remember and honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, to educate future generations, and to unite communities in a shared appreciation of music and culture. The project collaborators and musicians hope that concert goers and students will be inspired to take action against antisemitism and hatred in all its guises.
The Benicia concert is Friday, June 2nd, 7:30pm at the Clock Tower, and the San Francisco performance is Sunday June 4, 2:00pm at Herbst Theatre. To help with the project, get tickets or for more information, please visit goldengatesymphony.org.