2019 – CMHMD staged the opera PUSH at Speaker’s House, Westminster
WITH Howard Moody himself conducting his own band, PUSH was performed to an audience of cross-parliamentarians hosted by John Bercow, then Speaker of the House.
Rehearsals for the planned performance on 28th January 2019 at Speaker’s House commenced in September 2018. Re-uniting our wonderful Community Choir, local school children and University Soloists. Our Company continued to support each other in the next stage of our journey, both on a personal level and on a performance level, rising to the challenge of working on a completely re-staged production of PUSH due to the space limitations presented by Speaker’s House.
Howard Moody, Composer, re-orchestrated the piece to take into account the new space and reduced number of musicians allowed into the space. In preparation for the planned Westminster event PUSH was performed at The Assembly Rooms, Chichester in early January. Although this was intended as a ‘Dress Rehearsal’ for Westminster to prepare for the significantly reduced space and unusual setting of Speaker’s House, the performance was, once again Sold Out.
It was quite an undertaking to perform PUSH at Speaker’s House, Westminster and required significant re-staging, re-orchestrating and numerous logistical difficulties! However, supported by our amazing Community Choirs, local school children, University soloists and Howard Moody himself conducting his own band, PUSH was performed to an audience of cross-parliamentarians hosted by John Bercow, then Speaker of the House.
The overall aim of CMHMD is always to promote and increase understanding for a wide and diverse audience of human rights, religious and racial harmony, and equality and diversity
Specifically the aim at Westminster, successfully achieved, was to bring to the attention of all politicians the lessons of the past and the imperative to work towards a better future.
In addition, the re-staging challenged our Company to be adaptable, flexible, and able to react quickly to a different set of circumstances. Although many members of our Company thought, at times, this may not be possible they ultimately worked hard to overcome their own barriers and produce the performance of a lifetime.
The performance gained a 4 star review in The Times and a detailed review in The Jewish Chronicle, thereby reaching an even greater audience and highlighting the resonance of the story with the many crisis still being faced in the world today.
For all, but particularly the children, the preparations involved for the Westminster performance gave them a unique insight into the workings of parliamentarians and how the Arts can be used to influence decision-makers.
Review, The Times: Push at the Speaker’s House, SW1
The fervour of the choral singing still made a powerful impression in this whittled-down performance
BY RICHARD MORRISON
You might think Parliament has quite enough drama already this week, but in the Speaker’s House on Monday an invited audience watched something that made our present squabbles look very insignificant. It was a community opera, Howard Moody’s Push, that for 65 minutes transported us back into the heart of darkness that was the Holocaust.
Push is based on a true story. In fact the man whose boyhood is recalled — Simon Gronowski, 87 — was present at this performance and, at its conclusion, made one of the most moving pleas for reconciliation that can yet have been heard within the walls of Parliament.
He was 11 when, in April 1943, he and his mother were among a group of Belgian Jews put on a closed train to Auschwitz. The Belgian resistance managed to stop the train with a fake signal, and this act of daring prompted a mass escape. Many prisoners were recaptured or shot, but 118 successfully fled.
The young Simon was pushed out of the train by his mother, but for whatever reason she didn’t follow. He never saw her again. Decades later, however — having hidden in occupied Brussels then become a successful lawyer — he was called to the deathbed of a German guard who had herded him on to the train. The latter asked him for forgiveness, and that encounter forms the opera’s finale.
The opera has already been staged by Glyndebourne in 2016 and at Chichester Cathedral last year, and it was schoolchildren and community choruses from Chichester, with student soloists from the University of Chichester, who delivered this Westminster performance. In such a confined space the staging by Kate Jones and Jill Hoskins was naturally whittled down to some effective mass gestures, and Moody’s orchestration similarly reduced to a handful of instruments.
Yet the fervour of the choral singing, and the atmospheric instrumental interludes, still made a powerful impression. It’s good to know that this piece — as much an act of remembrance and (for the youngsters involved) education, as a conventional opera — will be fully staged in March at La Monnaie in Brussels, where these traumatic events happened 76 years ago.
Review, The Jewish Chronicle
John Bercow warns of ‘bigoted and evil’ Holocaust revisionism after performance of opera
House of Commons Speaker was speaking after performance of opera of Shoah survivor’s dramatic story
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow speaks during a commemoration for the victims of the attack on Westminster and Parliament, at Westminster Hall inside the Palace of Westminster on March 22, 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)
The House of Commons speaker John Bercow has warned about the resurgence of “bigoted and evil” Holocaust revisionism – specifically referring to David Irving – after a moving performance of an opera about the story of a Shoah survivor.
Push was performed at Parliament’s Speaker’s House on Monday and tells the life story of Simon Gronowski, who escaped from a train destined for Auschwitz thanks to his mother’s selfless actions.
Speaking after the performance, Mr Bercow said: “Even in our own country… there are sadly people, not just very old people, but very young people, who still labour under the bigoted and evil misapprehension that there was something to be said for antisemitism and the doctrines of Hitler and the notions of the Aryan superior race.
“We need always to be on our guard recognising that… there is also the pseudo respectable attempt to justify this bigotry and hatred by people who frankly ought to know better but don’t.”
Mr Bercow revealed he had welcomed the idea to stage the opera after the Conservative MP for Chichester Gillian Keegan recommended the production – composed by the London Symphony Orchestra’s Howard Moody and performed her local community choirs, schools and the University of Chichester.
The production has toured southern England. Mr Bercow said it was ameans of both “remembering and preventing a repetition of the Holocaust”.
Mr Bercow then added: “We know that horrendously there has been a resurgence of antisemitism and racism across Europe and indeed around the world in recent times.
“And we cannot feel certain that that scourge, the bestial hatred, will be gone. There are really in that sense no final victories.
“You have, if possible to avoid bitterness and resentment but never to forget.
“We know the incidents of violence against members of the British Jewish community, members of the Jewish community across Europe and around the world.
“And we know that is a phenomenon too afflicting members of many other ethnic minorities around the world.”
Mr Bercow referred to the “utterly discredited revisionist” Mr Irving and praised the work of the “renowned academic and historian” Prof Deborah Lipstadt whose victory in Mr Irving’s libel case against her exposed his ideas as “utterly fraudulent”.
Mr Gronowski told the audience of around 150 guests – including the Conservative Lord Polak and Labour MP Joan Ryan – how the Nazis murdered his mother and sister in Auschwitz.
But he added: “I speak about what happened to me so that will protect freedom in your country.
“I want to know that the most important words are ‘peace’ and ‘friendship’.
Describing the opera as “fantastic and emotional”, Mr Gronowski praised its authenticity.
The title Push refers to the moment his mother pushed him from the Auschwitz-bound train after Belgian resistance members brought it to a near halt after clashing with German guards.
Of the 233 people who tried to escape the train, 26 were shot, while another 89 were recaptured. Mr Gronowski was one of 118 who escaped, aged just 11.
Despite the horrendous effect of Nazi persecution on his own family he told the audience on Monday had not grown up feeling “hatred” although he revealed that he frequently shed tears over the past.
Ms Keegan told the JC: “This is the second time I have watched the Push opera and it was just as moving.
“Having it performed in Parliament was a wonderful way to remember those who died but also those who survived one of the darkest times in human history, so it was such a huge privilege to have Simon attend.
“I hope the performance has put a spotlight on the dangers of discrimination, especially with antisemitism becoming more prevalent across Europe and here at home.
“It was also humbling to have Chichester’s talented contribution to mark Holocaust Memorial Day recognised in Westminster.”