We brought to life two of Michael Morpugo’s extraordinary stories, ‘The Mozart Question’ and ‘Waiting for Anya’
We focussed on two of Michael Morpurgo’s extraordinary stories bringing to life the persecution of Jews during World War II and the Holocaust.
The Mozart Question
We were pleased to bring Sir Michael Morpurgo’s ‘The Mozart Question’ to Chichester as part of our events programme commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.
This unique performance of the story, narrated by Michael Morpurgo and Alison Reid and directed by Simon Reade, was beautifully enhanced and embellished with extracts from music by Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Featuring Daniel Pioro on violin, and string quartet The Storyteller’s Ensemble.
Music extracts included:
• Vivaldi The Four Seasons – Summer and Winter
• Bach Violin Sonata No.1 in G Minor (adagio)
• Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
• Mozart Violin Concerto No.4 in D Major
The Mozart Question tells the story of Paolo Levi, a world-famous performer who developed his passion for music as a young child with the help of his teacher, Benjamin.
Alongside this story, is that of his parents who were both musicians too – Jewish prisoners surviving, playing music in a concentration camp during the Second World War. Treated with utmost sensitivity for a family audience, The Mozart Question is a story of friendship and family, truth and secrets – interwoven by the power of culture and music.
Sir Michael Morpugo performed his staged version of The Mozart Question at Chichester Festival Theatre on Friday 14th January 2022.
Michael Morpurgo gave some insight into his story:
“It is difficult for us to imagine how dreadful was the suffering that went on in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. The enormity of the crime that the Nazis committed is just too overwhelming for us to comprehend. In their attempt to wipe out an entire race they caused the death of six million people, most of them Jews. It is when you hear the stories of the individuals who lived through it – Anne Frank, Primo Levi – that you can begin to understand the horror just a little better, and to understand the evil that caused it.
For me, the most haunting image does not come from literature or film, but from music. I learned some time ago that in many of the camps the Nazis selected Jewish prisoners and forced them to play in orchestras; for the musicians it was simply a way to survive. In order to calm the new arrivals at the camps they were made to serenade them as they were lined up and marched off, many to the gas chambers. Often they played Mozart.
I wondered how it must have been for a musician who played in such hellish circumstances, who adored Mozart as I do – what thoughts came when playing Mozart later in life. This was the genesis of my story, this and the sight of a small boy in a square by the Accademia Bridge in Venice, sitting one night, in his pyjamas on his tricycle, listening to a busker. He sat totally enthralled by the music that seemed to him, and to me, to be heavenly.”
This adaptation of The Mozart Question is suitable for ages 8+.
Sir Michael Morpugo’s international reputation for extraordinary storytelling will undoubtedly attract theatergoers who, perhaps, would not normally consider buying tickets for a play, set to music, about the Holocaust.
As the story is suitable for children aged 8+ we planned to reach a family audience as CMHMD, once again, continued to explore all avenues to reach a wider audience with our message.
2022 – Waiting for Anya
The film of Sir Michael Morpugo’s book ‘Waiting for Anya’ was screened at New Park Cinema on Thursday 27th January and Friday 28th January exclusively for local school children.
This event was supported by educational workshops provided by CMHMD for the school children, focusing on human rights and advancing their knowledge of the Holocaust to help prevent such atrocities happening again.
Author Michael Morpurgo believes his story about the war-time rescue of Jewish children in occupied France is “more relevant today” than it was 30 years ago when it was first published.
The film depicts the true-life rescue of Jewish children smuggled across the Spanish border to safety disguised as shepherds, right under the noses of high-ranking Nazi officers, by the inhabitants of a small rural village in the Pyrenees in southern France.
Morpurgo, whose stepfather was a non-practising Jew, said he never thought when writing the novel 30 years ago that the themes it explores would become so prescient.
“In a strange way, it’s more relevant now, and I never thought it would be,” he said. “Wherever we look today, we find a fear of others, a resentment, a suspicion and of course that can lead to hate.”
But he says in the decades since it was first published, “it’s almost like there has been some sort of cancer in the thinking of people, that this thing seems to rise and rise,” making an adaptation of the book more important than ever.
Some young people today, the author warned, seem “unaware” of the Holocaust itself, its modern significance or, going further back, the pogroms that took place in medieval England.
“I find eyebrows being raised,” he said. “I tell them to go back centuries and centuries to medieval England, to York. There was a massacre of Jewish people because they were Jews.”
Sobering statistics flashing up on screen at the film’s end reveal some 75,000 French Jews were deported to Nazi camps during the Second World War, evoking the extent of collaboration in the country under the Vichy regime.
But in conveying the lessons of the Holocaust to younger readers, both the book and its “faithful” adaptation focus on the period’s heroes, rather than its collaborators – a decision Morpurgo openly admits.
In spite of the story’s focus on heroes, it could offer important lessons to children about the complexity of human nature. “The most important thing is not to spend our time pulling the wool over their eyes,” Morpurgo said.
Building on our extremely successful workshops held in 2020 in support of the PUSH performance at The Minerva Theatre, CMHMD expanded the number of workshops offered to local school children and provided additional support to schools and teachers who wished to expand on our message to further year groups within their schools.