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A Symphony of Survival: What You Need to Know About “Leo Spellman’s Rhapsody: In Concert”

Leo Spellman

The best any composer, musician and artist could hope for is to create a body of work that doesn’t only strike an internal chord, but the chord of those from various walks of life. With “Rhapsody 1939-1945,” the late Leo Spellman accomplished this.

On January 1, 2016 at 10:30pm ET/7:30pm PT, VisionTV will premiere “Leo Spellman’s Rhapsody: In Concert,” a program that depicts the first Canadian performance of “Rhapsody 1939-1945,” a musical reflection of the composer’s harrowing experience of surviving the Holocaust.

Here is what you need to know about Leo Spellman and how “Rhapsody 1939-45” came to be.

Born in 1913, Spellman was taught the piano by his father. At the age of four, he was a proficient player. At nine, he was performing alongside films in a silent-picture house.

Leo Spellman

In 1939, Spellman fled during the Nazi invasion and resorted to hiding in forests and even under dead bodies. At one point, he spent 18 months hidden away in a pantry.

Leo Spellman

In addition to writing detailed journal entries chronicling his experiences during the Holocaust era, Spellman wrote what would become “Rhapsody 1939-1945” in 1947 at a Displaced Person Camp in Germany.

Leo Spellman

For about five decades, “Rhapsody 1939-1945” would be tucked away and forgotten about by Spellman. In the late 1990s, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington was searching for music that would fit its ‘Life Reborn’ conference. Spellman was subsequently referred to the museum by musician Henry Begelman, who had earlier performed the symphony with him in Europe. This led to the initial unearthing of “Rhapsody 1939-1945.” so many years after it was first composed.

Leo Spellman

“Rhapsody 1939-1945” is a three-part affair: the first section represents the noise of war, while the second is sombre to reflect the suffering felt during that time. The third and final section has more joyous and hopeful tone.

Leo Spellman

Family members felt so strongly about “Rhapsody 1939-1945” that they encouraged Spellman to finally have it recorded. Paul Hoffert, an award-winning composer and co-founder of classic Canadian rock band Lighthouse, helped make this happen.

Leo Spellman

On September 3, 2012, “Rhapsody 1939-1945” made its Canadian premiere at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. On November 24 of that year, Spellman, who attended the debut, passed away at the age of 99.

Leo Spellman

“Leo Spellman’s Rhapsody: In Concert” airs January 1, 2016 at 10:30pm ET/7:30pm PT on VisionTV.

-Adam Grant

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