Maestro Lotoro is an incredibly busy man. He conducts, he plays, he records. He teaches, he researches, he writes. He prepares music scores for publications, he supervises huge editions of unique and historically important musical collections. He travels non-stop meeting people and searching for unique scores. He works with architects on an ambitious mega-project, he plans with top managers most prestigious concerts. He works with soloists, decrypting the old scores that were not performed for decades. He arranges music that had been composed in the most daring circumstances. He collects both originals and specially made replicas of rare scores. He revives the music of tormented souls for us to hear it today, to be preserved, to become a part of the material culture of our memory.
He works on this self-imposed mission for 30 years by now.
Francesco Lotoro is quite a special man. The 55-year old Italian piano virtuoso who was studying with the leading musicians at home, in Germany and in Hungary, he is a brilliant pianist who commands the instrument completely – and more. When you are attending his concerts, or listening to his records, your only wish is that it would never end. He lives music, he breathes music, he thinks music. Even among great musicians and virtuosos, such complete dissolve into the dimension of a sound and melody, pause and harmony is a rare phenomenon.
Being such a talented and professional musician, maestro Lotoro, not surprisingly, is also a power-house of a conductor: mighty, strong, and very delicate at the same time. This combination is also a special quality.
But most importantly and specially, Francesco Lotoro immersed himself into a special kind of music. He calls it the music of captivity. He researches, finds, collects and revives the music of the Holocaust. This Italian music personality is solely devoted to the solos of our tormented souls.
Song of Our Souls
We know from the pillars of Judaism that singing is praised the most as it is understood as the highest form of self-expression of a Jewish soul. No word can express what melody can. And when there are no words, there is still a melody.
When I was trying to find the appropriate music for our short art film, video-essay that featured husband’s and mine artwork reflecting the Shoah, I started from nigguns because I thought initially that the theme would be supported the best without words.
I tried many nigguns, but something was missing there. The real life of a real soul was missing. Of a soul of a little boy who was dumbed of horror he saw in front of his eyes, so he retreated to drawing that he could not stop ever, as it is in the case of Samuel Bak. Or the soul of a teenage girl who was shocked so deeply that she started to write poems and does it till this day, as Halina Birenbaum does. Or a soul of a teacher who could not save the orphans who he was protecting with all his immense love and care, as Henryk Goldszmit whom we know as Dr Korczak did.
So I went to hear the songs of the ghettos, the one after another, Vilna Ghetto, Warsaw Ghetto, Sosnow Ghetto, Lublin Ghetto, you name it. The traditional Yiddish songs that were modified in the ghettos during the WWII, with changing the words from their innocent originals to the ones that were more responding to the devastating circumstances of the time.
To say that these songs are heartbreaking, it is to say nothing. Remarkably, there is no or very little affectation in them. The understating power of these songs is knocking one down. I do not know a better and more telling memorial to the Shoah that those songs sung in a gentle way from soon-to-be-nowhere.
It is also a testimony, living and loving one. After I added the ghetto songs to our short For the Name and the Place film, I have got enormous amount of feedbacks pointing out specifically on the music in our tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. Soon, a special radio program was created and run on the Finnish radio being prompted by the idea and that very music. What can be more gratifying than to know that the stumbling words of suffering that had been sung by the broken hearts in hundreds of ghettos eight decades ago are still heard – and understood – by people today?
And then, I always remember how Elie Wiesel being such an introvert, loved to sing – everything, prayers, our liturgy parts, nigguns, Yiddish folk, Hebrew songs. To sing was so important for him, it was a joy, and it was the bond living. Elie sang readily and with that great smile of his, and you knew that his soul was dancing.
Maestro Lotoro’s Memorial-in-Sound
Probably, the factor that has prompted in then young Francesco Lotoro his overwhelming interest towards the music in the camps, ghettos, and prisons was his physical presence in both Germany and Hungary, especially Hungary, where his humanist interest towards the Shoah, and how people were taking it, had been awaken in the late 1980s – early 1990s. Young Italian musician went to the camps – and his soul found the bond with souls of millions whose lives were ended there, or who survived the Hell on Earth, but still was bearing the scars inside forever.
Francesco’s interest has been transformed into the mission. To the degree that he would go to the precise place in the camp where one of his heroes has composed his music, and would sit there trying to contemplate what a musician must be feeling in circumstances like that. The place was particular. The composer in question was looking desperately for a quiet place in the camp, as possible, in order to concentrate. The quietest place was the corner in the room where the corpses were ‘sorted out’. Chilling is not an adequate enough word to describe it. This is the classic situation into which one bumps repeatedly in re-addressing the Holocaust: when words are dysfunctional. But not music.
There was also serious music in the camps, both composed anew and re-arranged. There were composers and musicians who kept their sanity thanks to their ability to create or re-create something. Maestro Lotoro exams the multitude of aspects in that process of survival: efforts to get to the other world where sun is not decorated with a barbed wire; desire to get refuge in memories of home and family, both without adjective ‘lost’; intention to boost fading energy and ability to live; to narrate suffering in melody, to keep a musical diary of events and emotions in captivity.
Can you imagine a volume of all this musical legacy of the Holocaust? Maestro Lotoro can, and I do not know if anyone else among the living musicians and musicologists can compare with him in the breadth of his outreach and depth of his analyses of this giant and so multicultural material, and his massive knowledge of that. To collect, to research, to analyse, to perform, to record, and describe all this material, several years ago Francesco Lotoro has started a special project, Encyclopaedia of KZ Music in 24 priceless volumes on CDs with booklets telling on the unique music born in tragic circumstances. This collection of largely unpublished previously music is regarded as the most comprehensive panorama of the music composed in captivity. The KZ Music CD Encyclopaedia starts from 1933, the date of the opening of Dachau and Börgermoor camps and ends in 1945. It is a trove of the musical legacy of the WWII and the Holocaust. The quality of the performances recorded by Lotoro and his colleagues is superb.
Admirably, Francesco Lotoro fully recognises the wide spectrum of phenomena that has come across the music he researches, presents and records so lovingly. He understands and pays attention to the musicians’ backgrounds, their countries and the cultures that they were representing, additionally to their Jewish identity. He is interested in the circumstances of their personal lives. He keeps in touch with their descendants. By all this, prominent Italian musicians and composers build the living legacy, and this is the most noble mission, in my understanding.
I do remember, and will remember for good, how Czech man in his 60s was trying not to cry while thanking Francesco Lotoro for reviving the musical legacy of his father who did perish in the Nazi camp. He tried hard, but it was not easy. He said with all his heart pounding out: “Thank you so much. You did so that now my father, a heroic man who fought ( against the Nazis) bravely, would be remembered. Until now, it was not the case. It was not the case for more than 60 years. And now you have changed it”. And he hugged Francesco with outpouring gratitude. These moments are not less important than concerts. To me, they are even more important.
These valuable and rare episodes, and the philosophical visioning of the musician on what he does and why, can be seen in The Maestro documentary. The film had its world premiere in January 2019, and had been shown with great success in both Italy and France. It is a generous insight into the world of a brilliant musician and a very good and special man on the unique mission.
The Lotoro’s concerts are not even good. They are great. The ones at the most important in Rome musical venue, at the Accademia della Musica Santa Cecilia, with mighty but so emotionally tuned choir; at the Palace of the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella who does dedicate a lot of cordial and genuine attention to the memorialisation and ongoing honest analysing of the Italy’s role in the WWII and the country’s attitude and treatment of its Jewish citizens; Notes of Hope concert in Jerusalem in the beginning of 2019; numerous recitals and concerts at various symposiums and conferences in Italy and abroad. There is no surprise that RAI has exclusive rights for Maestro Lotoro’s concerts, they are also a matter of pride of Italian culture today.
With great anticipation, we are waiting for two forthcoming big musical events of memory conceived by Francesco Lotoro, with work in progress for its realisation: a special concert at Auschwitz in January 2020, in co-operation with the City of Dachau and City of Oswiecim administrations; and Memorial Concert on the International Holocaust Day at the Rome National Opera. The concert in Auschwitz is promised to be a milestone. So much compassion is put into that and everything that Francesco Lotoro and his team are doing that it opens many doors and many hearts among those who are supporting his great mission back home in Italy, but also beyond Italian borders. The conductor is known for his very productive cooperation with the US National Holocaust Memorial in Washington, Yad Vashem, Auschwitz Foundation and many other leading institutions. This cooperation is that rare case when all of these institutions while providing Italian maestros with their invaluable data also receive unique material from him, to enrich their collections. The input of Francesco Lotoro into the archive of our knowledge on the Holocaust, and into the history of music in general is unprecedented.
Citadel and 100 Voyages
From 2014 onward, the Italian Maestro who had converted into Judaism in mid-2000s ( and whose great-grandfather from his paternal side, the man with the same name Francesco Lotoro was Jewish), set up an organisation, The Foundation and the Institute of the Literature of Music in Captivity, ILCM Foundation. The central project of the Foundation is unique cultural under-take: construction of the Citadel of Music in Captivity in Barletta, Italy, at the very attractive place on the Adriatic coast. The future educational and cultural complex will include a museum, two performance halls, theatre, two state-of-art libraries, Multi-media Music Library and International Library of the XX century, and Campus of Music Sciences. With multi-sourced financing from European Union and Italy, the group of able architects led by Nicolangelo Dibitonto is working on the project for over two years. The project would fulfil Francesco Lotoro’s dream on the way of implementing all his knowledge and enormous archive accumulated during his tireless work of the last 30 years, in the best way and in the special place.
Just to think about: could all those hungry, frozen, beaten, humiliated, dehumanised to the bone people most of whom were murdered imagine that decades after their awful end, a pianist from Italy would take care on their memory to the degree that he would devout his life entirely to building a memorial to them and concentrating on the music of their tormented souls? Only for such noble intentions, Francesco Lotoro deserves a lot of Jewish gratitude. But it is not only intention. It is thirty years of thorough work, demanding journeys, meticulous decryption of miraculously saved scores. Maestro Lotoro does it all completely selflessly, in a rare example of extreme modesty.
There is no question about humility among all of us who are dealing with the Holocaust in a consistent way. You would not do it without increasing humility on your own part. The humility which only accelerates with every further step of your own journey into the Country of the Six Million. But in the case of maestro Lotoro, you meet the person who is admirably selfless, in a rarely solid way of it.
Developing the idea of his colleague from the US National Holocaust Museum, Francesco Lotoro has also embarked on the latest of his ongoing projects, 100 Voyages. He is travelling throughout Europe to collect original music and documents related to the musicians perished in the Shoah from all the places of the Nazi plaque, from Germany to Belarus, and from France to Lithuania. He goes to the small cities and the capitals, he meets the people who are in possession of unique pieces of musical memory. He re-constructs the song and melody of the Shoah in all its nuances and over-tunes.
By now, maestro conducted over 35 of his 100 planned journeys. He is expecting to complete the project in two years, with the last journey going on a special train from the heart of the lost, annihilated Shtetl world in Poland to the Citadel of Music in Captivity in his home town of Barletta, on the far southern almost end of Europe. I hope that he will also write the book on all those one hundreds of voyages in which he is looking for the memory in sound . Francesco Lotoro has told me that this idea is very engaging for him.
I am thinking: what is the trigger that makes a person to recognise and to start to fulfil a mission which is extremely demanding mentally and emotionally, and which really is the hard labour of memory? What is the core of the process of people like Maestro Lotoro in such painful restoration of memory? Maybe, I never would find a complete answer for the question. But I know the one thing: such enduring inter-connection is only possible in the case of ongoing dialogue of the souls, the ones which are gone with the ones which are present.
Every soul has a purpose in this life, and it also has the corresponding time for the purpose to be fulfilled. When six millions of the souls had been eradicated in the Shoah in unprecedented history prolonged acts of barbarity, their energy did not disappear. It is impossible, and this was perhaps, the main miscalculation of Hitler and those educated barbarians around him.
Fortunately for our own decency, there are some rare people among us who are infused with sensitivity to perceive the sparks of those tormented souls, with ability to feel them, with devotion to sing their songs and to play their melodies. As long, as the melodies of our murdered ones are heard, it is not only them who are not obliterated. It is us who are saved by grace of memory.
Francesco Lotoro is building the sanctuary of humanism with every melody he discovers and brings back to us. He does it for thirty years with love and devotion. And his best award for that titanic work are the smiles that appears on the faces of the Holocaust survivors and members of their families on maestro Lotoro’s concerts, recitals, and meetings with them. Those smiles are incredible. And there was not a single meeting of Francesco with hundreds of those people, as far as I can tell, in which despite inevitable tears on every face, there appeared an incredible, just incredible smile. The best concert of all.