Refugee Composers to Treasure

Tania Léon, composer and conductor, emigrated from Cuba These are troubled times, and given recent events, I wanted to highlight the amazing contribution refugee composers have made to American music in the last century. From Bartok and Kurt Weill up to Tania Léon and Gloria Estefan, as well as the younger generation of Kinan Azmeh: here is music that will entrance you, delight you, sadden you.

All the music on tonight’s program was written after the composer had emigrated to the United States. All the composers on this program were fleeing their home countries, as economic-, religious-, political-, or war-refugees.

In addition to my usual research, I put out a call for suggestions on Facebook a few days ago, and got a tremendous reaction – so many composers whom I didn’t realize were refugees, and so many great musicians I hadn’t previously heard! So this evening will be followed by more broadcasts on the same theme. – Guy


Theme Music :
Steve Reich. The Desert Music (1984)
First Movement (Fast).
Chorus of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas & William Carlos Williams.
Nonesuch Records 79101.

Bela Bartok, refugee composer from HungaryKinan Azmeh
‘November 22’
Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Fuse Ensemble
Broadcast 2016 Podium Witteman

Kurt Weill
September Song
Frank Sinatra, Axel Stordahl’s Orchestra
GEMM CDS 9294 Disc 2

Béla Bartók
Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116
Introduzione. Andante non troppo
Elegia. Andante non troppo
Finale. Pesante – Presto
Pierre Boulez & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Deutsch Grammophon D 103116

Ruth Schönthal

Ruth Schönthal
String Quartet No. 3, In Memoriam Holocaust:
Bochmann String Quartet
Naxos American Classics 8.5594451

Tania León
NDR Sinfonie Orchester & Peter Ruzicka
2008 | Bridge

E. E. Garcia
Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Epic ‎– EK 53046



A playlist of musicians from ‘banned’ countries

Kinan Azmeh

NOTES on Refugee Artists

Speaking at the Producers Guild of America awards last week, musician John Legend said: “Our America is big, it is free, and it is open to dreamers of all races, all countries, all religions. Our vision of America is directly antithetical to that of President Trump. I want to specifically tonight reject his vision and affirm that America has to be better than that.”

Bela Bartók Hungarian, fled the Nazis to live in New York.

Kinan Azmeh, Syrian, and a member of the silk road ensemble with Yo Yo Ma, is now banned from New York City, where he has lived for the last 16 years.

Ruth Schönthal, of Austrian-Jewish heritage, fled Germany in 1935, to first the USSR, then Japan, and then Mexico City, then was finally invited to study at Yale with Hindemith.

Kurt Weill, Jewish and German, he left as the Nazis were coming to power; and was lucky enough to travel in comfort to the New York, courtesy of a Broadway producer.

Tania Leon left alone, without her family, on a Kennedy ‘Freedom Flight’ from Cuba, for artistic freedom.

Gloria Estefan fled Cuba with her family in 1960, as a 2-year old. Her father was a political prisoner, he later served in Vietnam.



2 comments to “Refugee Composers to Treasure”
  1. Dear Guy,
    I just came across your website as I’m preparing with Viklarbo Chamber Ensemble for a concert I’m presenting tomorrow at my salon, SPaCE, on just this subject! My program “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” features music by and about refugees and immigrants. The program includes music by Kurt Weill, Maria Newman, Eric Zeisl, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Karl Weigl, Mohammed Fairouz, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Robert Strassburg. The concert is a fundraiser for the ACLU and HIAS, a refugee support group. Would love to share with you! Go to the website and go to the SPaCe Salon page.

    • This sounds just great. It’s important for the musical community to take a stand, whether on a large or small scale, to support our core American value of welcoming immigrants!

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