December 18, 2018

Music makes the long journey from Israel to L.A.

It was late during World War II and Curt Lowens, a member of the Dutch resistance whose family had fled Berlin after Kristallnacht, saw an Allied plane in distress. He knew what he had to do. 

Lowens followed the plane, watched as its pilots bailed out and then met them on the ground, guiding them to safety and helping them evade capture by the Nazis. Now, Lowens’ act of heroism and the story of his life during the war are being honored by a concerto written by award-winning composer Sharon Farber, which will be premiered by the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra on Jan. 5 at the First Baptist Church of Glendale.

The story of how Farber met Lowens, now 88, is a tale of happy coincidences and being in the right place at the right time. Farber was born in Israel and came to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1994. Then  she moved to Los Angeles and began scoring for film and television, working on projects as diverse as The WB’s “Superman” animated series and Showtime docudramas. But despite her success in film and TV, Farber had a longing to do something different.

“I come from a classical background, so I knew, always, that I wanted to continue with that,” Farber said during a recent interview. “Unless you’re a film music fan, you don’t really pay attention to the music, while in concert music, people come to hear what you have to say.”

So Farber set about writing classical pieces and soon found her works being produced around town. She was working with an Israeli choir called LA-Shir when fate steered her life in a different direction. The group was performing at the Temple of the Arts, and, according to Farber, “After the performance, [Rabbi David Baron] approached me and asked me if I would consider becoming the new music director. I said ‘no’… but David is a very persuasive man.”

And so a partnership was born. Farber has been the music director at the synagogue ever since, something that has brought her much closer to her faith. 

“When you live in Israel, you take your Judaism for granted,” Farber said. “I realized that here, you have to really seek for it.”

Sharon Farber

Other things, though, just walk into your life — kind of like Curt Lowens. That happened for Farber on Yom Kippur this past year as the composer was searching for inspiration after having been contacted by Ruslan Biryukov, founder of the Glendale Philharmonic, about composing a piece for the group. 

That’s when Lowens, who became an actor, walked onstage and began to speak about his life at the Temple of the Arts. Farber knew she’d found the source of inspiration for her piece.

“When Ruslan called me … for this commission, I was really burned out. I’d just finished three films in a row,” Farber said. “And then, of course, came Yom Kippur, where Curt’s story was presented, and it was so moving … that it inspired me to try and put his story into music.”

The result is a cello concerto roughly 20 minutes in length called “Bestemming,” which means “destination” in Dutch. The piece includes narration, which will be read by Michael Des Barres, the actor and musician, whom many will remember from his role as the villainous Murdoc on “MacGyver.” 

Biryukov said he is excited to premiere the concerto with his Glendale Philharmonic, which was founded at the height of the recession, performing its first concert in 2009, and has managed to thrive. 

“We will have Baroque, we will have Romantic, and also contemporary [music in the program],” he said. Farber’s piece will be bookended by Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” and Bach’s Concerto for Two Pianos in C minor. 

Biryukov, a noted cellist, says that “Bestemming” has proved a welcome challenge. 

“The solo cello part is very demanding technically,” he said. “I have no doubt many cellists… will consider performing this piece. It’s accessible for the listeners, in spite of the fact that it’s contemporary music.”

For her part, Farber is just hopeful that her composition can live up to Lowens’ story. “I’m hoping that I’m able to convey through music what he went through,” she said. 

Lowens has already approved the narration, and plans to be present for the concert, according to Farber

“I hope that this concerto will talk to the hearts of the people, so that we never forget,” she said. “That not only Jewish people will hear it, but people all over the world, that we will never forget what cruelty is, but also what people can do, the courage when you face such a horrible situation.”