BUY TICKETS Lenka Lichtenberg’s THIEVES OF DREAMS IN CONCERT
Lenka Lichtenberg’s THIEVES OF DREAMS IN CONCERT
Ken Prue/A Loft Production presents: Lenka Lichtenberg’s THIEVES OF DREAMS IN CONCERT
Tuesday May 23, 2023 at 7:00 pm
Venue: Concert Hall at Victoria Hall
Lenka Lichtenberg’s album “Thieves of Dreams,” released in 2022, won the 2023 Juno Award in the Global Music Album of the Year category at a Juno ceremony held in early March of this year.
Blending chamber music and jazz, the album draws from poetry that Lenka’s Czech grandmother, Anna Hana Friesova, wrote while imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during the Second World War.
“Thieves of Dreams” is also nominated for Global Roots Album of the Year and the Oliver Schroer Pushing The Boundaries Award at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA) to be held in Vancouver, March 31 – April 2, 2023.
Lichtenberg started the project after the death of her mother, the writer, Jana Renee Friesova, in 2016. Lenka says a year after her mother’s passing, as she was going through papers in her mother’s apartment in Prague, she discovered two small notebooks filled with poems that her grandmother had written between 1940 and 1945.
“Writing anything (in those camps) was actually strictly forbidden,” Lichtenberg said of the Nazi concentration camp. “My suspicion is that she actually wrote these on little scraps of paper that she kept hidden.”
She says when the Soviet army liberated Theresienstadt in May 1945, her poetry was one of the few things she took with her.
Lichtenberg spent her childhood in musical theatre in Prague and studied classical music at the Prague Conservatory, specializing in voice. Once in Canada, she received a Bachelor of Education from the University of British Columbia and a Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology from York University.
From 1997 to 2005, she taught music appreciation at Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly Ryerson University, and then became a Yiddish singer before focusing on music celebrating her country of birth.
At first, Lichtenberg didn’t know what to do with the poems. Were they simply historical records fit for a museum or could they be pieces of meaningful art? “I decided to give life to these poems through music,” she said.
Lenka applied for and received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council to create the album.
“Thieves of Dreams” features 16 compositions, eight composed by Lenka, and eight by seven other women composers commissioned for the project. Lenka arranged all but three of the 16 tracks, and also produced it, with music recordings by 19 musicians from the Czech Republic, Canada and Germany. Working on the album during the COVID-19 pandemic meant she wasn’t able to gather these musicians in a studio.
Pandemic restrictions that shut down live events also meant musicians were itching to get involved in musical collaborations, even if it meant working out of their home studios.
“I found people extremely receptive and eager to do creative work and that was a real pleasure,” she said.
She would make a track with vocals and keyboard accompaniment and send it to her collaborators, including Canadian bassist George Koller, who would then add his instrumentals and send her back multiple versions. Working remotely with her audio engineer Jim Zolis through Skype and ZOOM through many long night sessions in 2020 and 2021, she would edit and rework these tracks to arrive at their final shape. That approach was applied to all her collaborations. With the addition of her layered vocals, piano and synthesizer recordings, this was the process of creating the album, note by note.
When she started to read the poems, she said she could envision her grandmother going through the gamut of emotions such as passion, love and disappointment. Lichtenberg said her grandmother wrote about how her marriage to her grandfather was falling apart and how she felt at a loss. Her grandfather, Richard Fries, was executed in a gas chamber on Oct. 10, 1944 in Auschwitz.
“It was so unexpected to discover how somebody in a concentration camp, starving, not knowing if they’re going to live or die, could think and write about the state of their marriage,” she said.
In the song “What Is This Place?,” Lichtenberg says her grandmother described how being in the camp affected her relationship and how, despite the situation, she could still feel hope.
She says in other songs, her grandmother touches upon romantic love and the breakdown of her marriage during the war such as “Feet Are Marching, Two and Two.” Others are love poems written even as the possibility of death loomed. Some poems, like “My Paradise of Solitude” describe her dreaming of faraway places and Lichtenberg connected to that aspect the most.
“I get so strongly affected by the writing because it’s in my blood, she is my blood,” she said.
She says when she gave the original poems to her Czech friends, they were also strongly affected by the writing.
“This is powerful poetry that deserves its place in the world,” she said.
Lenka said she was very surprised when she heard that her grandmother’s poetry project had actually won a Juno Award. “Winning the award really makes sense of my life in Canada as a musician.”
– partially adapted from a piece published by the Canadian Press.
Tickets are $39 hst