Poster Janet Horvath
Janet Horvath
Ann Marsden
Classical Minnesota Stories

Cellist Janet Horvath explores ugly legacy of the Holocaust

Cellist Janet Horvath grew up in an atmosphere heavy with secrets.

"As a child, I was haunted by the eerie hush surrounding my parents' experiences during World War II," she says.

That hush was drowned out by music. Her mother was a piano teacher, and her father played cello with the Toronto Symphony. Horvath became a gifted cellist herself, eventually landing a position with the Minnesota Orchestra.

But the silence didn't last forever. After her mother's death, and mere weeks before his own, George Horvath finally began telling his daughter his darkest memories of the Holocaust.

Their conversations became "a race against time," Janet Horvath says. "It was my last chance to coax my father into disclosing what happened to them during and after the war."

Horvath's forced grapple with the ugly legacy of genocide led her to create a multimedia production called It's Not Too Late to Stop the Hate. On April 3 at 7 p.m., she will perform the production at Hamline University's Sundin Hall in St. Paul.

It's Not Too Late to Stop the Hate is 30 minutes long, allowing time for post-performance discussion and reflection.

"I recite my parents' story in verse," Horvath says, "while 180 personal and archival photos are projected in a PowerPoint, timed to what I say. I weave in some current incidents of hatred toward others. At five key moments, when words no longer suffice, I play the cello."

Janet Horvath's Basket
Janet Horvath's mementos of her parents.
Janet Horvath

Horvath begins with Kol Nidrei, by Max Bruch, a work "inspired by an ancient chant that begins the service of Yom Kippur." Next, she moves on to pieces by Bach, Bloch and others. All were works played by her father.

Why did a classical cellist decide to create and perform a multimedia show?

"Our society is so visual these days," Horvath says. "I thought if I put together a multimedia presentation, it would communicate a message more powerfully, and either the photos, or my words or my playing, or all three combined might move audience members."

Over the past half-dozen years, Horvath has brought It's Not Too Late to a variety of settings, including St. Cloud State University, Temple Israel, the Loft Literary Center and the LEAP High School. These performances, she says, have inspired valuable dialogue among audience members.

At the LEAP High School, she says, "I couldn't help marveling that I was interacting personally with a boy from Syria and teachers from Cambodia … people who had experienced displacement and genocide [themselves]."

Horvath's passion for understanding, documenting and contextualizing the effects of genocide extends beyond It's Not Too Late to Stop the Hate. After her retirement, she decided to write a memoir about her parents. She enrolled at Hamline University to earn her master's degree in creative writing. This winter she emerged from the program with a manuscript called Piercing the Silence.

The memoir's ending is yet to be written. In May, Horvath travels to Bavaria to re-enact a historic concert given by her father. After the war ended, George Horvath joined an orchestra of Holocaust survivors. This orchestra toured a hundred Displaced Persons camps, playing music for refugees. In the spring of 1948, Leonard Bernstein heard of their work and asked to perform with them. On May 9, Bernstein joined them for two concerts in Landsberg and Feldafing, Germany.

Local residents are marking the 70th anniversary of this concert, and Bernstein's centenary, by mounting a weeklong festival in May. Janet Horvath was invited to perform Kol Nidrei. She calls this performance a "full circle ending."

In a world roiled by violence and political turmoil, it's easy to see music as extraneous. Horvath disagrees.

"Music saved my parents lives," she says. "Through music, they were able to rebuild their lives and to reach out to those whose spirits were also broken. … My hope is that music and art can soften hearts."

Horvath's performance will take place in Sundin Hall at Hamline University on April 3. For more information, click here.

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