has any historical occurrence been explored more in the arts of the past 50 years than the Holocaust? It is one of the dominant - if not the defining - features of this century's cultural landscape, and its incomprehensible horror necessitates artistic invention as a vehicle for emotional release.
Towering Inferno's remarkably ambitious Kaddish is so distinct, so innovative, and so powerful that it instantly joins the ranks of the best artistic responses to the Holocaust. This multimedia project serves as a reminder that this wasn't only a Jewish tragedy, but a European one.
The audio portion of the piece, recorded over a three-year period in London and Budapest, centers on prose written and spoken by Hungarian poet Endre Szkarosi. His words draw on prayers (the piece is named after the Jewish prayer for the dead), Nazi sloganeering, and survivor anecdotes. The tone is in turns grave, scarifying, and pleadingly perplexed.
But it's the music composed by Richard Wolfson and Andy Saunders that carries the most weight. Claims that Kaddish represents a new form of music are hyperbolic, and fans of Phillip Glass and Laurie Anderson, among others, will not hear anything alien in the piece. As a technical achievement, though, it stands almost alone, blending and juxtaposing classical structures with folk and rock idioms both sacred and secular, from violin obligatos to Metallica-style power-riffing. Anchoring it all are passages of European folk music, sung gorgeously by Marta Sebestyen, the Hungarian thrush who has spearheaded the revival of Magyar musical traditions with the group Muzsikas. Her tender and sometimes mournful lines provide both earthly grounding and heavenly comfort.
Kaddish is overwhelming - as beautiful as it is terrifying.