‘The Thinking Heart’ makes a return

Apr 15, 2014
Photo by: David Wade “The Thinking Heart” ensemble is pictured performing at the Maine Jewish Museum.

Camden — In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Camden Public Library will host a free performance of “The Thinking Heart: The Life & Loves of Etty Hillesum” Sunday, April 27, at 2:00 p.m. “The Thinking Heart” is based on the life and writings of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch woman who died in Auschwitz on Nov. 30, 1943, at the age of 29. She left behind a luminous diary and some 80 letters.

Poet Martin Steingesser has arranged versions of Hillesum’s work and created, with Judy Tierney and musician Robin Jellis, a program for performance called “The Thinking Heart” with cello and two voices.

“But the ensemble considers ‘The Thinking Heart’ as a work in four voices,” he said, “Etty Hillesum’s, the two vocalists’ and the cello’s.”

There will be time for discussion and questions following the performance. The performance is free; donations will be accepted.

Hillesum aspired to be, as she said, “the thinking heart for a whole concentration camp.” The program is a collage of “moments, constellated as poems,” said Steingesser, most taken from letters written at Westerbork, which was a way station on the Netherlands’ border with Germany where Dutch Jews were held for transport to Auschwitz.

Steingesser, one-time Belfast denizen and the inaugural Poet Laureate of Portland, said his goal has been to select, simplify and condense while not losing anything, retaining the integrity and power of the original and thereby amplifying Hillesum’s voice. He said he is indebted to the translation from the Dutch by Arnold J. Pomerans in the editions of her journal and letters published by Henry Holt and Company; and the complete and unabridged “Etty: The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943,” published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 2002.

The ensemble recently returned from a European tour, where they performed “The Thinking Heart” at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, in Oswiecim, Poland; and the International Etty Hillesum Congress in Ghent, Belgium.

Steingesser has been presenting programs of his poems and teaching poetry workshops throughout Maine for more than 25 years. Tierney has been presenting poems in Maine for several years, often with Steingesser, and was the creator and host of weekly radio program “Walking in the Air,” celebrating poetry and its voices, on WRFR-LP in Rockland. Jellis, who has played with the Bangor Symphony, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine, where she studied jazz improvisation and cello performance. Currently she plays with the Maine State Ballet Orchestra and is on the faculty at the Portland Conservatory of Music.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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