Music saved Lev Aronson's life. He told his students this countless times. Recalling songs by memory not only allowed him to sustain hope while imprisoned in concentration camps, it also allowed him to keep track of time. One of his vivid memories was having to load and then unload a truckbed with rocks in under an hour. If he didn't finish on time, he would be killed. To stay on task he would recall pieces of music he knew were 20 minutes long and run them through his head.
As a 14-year-old kid in Dallas, hearing his cello teacher tell these stories changed Brian Thornton's life. Here was a man in sharp contrast to the safe bubble of middle America. He'd lost faith in god and most of humanity, but he still believed in music.
"He turned something so terrible into something amazing and beautiful," says Thornton, who went on to pursue a career as a professional cellist. "Everything was about music. He changed the direction of my life."
After the war, Aronson moved to Dallas and taught music lessons until his death in 1988. Some of his students include world-renowned cellists Ralph Kirshbaum and Lynn Harrell. Last year, Thornton founded the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival to memorialize the man who changed countless lives with music. This year the festival returns to the camp of Southern Methodist University June 9-14, with performances by former students - including Kirshbaum and Thornton.
Each night of the festival concerts take place at 7 p.m. in SMU's O'Donnell Hall. Tickets are $20, which is a steal to see performers like Wednesday night's performances from Mike Block, a cellist from Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, alongside Dallas-based world music group, Obscure Dignitaries. Plus at every concert, the performers will share experiences from their studies with Aronson. There is perhaps no better way to honor such an extraordinary life than with music.
"I wanted to make sure that his memory lived and that we could share his story and his love for music with younger generations," Thronton says. "Everything was stripped away from him, but he was still able to create beauty with music. It's an an amazing legacy."
For tickets and more information visit levaronsonlegacy.com. Full schedule below.
7 p.m. Monday, June 9: Opening Gala Concert SMU O'Donnell Hall Legacy founder and cellist Brian Thornton, along with Emanuel Borok, former Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, and prize-winning pianist, Spencer Meyer, perform Zimmerli, Bach and Tchaikovsky.
7 p.m. Tuesday, June 10: Recital by Andres Diaz SMU O'Donnell Hall SMU cello professor Andres Diaz will perform works by Menotti, Xi Wang, and Tan Dun.
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7 p.m. Wednesday, June 11: Reception and Recital featuring Mike Block SMU O'Donnell Hall Concert and special reception featuring Mike Block, cellist from Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble plus Dallas-based world music group, Obscure Dignitaries take the stage for an energetic and global experience.
7 p.m. Thursday, June 12: Recital by Jesus Castro-Baldi SMU O'Donnell Hall TCU cello professor, mentor and soloist Jesus Castro-Baldi performs Bach, Prokofiev and Strauss. ￼ 7 p.m. Friday, June 13: Beethoven Recital by Norman Fischer SMU O'Donnell Hall Rice University cello professor and Grammy nominee, Norman Fischer takes the stage to perform Beethoven favorites.
7 p.m. Saturday, June 14: World-Renowned Cello Soloist and Lev Aronson Student Ralph Kirshbaum SMU Caruth Auditorium Founder and Director of the RNCM Manchester International Cello Festival, Ralph Kirshbaum performs a special concert featuring the music of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich.
Each visiting artist teaches in a master class setting the same day of their recitals. Additional events include a mini-residency at The Children's Medical Center of Dallas on Wednesday, June 11th at 11 am and a free concert on Thursday, June 12th at 3 pm at the Holocaust Museum of Dallas.