Special Projects

The story of Marcel Tyberg and the BPO

After decades of obscurity, a composer and Holocaust victim is getting his due.

Marcel Tyberg lived in Abbazio, Italy in the mid-20th century. He was known in the community for the compositions he wrote for local dance bands and for his prowess as a teacher. But his true passion was composing classical music. When his teaching and his commercial work were finished, he’d turn his attention to his beloved symphonies, sonatas, and trios.

As World War II intensified, Tyberg feared persecution due to his Jewish ancestry. He delivered his classical scores to a student and trusted friend, Henri Mihich. Shortly afterwards, Tyberg’s worst fears were realized. He was taken to Auschwitz, where he died in 1944.

Mihich left Italy for America several years later, and took the bag of scores with him. He settled in Buffalo and became a respected doctor at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. For decades, he visited each music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and many of the guest conductors, trying to interest someone in bringing to light the works of his former teacher and friend. It was not until JoAnn Falletta’s tenure that he succeeded.

“I discovered a treasure — music that, while honored the past Germanic tradition, pointed the way to a new era. The language was strong, individual and compelling,” said Falletta of her initial review of the scores. It was enough to convince her that the painstaking project of transcribing and copying the handwritten scores to create playable versions was worth the effort.

The BPO committed to a multi-year recording project of Tyberg’s works on the international NAXOS label. The orchestra partnered with the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies which maintains a special fund, The Marcel Tyberg Musical Legacy Fund, to support the preservation, performance, recording and publishing of the works of Marcel Tyberg.

As the first Tyberg recording was released, word began to spread. The project was reviewed and profiled in many major publications, and the BPO began receiving requests from groups all over the world who wished to perform Tyberg’s works. But the most remarkable request came from a surprising source.

“Just as we were preparing for the release of our second Tyberg CD, we received a startling communication from the government of Croatia. Abbazia, now called Opatija, had been part of Italy in Tyberg’s lifetime, and is now in Croatia. The Croatians, excited by hearing our first Tyberg CD, were claiming him as their national composer,” Falletta said.

In November 2012, a Tyberg festival was held in Rijeka and attended by the president of Croatia. Just prior to the festival, the nationally syndicated radio program Performance Today broadcast the story of Marcel Tyberg and the BPO to more than 1.3 million listeners across the United States. At the festival, JoAnn Falletta conducted Croatia’s National Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Tyberg’s Symphony No. 2. Dr. Mihich, BPO board member Cindy Abbott Letro, and Peter Fleischmann of the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, were there to witness the fulfillment of their dream to bring recognition to a great man who had lived a quiet life and died a lonely death.

The second Tyberg recording was released on the NAXOS label in August 2013. It was Naxos’ best-selling new release on the week of its debut and has received acclaim from international publications. Although the Nazis succeeded in ending Marcel Tyberg’s life, they could not silence his voice.

On April 22 and 23, 2013, the Buffalo Philharmonic became one of only three orchestras in the nation to participate in the groundbreaking Jazz Composers’ Orchestral Institute through EarShot. Five talented composers had the opportunity work with a mentor, and to have their compositions workshopped by the BPO.

EarShot is a program of the American Composers Orchestra in collaboration with the American Composers Forum, League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA.

Composers Gregg August, Anita Brown, Joel Harrison, Ole Mathisen and David Wilson participated in the workshop. It was covered by The Wall Street Journal and on Howard Mandel’s blog.

Listen to samples of their works:

Gregg August, Una Rumba Sinfonica

Anita Brown, Disarming the Tempest

Joel Harrison, The Other River

Ole Mathisen, The Mind’s Eye

David Wilson, Springs of a Desperate Heart