Tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, the American Symphony Orchestra will perform an unusual program of works from East Germany, the other Germany. Most of these works will be U.S. premieres. The composers and their works are unknown to most Americans with one exception - the hauntingly beautiful strains of the East German national anthem. NPR's Margo Adler has more.

MARGO ADLER: Leon Botstein, the musical director of the American Symphony Orchestra since 1991, says he had the idea for a concert focusing on East Germany after he saw two films: the searing drama "The Lives of Others" and the brilliant comedy "Goodbye, Lenin." And he thought...

Mr. LEON BOTSTEIN (Musical Director, American Symphony Orchestra): Can we give a concert that is a kind of musical equivalent of these two very popular films? What can we retrieve from obviously a terrible repressive regime? What can we retrieve from the East German tradition that is worth remembering?

ADLER: And Botstein reminds us that the German Democratic Republic had a great musical life.

Mr. BOTSTEIN: Fantastic publishing houses. You know, some of the best editions of the classical works. And fantastic orchestras - the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Austrian Dresden. The Opera House in Berlin under Felsenstein was, you know, clearly one of the great innovative theaters in opera theater. And there was a kind of flourishing musical life that sustained itself all the way through.

ADLER: And while much of East German culture has been seen as tainted because of the huge presence of the Stazi, the secret police, music is often politically ambiguous. Someone like Shostakovich in the Soviet Union could be loved by the authorities most of the time, but still have messages for dissidents.

Mr. BOTSTEIN: So, music has a way of pleasing the authorities and telling the truth at the same time. So the question was, is there East German music that qualifies in this way?

ADLER: He picked five composers, some dead, some still living and working in a unified Germany. He starts with the most well-known in this country, Hanns Eisler. Eisler lived in the United States, wrote film scores for Hollywood. Like Kurt Weill, he wrote songs with Bertolt Brecht and the music for many Brecht plays. He was deported after his brother, Gerhardt Eisler, fingered as a Communist agent, fled this county. The piece is the "Goethe Rhapsody," which sets poetry from the second part of Faust to music. This is a rehearsal without the singer.

(Soundbite of orchestral piece "Goethe Rhapsody")

ADLER: Eisler had studied 12-tone music with Schoenberg, but the question he wrestled with his whole life was how to write good music that is also accessible and popular, a middle road between the arcane and kitsch. In this piece, says Botstein, he puts everything in there.

Mr. BOTSTEIN: He quotes from Mozart. He has jazz in there. He's got salon music. He's got agitprop music in there in a beautiful orchestral setting of Goethe. So he's taking the highest most arcane poetry in all of German language and setting it into this very populist, lovely, accessible sound, beautifully written.

ADLER: The most important piece in the repertoire is probably "Responso" by Siegfried Matthus. It contains very modern music.

(Soundbite of orchestral piece "Responso")

ADLER: But its' third movement seems to reference Bach, who hailed from that part of Germany.

(Soundbite of orchestral piece "Responso")

ADLER: Botstein says that for most artists in the West there is a premium on being different and original, and a real gap between popular culture and high art.

Mr. BOTSTEIN: East Germany and the Communist regimes believed something different. They believed Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach were for the masses and the masses would love them. Therefore, the modern music always made reference to tradition. Eisler quotes Mozart. Matthus quotes Bach. What's great about these pieces is they never forget the audience. They are writing for someone who is actually listening.

ADLER: There is one piece in this concert program that is familiar to millions.

(Soundbite of the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic)

ADLER: It's by Hanns Eisler. ..TEXT: (Soundbite of the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic)

ADLER: It's the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic. When I asked Botstein if such a piece, however beautiful - some have called it one of the most beautiful national anthems ever written - can ever be disassociated with the repression of East Germany and the memories of East German athletes on steroids on the Olympic podium? He says we live in a world of collective Alzheimer's. People's memories are very short.

(Soundbite of the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic)

ADLER: It will probably take a long while, but it could happen. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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