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NMSU professor receives national humanities award to research music migration

The journey of music and musicians from Nazi-occupied Europe to Latin America is the subject of a new book in the works by New Mexico State University history professor Andrea Orzoff.

NMSU history professor Andrea Orzoff received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, a national humanities organization. The award, coupled with a grant from NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences will allow Orzoff to research and write a book about the migration of classical musicians from Nazi-occupied Europe to Latin America.

Thanks to an award from the American Council of Learned Societies and a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences, Orzoff will spend a year researching and writing her book, “Music in Flight: Exiles, Refugees, Fugitives, and the Politics of Music in Latin America, 1933-1960.”

The idea for the book was sparked by the discovery of one man’s story: a classically-trained Jewish opera conductor from Vienna who founded the Peruvian National Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s. Orzoff suspected he was not alone, and found hundreds more European “musical migrants” across Latin America between 1930 and 1960.

“In some cases they founded symphony orchestras, in other cases they joined orchestras that had already been established,” said Orzoff. “They got involved in anti-fascist regional politics. Their Latin American stories are interesting musically, but also in terms of urban history, in terms of migration history, in terms of cultural intermingling, hybridity and engagement.

“This project is substantially different from anything I have worked on in the past,” Orzoff said. “These musicians were part of a wider cultural migration from Europe during the Nazi years, but scholars have paid much more attention to the refugees in North America. We know much less about Europeans in Latin America, and yet the stories are fascinating.”

Orzoff is among 70 scholars across the country this year to receive fellowships in the humanities and related social sciences from the American Council of Learned Societies, a private non profit federation of 77 national scholarly organizations dedicated to the advancement of humanities.

“This is a very prestigious award. It’s an honor for me to receive one,” said Orzoff, who has received previous awards from the organization.

Orzoff’s work brings Latin America into the study of the Holocaust in a global perspective. She has researched the topic over the last five years, in archives in Buenos Aires, Lima, Peru and also the U.S. National Archives and the library of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The musicians’ documentary train also stretched to Berlin’s Bundesarchiv, the German Federal Archives, where Orzoff saw the way Nazi minister of propaganda Josef Goebbels monitored cultural affairs in Latin America. She plans future research trips to Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and possibly Havana and La Paz.

“It’s a pretty wide-ranging book,” Orzoff said. “My musical migrants began generally in Vienna and Berlin, which were the important centers of classical musical training in the early decades of the 20th century. They were mainly Austrians and Germans, but some were also Polish, Czech and Serbian. They landed all over Latin America, and of course each country in the region had its own immigration policies, its own political context, its own set of domestic tensions and economic difficulties.

“It’s complex to research and will be complicated to write. I am enormously grateful for the ACLS and to NMSU for granting me the time I need to address this ambitious project.”

Taking a year off from teaching at NMSU will allow Orzoff to conduct additional research and pull together the history of these events to write the book. She expects to complete a draft by the end of 2016 and to send it to Oxford University Press, which has expressed interest in the project.