About

Photograph courtesy Annabelle Gaspar

Joseph Toltz is a writer, researcher, ethnomusicologist, composer, arranger and performer. Born in 1970 at King George V Hospital in Sydney, Australia, he is Research Fellow at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. He was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Musicology) in December 2011, and is currently a Co-Investigator (ECR) on a three-year British Arts & Humanities Research Council large grant, “Performing the Jewish Archive”.

Joseph has been a solo singer and chorister from the age of 12, and has performed as soloist and in professional ensembles in Sydney, including Cantillation, the Renaissance Players, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Sydney Chamber Choir and the Song Company.  In March he will be singing in the chorus of The Damnation of Faust at Hamer Hall, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, and featuring Bryn Terfel in the role of Méphistophélès.

In August 2014, together with Opera Prometheus (Sarah Penicka-Smith, Mel Penicka-Smith, Sharna Galvin and Lisa Chanell), Joseph staged the first Sydney performances of the children’s opera Brundibár. The most beloved cultural event in the life of the Terezín Ghetto, the Sydney Brundibár Project involved a children’s cast of 30 from diverse backgrounds, an adult mentor cast, professional design by Ed Lippmann, directed by Sharna Galvin.  Survivors from Terezín were intimately involved in many aspects of the production.

Prior to embarking down the path of obscure intellectual pursuit, Joseph was the Cantor at Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney, the largest non-Orthodox Jewish congregation in Australia. In 1995, Joseph took up the post of Director of Music, inheriting a group of 6 singers with piano accompaniment. By the time of his departure, the music program blossomed to 3 vocal acappella ensembles and an instrumental ensemble with approximately 72 musicians involved in the life of the congregation. He also expanded the repertoire, writing and arranging new music for every major and minor Jewish festival in different, unique formats. With the help of David Gonski AC, Joseph formed the Emanuel Cultural Fund and raised a substantial amount in its first three years. The aim of the fund is to provide regular cultural events for the Synagogue. Joseph worked closely with other professional musicians in different faith communities in Sydney, particularly the St Francis Assisi Paddington (Catholic), Christ Church St Lawrence (Anglican), Australian Byzantine Choir (Greek Orthodox) and St James Philip Street (Anglican) to develop Interfaith concerts and services.

Joseph’s duties included Director of Pastoral Care: involvement in life-cycle events from hatch, match and dispatch to everything in between. Following his training in clinical pastoral care, Joseph developed a very close working relationship with the staff at St Vincent’s Hospital, and visited there every week for 13 years, as well regularly visiting other major hospitals in Sydney.

Joseph writes on a diverse range of subjects, mostly (but not all) linked to the theme of music and its place in societies. He has published an essay exploring the intersection between Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa in a compilation entitled “Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop”, edited by Sean Albiez and David Pattie (Continuum Books, 2010).  His most recent article, “Se non ora, quando?” – the hidden musical testimony of Holocaust survivors in Australia” has been published by Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History (Vol 16 No 3, Winter 2011).

Joseph’s thesis is entitled “Hidden Testimony: Musical Experience and Memory in Jewish Holocaust Survivors”, and is an ethnographic project conducted around the world (USA, UK, Israel, Australia) with eighty-five Holocaust survivors. The interviewees had a vast range of musical experiences, from concert pianists in Terezín with successful post-war careers, to non-musical tone-deaf survivors who had one remarkable musical moment during their wartime experiences.

From December 2010 to May 2011, Joseph was the Barbara and Richard Rosenberg Fellow in the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Musuem (Washington DC).  For this fellowship, Joseph researching the recordings, writings and background of David Boder, a Latvian-born American psychologist who travelled to Europe in 1946 to record interviews in DP camps with Jewish survivors and non-Jewish refugees fleeing the Soviets. Boder’s collection is unique in that, unlike other studies and testimonies of that period, he preserved the interviews in recorded form for posterity. Joseph’s specific interest is in Boder’s utilization of music in his study – as a way of getting survivors interested in the technology he was using (the wire recorder); as an ethnographic exercise; as its own testimonial feature embedded within the interviews.

All the text on this site was written by Joseph; and unless credited, all photographs were also taken by him and, by default, his intellectual property. Capische?

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