After 55 years, Eric Zeisl’s ‘Jacob and Rachel’ will premiere


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Eric Zeisl, the late classical composer and music professor who lived in Los Angeles from 1942 to 1959, was a music protégé who garnered the highest acclaim of his composition instructors at the Vienna State Academy -- in the city of Mozart, that’s no chopped liver. A brilliant graduate, he had the bad luck to launch his career in the 1930s, concurrent with Europe’s fiercest anti-Semitism. Blocked from jobs, patrons, commissions and publishing, Zeisl found that his future in Austria, indeed all of Europe, was limited.

Then came Kristallnacht -- Nov. 9-10, 1938. Zeisl and his wife fled Vienna speaking not a word of English. In Paris he bonded with Darius Milhaud for a lifelong friendship. Journeying to New York, he eventually landed in Los Angeles, where the erudite European composer wrote the music for ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.’

But that last anecdote is not the whole story. The truth is that Zeisl was a dedicated, talented and prolific artist who wrote many uncredited film scores and left behind reams of unperformed music for orchestra, chamber group, chorus, opera and ballet.

On Tuesday at the Wadsworth Theater in Westwood, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony premieres “Jacob and Rachel,” Zeisl’s ballet score written 55 years ago. Modern dance troupe Body Traffic has commissioned three choreographers -- Helios Dance Theater’s Laura Gornstein-Miller, film/video veteran Sarah Elgart and Gallim’s Andrea Miller -- to depict the biblical love tale through movement.

When was the last time you saw a modern dance performance with a live symphony orchestra? You can read about this event rich in L.A. cultural history -- and more about Zeisl -- in Sunday’s Arts & Books section.


-- Debra Levine

Above: Eric Zeisl. Credit: File photo