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Legendary musicians of the little stage
Moishe Hofmekler, Daniel Dolski and Daniel Pomerantz
1920s-30s Kaunas

In the 20th century, popular music and entertainment became an idiom of the new world – the element of folk entertainers, comedians, circus artists and outstanding autodidact musicians. Film and music recording, democratic novelties, have greatly influenced the spread of new artistic expression forms.
The first decades of the last century had brought quite a few significant changes for Lithuania. After the independence was regained in 1918 and the fights for independence subsided, Lithuania started experiencing the influence of western cultures. After the October Revolution the border with the Bolshevik Russia was walled up, as was with Poland after it occupied Vilnius and its district in 1920. Lithuania had lost its historical capital Vilnius. Kaunas became the provisional capital of Lithuania. Growth of Kaunas, a small town of the northwestern province of Russia, was for a long time hindered by the defence forts and Russian laws. Lithuania had to reinvent not only its state but also its provisional capital in virtually vacant historical space.
The 1930s-40s saw the development in economy: bustling industry and trade, Kaunas had changed beyond recognition – it became a city of trading corporations’ headquarters, new living residences, banks, theatres, cinemas, elegant restaurants and cafés. Technological advance and aspiration for higher living standard prompted the sequence of significant changes. Lithuania, a young Central European state, was inevitably affected by everything new. Kaunas welcomed every new trend. Little by little Lithuanian, albeit somewhat Americanised, city culture was formed. That was new. Affluent residents of Kaunas liked to spend time in spacious and stylish restaurants, frequented cinemas and cafés.
In 1924, recording label Odeon, and in 1931 Columbia, having brought recording equipment to Kaunas, started recording local pop musicians and opera soloists, as well as inviting them to recording studios in Copenhagen, London and Berlin.
After 1920, several families of Jewish musicians left Vilnius for the provisional capital: Hofmeklers, Stupels and Banks. The largest of them was Hofmekler family: Marduchai (the son of Ašmena’ cantor, graduate of the School of the Imperial Music Society of Vilnius) and his sons Moishe, Leiba, Daniel, Ruvim and daughter Zelda. Moishe Hofmekler was a violin virtuoso. He studied under Ilya Malkin at the Vilnius Music School, who was also a teacher of the celebrated Jascha Heifetz. Moishe was a leader of Hofmekler Brothers Ensemble and Metropolis’ orchestra. For his achievements he was decorated with order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas (1932). Leiba Hofmekler was a pianist, concertmaster and conductor. Daniel Hofmekler played cello.
Moishe Hofmekler (1898–1965) and the collectives under his leadership earned the reputation of the most professional and reputable pop music instrumentalists in Kaunas. The respectable Metropolis became their stage. In the 20s, M. Hofmekler often appeared with brothers as trio, quartet and quintet. Later on up to the late 50s the most famous was his Metropolis orchestra, dubbed as Hofmeklerband. During the day and lunch time the restaurant guests enjoyed classical music, while the evenings were devoted to light genres: the orchestra accompanied Antanas Šabaniauskas, Daniel Dolski, Antanas Dvarionas, Stepas Graužinis, Jonas Byra and his quartet, as well as touring guests. According to contemporaries, M. Hofmekler was fluent in Lithuanian, encouraged Lithuanian composers to write pop music, with various formations of the orchestra he performed schlagers by Kajetonas Leipus, Leonardas Lechavičius, N. Naikauskas, Josif Bank and S. Graužinis, as well as classical works by Juozas Pakalnis, Emerikas Gailevičius, Juozas Tallat-Kelpša, Stasys Šimkus and Juozas Gruodis. He also arranged for orchestra works by foreign and Lithuanian composers, recorded a number of plates of shellac, including the ones with Dolski. During the weekends Kaunas Radiophone allotted one-hour broadcast to Hofmeklerband live from Metropolis (also there were broadcasts from Konradas, Monika, and Aldona cafés). The restaurant management supported the high standard of music making. “The administration of Metropolis informs its honourable clients and society, that recently the restaurant acquired a vibraphone – one and only in the entire Baltic region!” wrote Diena on February 15, 1931.
The old records testify to the mastery of the orchestra. After the arrival of Odeon label Hofmeklers made the first recordings in Kaunas in 1924. Among other compositions, the orchestra recorded M. Hofmekler’s “The Nightingale” and “The Boat Sails”. On July 1, 1926, M. Hofmekler and septet organised the first Kaunas Radio concert. In Berlin in 1928 and Kaunas in 1931, Metropolis orchestra recorded a number of plates of shellac, which were often broadcast on Kaunas Radio. They featured Lithuanian folk dances and popular melodies such as “Presidential March”, suites “Sounds of Homeland”, “In the Gypsy Camp” and “Officers’ Foxtrot”, waltz “King of Vagabonds”, tango “Why Have You Deceived Me”, etc.
During the WWII M. Hofmekler was imprisoned in Kaunas Ghetto and Dachau concentration camp in Germany. While in Kaunas Ghetto he formed 40 musicians’ orchestra, organised concerts. After the war until 1955 he lived in Israel, performed in Jerusalem Radio, led King David hotel orchestra. He died in Munich in 1965.
A man who entertains Kaunas”, a newspaper Diena described Daniel Dolski (1891–1931). Up to this day many people associate this talented artist with the entire period between the two world wars. How was it possible that a Jew born in Vilnius and having spent only two years in Kaunas, in the beginning not even knowing Lithuanian language, could become a father of Lithuanian pop music? Due to Soviets’ practice to methodically exterminate all the ‘bourgeois’ attributes of independent Lithuania, there is very little information available about Dolski’s biography – only a few facts.
Dolski was born in Vilnius to a family of Jewish entrepreneur. Before the WWI he studied law at the St. Petersburg University, was fluent in Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish and Italian, studied philosophy, attended a private acting studio. He took part in the soirees of rich merchants and aristocrats, in 1914 debuted at the summer stage together with the renowned Alexander Vertinsky. In the advertisements he was described as a favourite of St. Petersburg and Moscow audiences. He was 23 at the time. Before the Bolshevik overthrow in 1917, Dolski sang in Ville Rode, the luxurious restaurant in St. Petersburg, which was frequented by Gregory Rasputin, the favourite of the tsar family. During that period the artist also toured in other Russian cities. After the Bolshevik overthrow, he moved to Riga, appeared with the orchestra of Oskar Srok, the ‘king of tango’. In 1923, he left for Berlin where he performed as both singer and actor in restaurants and soirees of Russian emigrants. He greatly suffered the loss of the fame he earned in St. Petersburg.
A meeting with violinist Daniel Pomerantz, a Kaunas resident studying in Berlin at the time, prompted his decision to come to Kaunas. The singer came to Lithuania around 1929. To the provisional capital the newcomer from St. Petersburg and Berlin brought a splendid example of a musician’s image – was handsome, flexible and sensitive, elegant and educated. He started singing in musical programmes in Versalis and Metropolis restaurants soon becoming famous. For his repertoire he would pick works that were popular at the time and having learned Lithuanian surprisingly quickly, assisted by poet Vladas Mironas, would write texts for them. Dolski was quick to grasp the nature of Lithuanian new generation. His witty monologues and parodies were apt to the issues of the day (“To Brazil with Harmonika”, “May Fest”, monologues “How Jonas and Me Watched Opera”, “Welcoming of American Lithuanians in Kumpiškiai”, “At the Police Station”, “In the Third Class Train Car”). Leading hedonistic lifestyle the officials of the day were craving for new experiences and entertainments. Dolski has fully met their expectations. He not only provided popular schlagers with the Lithuanian content, but also extolled the beauty of Lithuanian women; his lyrical, mildly erotic texts list Lithuanian feminine names – Onytė, Marytė, Katrytė…
The artist left an invaluable document of his art – sixteen LP’s recorded for Homocord (Berlin) and Columbia (London) with Metropolis, Homocord and J. Nikolajewsky orchestras. This CD also features St. Petersburg repertoire – “The Seller of Livestock” (“Torgovec živym tovarom“), “Reception at the Village Hospital” („Prijom v selskoj bolnice“), tango “I am so Stubborn, Madame” („Ja tak zastenčiv, madame”).
Dolski died in Kaunas. Heated after the performance in Versalis café he had a glass of cold beer and caught pneumonia; he died suddenly, after just a few days of sickness. He is buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Kaunas.
Daniel Pomerantz (1904–1981) was born in Šiauliai to a family of Jewish entrepreneur. In 1920, he was accepted to Kaunas Juozas Naujalis School of Music where he studied with Itzhak Vildman-Zaidman. Since 1922, he studied with Willy Hess at the Berlin Conservatoire. In Vienna he attended master classes given by Bronislav Huberman, a renowned violin virtuoso. (According to Danutė Pomerancaitė, Pomerantz’ daughter, also violin professor, Huberman was fascinated by Daniel’s talent, would not accept payment for his lessons, and wanted to adopt him.) While in Berlin, Pomerantz played in cafés and Marek Weber orchestra, at the time one of the most popular orchestras in Europe. Weber himself was an outstanding violinist; his orchestra recorded a number of pop music plates of shellac sought after around the world. At the time among the students of Berlin conservatoire and members of Weber’s orchestra was jazz trumpeter Eddie Rosner, dubbed the white Luis Armstrong. Upon returning to Kaunas in around 1933, Pomerantz formed an ensemble of multiinstrumentalists. The ensemble performed in Konradas and Monika cafés and not before long started competing with the celebrated Hofmeklerband in terms of mastery. Contemporaries remember Pomerantz as an extraordinarily agile and original musician, and resourceful manager. He liked to play solo violin in cafés; he played almost the entire violin repertoire fascinating his listeners by virtuoso passages and improvisations. He excelled in Spanish and Gypsy melodies.
In 1936, orchestra under the baton of Pomerantz joined by recording studio orchestra members and soloist Antanas Dvarionas recorded for London’s label Columbia 11 plates of shellac featuring fashionable tangos, waltzes and foxtrots. In terms of recording sound, Pomerantz’s orchestra can easily be compared to the celebrated Weber orchestra.During the Nazi occupation Pomerantz was imprisoned in Kaunas Ghetto and Dachau concentration camp. In Kaunas Ghetto together with M. Hofmekler he formed 40 musicians’ orchestra that performed large format symphonic music concerts. After the war, having escaped the fate of many of Jewish people, he played in Kaunas Operetta, café Tulpė, later in the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. He immigrated to Canada in 1974.
In two decades between the two world wars, open and receptive to anything new the provisional capital of the young independent state laid the foundations for many processes of Lithuanian culture, that are just starting to be discussed.
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