Katzenelnbogen is a small city located in the district of Rhein-Lahn-Kreis in Rhineland-Palatinate, about an hour drive northwest of Frankfurt. It developed around the Castle of Katzenelnbogen which was completed in 1095. The unusual name, which means “Cat’s Elbow”, gave rise to the creation of a local folk tale about its origin. The castle, with its two opposite turrets, is said to have inspired this name because of its resemblance to a cat lounging above the elbow shaped bend of the creek "Dörsbach" which flows below it. From what I’ve heard, in the fifteen century about twenty Jews who were living there, were bestowed the town’s name by the Counts of Katzenelnbogen – that’s how the Jewish Katzenelnbogen family name started. Over the years, some Katzenelnbogens have altered the spelling of their name for various reasons, resulting in several different variations found today. Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen last name is spelled with two “l”s following an “e”, while my father, who was born in Poland, spells it with a “C”: “Kacenelenbogen”. I, probably mistakenly, have always spelled it with “ts”: “Katsenelenbogen”. Interestingly, there is no one with the surname Katzenelnbogen still living in Katzenelnbogen presently.
The concert in Katzenelnbogen was held at the city’s town hall, which is adjacent to the castle of Katzenelnbogen. It was very moving for me to realize that I was standing by the castle’s wall as I was getting ready to enter the performance hall through the stage entrance of the city hall before playing the concert. The Mayor of Katzenelnbogen, Horst Klöppel, opened the event with a heartfelt introduction and greeted me with a warm and friendly: “Welcome to Katzenelnbogen, Eyran Katsenelnbogen!” to the cheers of everyone. The audience was absolutely wonderful and it was a delight to play for such a warm and excited croud. Like me, I think that everyone who attended the concert felt that this was a singular event. It was the first and the only time, more than five hundred years after the Jewish family was born there, that a Katzenelnbogen has returned to its birth place to perform a live concert. Moreover, the invitation to play in Katzenelnbogen was in celebration of the city’s 700th anniversary. When Mayor Klöppel announced to the audience that he would like to invite me to return and play there again, I replied that I would be honored to play again for the town’s 800th anniversary, when I am 147 years old.
The concert, which was planned to take about an hour, lasted three. In the intermission I had a wonderful opportunity to meet many of the people who attended it. It was the first time that when I dedicated a CD to someone who attended the event, I signed my family name not as my last name, but as the place in which the concert took place.
This concert, which was so meaningful and fulfilling for me, took place because of the wonderful initiative of my very dear friend Gerhard Hummer. I am deeply grateful to him for one of the greatest friendships I have ever had. Gerhard has a rare personal ability to naturally nurture the best human qualities in his friends and inspire their personal and artistic growth. In 2011, he organized a concert with pianist Andrei Ivanovitch and me at the wonderful Burg Namedy castle which is not far from Katzenelnbogen. The day after the concert at Burg Namedy, on our way back to his hometown of Sossmar in Lower Saxony, Gerhard, his wife Bettina, Andrei and I stopped to visit Katzenelnbogen. I only visited there once before, with my parents when I was thirteen years old, and was very excited to revisit the town. We stopped at an ice-cream parlor, and while Bettina, Andrei and I were enjoying our ice-creams, Gerhard went in and informed the owner of the restaurant, Edmitro Vanella, that the “real Katzenelnbogen” was sitting outside. Mr. Vanella didn’t hesitate and immediately called the Mayor of Katzenelnbogen to tell him the news. Mayor Klöppel invited us to meet with him and with his assistant, Mr. Welker, in his office. Gerhard kept in touch with the Mayor and his assistant, and a few months later I was invited to perform a concert at the Katzenelnbogen City Hall on July 28, 2012.
|Eyran Katsenelenbogen playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Arlen)|
A few hours before the concert, Gerhard and I arrived at the City Hall of Katzenelnbogen to meet with Mayor Klöppel, see the performance hall and try the piano. I noticed at that time that I sill had difficulty using my right foot on the sustain pedal of the piano, and decided that I would use my left foot for pedaling throughout the concert instead. That would have been quite uncomfortable. But shortly after I started playing that evening, I tried switching back to my right foot and was surprised to see that it was not painful. Perhaps the adrenaline kicked in and neutralized the pain. I think that this physical relief only enhanced the singular sensation of playing such a special concert. Miles Davis has been quoted with saying “It’s hard to say I love you twice”. This concert most definitely felt like saying it the first time.