Growing up in South Tampa, Nancy Rubenstein began studying the piano at age 3 and loved everything from classical to rock 'n' roll.
But it wasn't until after she graduated from Plant High School and began studying music education at the University of Tampa that she encountered the music of the early 20th century.
"I like strictly classical music, but I find this to be more interesting," she says of the period. "It has more twists and turns, interesting harmonies, interesting rhythms. It's more unpredictable. I don't know why people became more innovative around this time, but they did."
And years after that, as the music director of a Holocaust education organization in Pittsburgh, Rubenstein discovered a particular group of early 20th century composers — Europeans pursued and persecuted by the Nazis.
Now Rubenstein, 56, is returning to her hometown with a second concert highlighting their works.
The concert, "Music Reborn II: Forbidden and Forgotten," is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Carrollwood Cultural Center. It is co-sponsored by the Tampa Ameet chapter of Hadassah in remembrance of Kristallnacht, the night in November 1938 that Nazis arrested 30,000 Jews, burned synagogues and smashed and looted Jewish businesses.
The concert will feature music of seven composers, plus a taped interview with Andre Kupfermunz of Tampa, who was a hidden child during the Holocaust.
Rubenstein launched Music Reborn in 2003 to highlight the music of composers lost to the Holocaust. Last year, she brought a concert to the cultural center featuring composers imprisoned in Theresienstadt, a concentration and transit camp for European Jews sent to Auschwitz and other death camps.
Rubenstein's favorite music in this program includes a suite for violin, cello and piano by Eric Zeisl, who had to visit students' homes in disguise to teach music before fleeing Austria for Paris and, eventually, the United States.
"He was a very clever composer and very imaginative, and he was just a teenager when he wrote the piece," she said.
The concert also features music by Gideon Klein, who was killed at the Furstengrube labor camp shortly before his 25th birthday, Egon Ledec, a leading violinist gassed at Auschwitz, and Lea Rudnitska, a poet who cared for orphaned children in the Vilna ghetto. It was there that she wrote the lullaby Birds are Dreaming, which tells a baby boy his parents are dead.
No one knows what happened to that baby boy, but Rudnitska was told to go "to the left" during the liquidation of the ghetto and was murdered in Majdanek or Treblinka.
On Tuesday night, the concert will start with another lullaby, Now Close Your Little Eyes, written by David Beigelman and sung by Rachel Saady-Saxe, a freshman at Carrollwood Day School.
The lyrics are bleak, but "she sings them with a feeling of hope, which is what we wanted to begin the program with," said Mary Ann Scialdo, the cultural center's artistic director.
Later in the program are two songs by Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story of surviving the Holocaust became the basis for the Oscar-winning movie, The Pianist. Those songs are "very much in the vein of Gershwin," Scialdo said, and "are going to knock the audience off their feet."
Some pieces of music in the show are just charming songs, Scialdo said, and "bear no vision of what was to be in three years or five years."
"What (these composers) would have become in 10 or 15 years — a Brahms? a Mendelssohn? — I don't know," she said. "And that stays with you."
And that's the point, Rubenstein said.
"What I'm hoping for people to understand is that it's not just a novelty," she said. "There's some good music here that's unheard, and there's enough of it that you could put on programs of it for a long time to come."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.