James Whitbourn’s oratorio, Annelies, will make U.S. premiere in Edina Nov. 24
By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
You’ve read the book. You’ve seen both the play and the movie. Do you really think that you need to hear Annelies, a new choral work based on the famous diary of a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust?
By all critical accounts, yes, you do.
Only a boor (and I know that there are none amongst our readers) would deny the power of music to describe and illuminate the emotions. Whether it be a soloist or a symphony in performance, the adage “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast” still holds true. And few stories can engage human emotions better than Anne (born Annelies) Frank’s.
In 1990, the Jewish composer-conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas, inspired by the actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, composed an orchestral work, From the Diary of Anne Frank. This has been described as a dramatic composition infused with musical themes from the Kaddish.
Now, the Oratorio Society of Minnesota (OSM), with a four-piece instrumental ensemble, will be performing Annelies, James Whitbourn’s oratorio, in its U.S. premier 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 24 at Colonial Church of Edina. While a Jewish house of worship might be the logical place for such a performance, the size of the chorale combined with the instrumentalists excluded all the local choices. The universality of the message of Annelies should combine with the simplicity of the sanctuary of Colonial Church to make it an appropriate venue.
British composer James Whitbourn had a long and successful career with the BBC before undertaking the composition of his oratorio Annelies, which premiered in 2005 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, under Leonard Slatkin.
Whibourn will not be present for this performance, but his message to the Twin Cities community is clear:
“I am thrilled that Matthew Mehaffey and the Oratorio Society of Minnesota are bringing Annelies to the Twin Cities. It is a piece which is especially dear to my heart after a period of close involvement with remaining family and friends of Anne Frank while shaping the work. Anne Frank, of course, is often in people’s minds; but a choral performance is such a powerful way for a whole community to come together – performers and audience – to create an event of simultaneous response through reflection and commemoration. It is the power of numbers that helps to heighten the important realization of what was lost in that terrible chapter of history.”
OSM Artistic Director Matthew Mehaffey and the OSM Summer Chorale recently presented Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. He says that he chose Annelies because “it’s so compelling.”
Mehaffey, who also is a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Music, describes Annelies as “…very listenable. It has a contemporary feel to it, but it also contains references to European Jewish music and the popular music of the 1930s and 1940s.”
Award-winning British poet Melanie Challenger was the primary force in the creation of Annelies. She was commissioned to create it to commemorate those who suffered in the Holocaust. The 2005 premiere coincided with the anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Over 500 Holocaust survivors were present for that historic concert.
Challenger served as librettist for Annelies, which proved actually to be an editing challenge, since the oratorio lyrics are drawn entirely from the Diary. Since all of the words are the voice of one girl and this is a choral work, one might think that there would be no need for soloists. Whitbourn, nevertheless, chooses to highlight several of the oratorio’s 14 sections through the use of a single voice; here in Minnesota, that voice belongs to Ariana Zabala.
Zabala, also a member of the U’s School of Music faculty, is well known to Twin Cities opera buffs. She was seen most recently in the Minnesota Opera’s American premiere production ofDove’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, playing the title character.
The Wall Street Journal described her performance at demonstrating “tremendous stamina and boy-like flair.”
Be a part of this U.S. premiere of an important artistic work that keeps alive the spirit of “Never Forget.” And if you have friends who go to Colonial Church, bring them along! It’s bound to be an unforgettable experience.
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.