The Apollo Male Chorus will offer a ‘musical menora’ of works to celebrate survivors and liberators on Jan. 27
By DORIS RUBENSTEIN
The atrocities performed at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration and work camps are part of a sad legacy shared by all peoples. While the majority of those who survived or died there were Jews, many other minorities, such as Gypsies and homosexuals, suffered alongside those who wore the yellow Star of David.
It is fitting, therefore, that a concert celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz be organized and performed by a nonsectarian group. The Apollo Male Chorus will present “The Liberation of Auschwitz” on Jan. 27 — exactly 70 years to the day from when the camp was liberated by Allied forces. The performance will take place at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the West Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota.
Sean Vogt, artistic director and conductor of the Apollo Male Chorus, explained his motivation for organizing the program.
“At one point in my life, I thought I’d be a minister and had to study Hebrew,” he said. “That started my interest in the Jewish people.”
Things took a turn in a different direction and Vogt is now choirmaster for the Cathedral of St. Paul. He is also an organist.
“In 2013, I was asked to accompany a choir for a tour along the Danube and we did a side trip to Auschwitz,” he said. “I was deeply moved by what I learned. And I was touched even more by the personal story of a Dutch man who, as a child, had given water to a trainload of Jewish prisoners headed to the camps.”
Vogt realized that he had just enough time, upon returning to the United States, to organize and prepare a concert to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation.
As artistic director, Vogt has chosen the musical selections for this concert to form what he calls “a musical menora” — with music that is both uplifting and hopeful on either side of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1947 short cantata A Survivor from Warsaw. The composer’s initial inspiration for the piece came from a suggestion from Russian émigrée dancer Corinne Chochem, for a work to pay tribute to the Holocaust victims.
The narrator tells his story as a survivor — from the Warsaw Ghetto to his time in a concentration camp. The work culminates as the narrator and the enslaved Jews begin to sing the Shema as they realize their imminent deaths.
The music accompanying the narration is in Schoenberg’s classic 12-tone scale; its atonality is apt for the physical pain and psychological conflicts, and suffering experienced by the Auschwitz inmates, represented by the members of the chorus.
Schoenberg’s piece is the “shammos” in this “menora-shaped” concert, rising in the middle. The finale, setting the stage ablaze with thanks to Hashem for the liberation, is the world premiere of Five Prayers. The work is a composite of different prayer forms — Psalm, Hymn, Elegy, Meditation and HaYom — aggregated or composed by James Bassi, from his experience as a singer for multiple synagogues in New York City.
“Throughout the piece, for certain dramatic and structural reasons, the sung text fluctuates somewhat freely between Hebrew and English,” Bassi said.
Among the special guests will be soloist St. Paul native Aaron James, a former singer at the historic Shearith Israel synagogue of New York City and now section leader at the Cathedral of Saint Paul; and dancer James Andrew, a student of Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The Apollo Men’s Chorus also wishes to honor and recognize Twin Cities residents who were part of the liberation during the concert, be they military veterans or survivors. Children of liberators and survivors are welcome to be recognized, representing their parents who may be unable to attend or deceased.
Officially founded in the Twin Cities in 1895, but with roots extending as far back as 1887, Apollo Club and the Apollo Men’s Chorus has grown to be one of America’s oldest, continuously performing and well-traveled male choruses. Its unprecedented repertoire of secular and sacred works is supported by one of the world’s largest libraries of men’s choral music.
The Apollo Male Chorus will present “The Liberation of Auschwitz” 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27 at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota, 2128 Fourth St. S., Minneapolis.
Tickets are available at: www.tinyurl.com/liberation70 or at the Ted Mann Concert Hall.
(American Jewish World, 1.16.15)