"I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are still truly good at heart..."
Those words end Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, the enduring story of the Frank family’s hiding in Holland during the Holocaust. Generations around the world know the story: how Anne and her family hid in almost plain sight for two long years from the Nazis, before they were finally caught and sent to concentration camps and their eventual deaths. Only Otto, Frank's father, would survive. He would publish his daughter's diary, found among the things left behind at the home where the family lived in hiding, a story that would go on be a clarion call of courage, hope, and forgiveness.
“So many of us grew up reading the diary of Anne Frank and being affected by her story,” says Robert Simpson, founder and artistic director of the Houston Chamber Choir, which has partnered with the Holocaust Museum Houston to perform a concert setting of the diary by English composer James Whitbourn that also celebrates the museum’s expansion. “This composition really encompasses the spirit of the book and brings, I think, an even greater depth to the story because of the way music goes to our spirit.”
While Anne’s diary has been adapted into plays and motion pictures, Annalies is the first choral setting of the book and takes shape as a 75-minute choral work for soprano soloist, choir, and instrumentalists. The libretto was compiled and translated by Melanie Challenger from The Diary of Anne Frank. Whitbourn will speak at each performance.
“Anne Frank’s story reminds us the resilience of the human soul,” Simpson says. “That the spirit can transcend its circumstances. And it delivers such a message of hope; Anne truly believed in the goodness of people.”
Whitbourn’s work begins with stirring strings, foreboding under their lightness, a musical motif of the capture to come. The soprano is backed by a chorus, the harmony evocative of the uncertain times in which Anne and her family find themselves. There’s a German folk song that’s sung, a reminder of the Reich’s march across the continent. But Whitbourn also brings bright notes and luminous richness to the piece, showcasing Anne’s determination to rise above her own fears, to dream of what her life might be, and her struggle to grow into the woman she wants to become.
The work obviously has heavy themes, says Simpson.
“There are pieces that leave you shattered. You’ll feel anguish,” he says. “But the message is ultimately hope.”
Sept. 21–22, tickets sold-out. Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline St. More info at houstonchamberchoir.org.