Concert to pay tribute to the life of Anne Frank

by Kourtney Kawano | 11/17/14 5:25pm

The Handel Society will perform a moving concert on Tuesday that will convey drama and inner despair. The group will channel the tragic life and death of Holocaust victim Anne Frank through the raw emotion of British composer James Whitbourn’s 2004 piece “Annelies,” alongside works by Johannes Brahms.

“The texts from all the pieces have a symbiotic relationship,” Handel Society artistic director and conductor Robert Duff said. “Many of them have a theme of shared suffering.”

Duff said that he wanted to complement “Annelies” with a classically styled work and that Brahms’s romantic and dramatic style, as well as the relationship between the pieces’ messages, inspired him to bring the two composers together.

The 100-member choral-orchestral group, made up of students and faculty as well as Hanover residents, will begin with Brahms’s “Schicksalslied, Op. 54” , a piece inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s poem “Hyperion’s Song of Destiny,” which focuses on Greek fatalism and humanity’s existence in the universe. To contrast the poem’s somber end regarding mankind’s unknown destiny, the orchestra closes with a minimal and tranquil statement.

The society will perform “Rhapsodie, Op. 53” and “Gesang der Parzen, Op. 89” to continue the historical expedition of Brahms’ works.

The heart-wrenching “Rhapsodie, Op. 53” will feature an alto solo by vocal coach and music department lecturer Erma Mellinger. Mellinger will sing alongside the group’s men, who will split into a four-part harmony. The piece’s anguished tone depicts Brahms’s pain in losing his relationship with Julie Schumann, the daughter of fellow composer Clara Schumann, after learning of her impending marriage to another man.

“Rhapsodie,” Mellinger said, shows ideas of acceptance and being an outcast.

“It’s a very dramatic piece,” Mellinger said. “The men plead to a higher power to let the music reach the lost man’s heart and save his soul.”

Closing the first half of the performance, the choir will sing “Ave Maria, Op. 12,” a composition written specifically for women. This piece’s four-part harmony reflects the detail Brahms put into composing group music and his comfort in knowing how to assemble different voices into a full tone.

Audiences fond of classic and romantic works, Duff said, will enjoy the Brahms repertoire for its grand and majestic nature.

The second part of the concert transcends time to honor Anne Frank through “Annelies,” a 75-minute choral and orchestral piece. The composition features a soprano solo by Elissa Alvarez and is divided into 14 movements with names that bring Frank’s story to life: “The capture foretold” and “Devastation of the outside world,” for example.

“Life in hiding,” the work’s fifth movement, is especially moving, Handel Society member Noah Lee ’18 said.

The following movement, “Courage,” bridges the gap between hope and the overwhelming despair associated with the Holocaust. The movement reflects what Duff said is the concert’s overall theme: hope in terrible circumstances.

“Annelies,” Handel Society member Kristin Winkle ’18 said, is powerfully written.

“The audience will enjoy the intentionality of the piece,” Winkle said. “Hearing Anne Frank’s diary set to music is absolutely incredible and moving.”

After practicing separately for most of the term, the choir and orchestra met for two rehearsals on Sunday and Monday to work on the timing and balance between the vocalists and the instruments.

To provide the best experience for each audience member, Mellinger said, the choir has rotated through four different seating arrangements to ensure that those sitting in the back rows will hear a cohesive blend of voices representative of the entire society, not just the soprano and bass voices.

“There’s a notable difference in the sound of the inter-generational singers,” Duff said. “But the blend of the society is fabulous.”

Tonight’s concert will begin at 7 p.m. at Spaulding Auditorium.