'Anne Frank' concert carries lesson for us all

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash
Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash
Photo by Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival
| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

It's easy to think of the individuals in a small group, such as a sports team. But when numbers reach the thousands or millions, then individuals get lost. That's part of the reason the publication of “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank was so powerful an event.

She was one of the 6 million who died in the Holocaust, but reading her words, one encounters an endearingly specific young person, one who was both extraordinary and surprisingly normal, especially given her circumstances.

Since her father published her diary in 1947, it has been translated into 67 languages and has sold more than 31 million copes. It's been the subject of both a play and a movie.

The Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival will present “Anne Frank: A Living Voice” on May 19 at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside. It will be performed by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash, the Pittsburgh School for the Choral Arts and members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Founding director Aron Zelkowicz remembered “Anne Frank: A Living Voice” by Linda Tutas Haugen when brainstorming for the 2014 festival and decided to make it the thematic focus. Another Jewish woman who died during World War II, Hannah Senesh, also will be remembered. She escaped to Israel, trained as a paratrooper and went back to Europe to fight the Nazis.

Haugen's piece was commissioned by the San Francisco Girls Choir and first performed in its seven-movement version in 2004.

Zelkowicz says it's tonally, spiritually and lyrically accessible. Each of the movements is a direct quotation from the diary. They are arranged chronologically.

Frank was 13 when she wrote her first entry; 15 at the last one. She, her family and another family were living in a hiding from the Nazis in a secret apartment in a warehouse.

In the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, you can see some of the papers she put up on the wall, including a poster for the film “Ninotchka” starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas, and a map tracing with pins the progress of the Allied armies. Amsterdam was liberated only a month after she was captured and sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died.

“The composer selected the quotes and made them into something that really works as a dramatic vocal selection,” he says. “There are paragraphs about her nerves and anxiety, about how she wanted to be a journalist, about idealism and hope and about Peter, the 16-year-old boy who was living with her family.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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