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„Annelies“ von James Whitbourn

Eine musikalische Adaption des Tagebuchs der Anne Frank

Annelies Und weitere jüdische Chor- und Ensemble-Werke, in deren Mittelpunkt die „Queen of Klezmer“ Irith Gabriely mit ihrem Quartett „Colalaila Classic“ steht.

Musikalische Leitung: Linda Horowitz

© Copyright Foto: bpk - Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte

Interview mit James Whitbourn, dem Komponisten von "Annelies"

Linda Horowitz: What was your own motivation in setting the words of Anne Frank’s diary in a large-scale oratorio?

Whitbourn: The idea was brought to me in 2002 by Melanie Challenger, who had the idea of instigating a musical work with the story of Anne Frank. It had evolved from another project she was involved in, which had taken place in Bosnia, and the original idea was to make a children's opera. As we worked on the proposal together, however, things changed, and the key moment arrived when we decided we should seek permission to use the actual diary text, not just the story of Anne Frank. This had not been granted before. It was a lengthy process, but with a wonderful outcome, and the chance to work on a musical setting of a libretto crafted from the actual diary text took the project to a different level. It left us with a great sense of responsibility, especially when we got to meet and work with Buddy Elias during the composition process. It began to feel like a much more personal response to the words of this young girl. Later, we also got to meet friends of Anne Frank who had survived the holocaust, and this strengthened the feeling further. When "Annelies" was finally completed, its first ever performance - even before the premiere - was the inclusion of three movements in the National Holocaust Event in the UK in 2005 - 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. Hannah Goslar - the friend Anne dreams of in the diary (and in the libretto) - introduced the work.

L.H.: I would also love to hear more about your collaboration with Melanie Challenger and about any other composers and events that may have influenced you during your work on the composition.

Whitbourn: The working relationship I had with Melanie Challenger was a close one, and we discussed every aspect of the piece together in great detail over many weeks. She is a highly intelligent and independent-minded writer, and her involvement was energizing. I think we had a mutual vision for the piece. The direction in which the project had moved after the access to the diary text was granted created its own set of influences. I was always aware that I was writing music to commemorate a young girl who had died in the 1940s, and this had a significant influence on the musical styles I would draw upon. It became more about writing music as though it were for an event, I think, and it is interesting that the piece has almost always been used this way so far. Indeed, the way you are using it is totally in step with what we hoped for. It has also been used in conjunction with the Anne Frank exhibition, with multi-faith lectures and programs and other events - rather than just a concert. No-one has ever insisted that this should be so, but people have come to this themselves and chosen to present it that way.

L.H.: Could you also reveal to me what you consider to be specifically "Jewish" musical aspects in the composition? Your lovely chorale-like arrangement of "Der Winter" and then the following shocking dissonance and cries of "Westerbork" remind me of the tragedy and beauty of Bach’s "Saint John Passion."

Whitbourn: While writing the piece, I became immersed in cultural Judaism, and although there is nothing in the piece that is directly taken from Jewish music, I think there is an influence that permeates the score, and it is something I felt deeply (and still do). I was also aware of the fact that the Frank family were essentially cultural Jews, for want of a better term. While being Jewish, they were also quite happy to celebrate Christmas Day, for example (even reported in the diary), and in that way share in cultural Christianity too. And they were German. Otto Frank fought for the German army in WWI and Anne Frank's mother, we are told, never felt comfortable in the Dutch tongue, and read Anne poems in German. Germany's culture is extraordinarily rich, and there is an unusual talent that has run through the veins of so many Austro-German musicians (not dissimilar to the unusual talent that so many Jewish musicians have), all of which was part of the Franks' heritage as Germans. So it seemed natural to include some music that also drew on Germanic craft and tradition: the chorale you mention and the hymn-like melody towards the end are the most obvious moments, but there are others too. This piece of text is one of the "inserts" not taken from the diary that Melanie included in her libretto. You mention the St John Passion. Melanie and I thought long and hard about the title of our work, and we thought of using the term "Passion" at one stage. Literally (meaning suffering), it is a very accurate term for the work, but the Christian connections were too strong to be appropriate and we decided against it. But nonetheless, it was part of our thought process and it is a useful reference at times in performance. In the end, the simplicity of using Anne Frank's real name, Annelies, seemed right.

L.H.: Accompanying the performance, our choir will be preparing an exhibition of documents related to Anne Frank, Jewish life in Frankfurt and your composition. With your approval, we would be delighted and honored to include your first letter of introduction to our choir and present anything else involving the work you choose to share with us.

Whitbourn: I would certainly be happy to help put together some relevant pieces for your exhibition. It is wonderful that you are placing the performance in context through the use of other visual material, in this case an exhibition. Such care can only enhance its potential as a piece to aid education and new thinking, which is what we hoped for.

L.H.: Amongst other musical moments in the oratorio (the "leitmotiv" clock chimes, the altered waltz, the "Eli, Eli" cry in "The Dream"), your choice of chant to deliver the impersonal and objective "reporting" of events at the beginning of movement numbers 10 and 13 is particularly fascinating. What led you to choose this style for these moments?

Whitbourn: I decided to use chant to differentiate these pieces of text that are not taken from the diary text. Chant is a stylized form of speech and its potential for a direct message is high. By placing them low in the male voice and giving them a choral sonority, they contrast with the direct text sung elsewhere by the choir, and of course most directly with that sung by the soprano soloist.

L.H.: Rehearsing your work with our international choir where, however, the majority of the members are Germans, is proving to be a very intense, emotional and rewarding experience for all of us. The Holocaust is still a very difficult subject for the children and grandchildren of Germans that participated in WW II, and through your music many of our members are able to confront and articulate their own reactions and feelings. Coming to Germany in 1980, I only planned to stay for a year of advanced conducting study. However, thirty years later and a career that has included singing around the world with Helmuth Rilling’s Gaechinger Kantorei and ten years conducting opera in German theaters, I am still here working as a conductor and teacher and attempting to create music capable of building bridges of understanding and healing historic wounds. Presenting your composition to a German audience, with its wonderful inclusion of musical citations very familiar to their ears, will be a highlight of this effort.

Whitbourn: Yours is such an important statement, and the principal motivation for writing the piece. Of course I can well understand that the holocaust is difficult for the descendants both of those who participated and those who suffered. I would greatly value any reflections on either subject that become available in the course of your project.

Das Interview wurde von Linda Horowitz, die die musikalische Leitung des German-American Community Choir e.V. innehat, mit Herrn Whitbourn geführt.


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