Keeping it real: Harmonium to sing ‘Annelies,’ the story of Anne Frank, March 1 and 2 in Morristown


The story of Anne Frank has been told on stage and screen, adapted from the powerful diary that has been a staple of junior high school reading lists for generations.

Yet familiar as this teenager’s tale of undying hope has become, it’s in danger of losing its intimacy. Decades of veneration may relegate Anne Frank to a lofty pedestal–or a dusty shelf known as “History,” worries Anne Matlack, director of the Harmonium Choral Society.

Anne Frank in May 1942.

Anne Frank in May 1942.

And so she will lead the choir this weekend in Morristown for two performances of Anneliesa 75-minute musical treatment of The Diary of Anne Frank  by British composer James Whitbourn.

“The Holocaust is a huge thing, and there is a lot of good mandatory stuff taught in schools,” Anne Matlack acknowledges.

“But the farther we get away from it, and the farther our children get away from it, it’s like ‘History.’  But it’s family history, not something that happened to someone else! It happened to someone just like you, who felt just like you. We’re all in this together.”

Annelies will be performed at the Morristown United Methodist Church at 8 pm on March 1, 2014, and again at 3 pm on March 2. General admission tickets are $25; for students and seniors, the price is $20.

A pair of young music teachers, Laura Winslow on Saturday and Rachel Clark on Sunday, will sing the words of Anne Frank, adapted by librettist Melanie Challenger. Most of the cantata is in English; portions are in Dutch and German.

“Annelies is beautiful, it is emotional, it is sometimes frightening and often very intimate,”  Anne Matlack writes in the program notes. “The work straddles the achingly fine line between the horrors of the war and the hopeful and creative spirit of the young Anne.”

Accompanying the 85-voice Harmonium chorus will be Ruth Zumstein on violin, Marnie Kaller on cello, Dorothy Duncan on clarinet and John Pivarnik on piano. Images from the Nazi-occupied Amsterdam of Anne Frank’s youth will be projected with the music, a presentation prepared by Harmonium members Margot Jackler and George Aronson.

Another Holocaust-inspired piece, Mark Miller’s I Believe, will conclude the concert. Anne Matlack describes the short selection as uplifting, and predicts the audience will leave with a smile.

MUSICAL GENES: Anne Matlack conducts her daughter, Grace, in the Harmonium Choral Society. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Anne Matlack will conduct her daughter, Grace, who solos this weekend with the Harmonium Choral Society. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Still, that finale should hit close to home for the conductor. The soloist is her daughter, Grace Van Cleef, who at 15 is the same age as Anne Frank when the Frank family was betrayed and forced from its cramped attic hiding place to Nazi death camps.

Anne Frank’s mother Edith and older sister Margot perished, as did Anne; her father Otto survived Auschwitz and pushed for publication of a diary that has come to symbolize the indomitable human spirit in the face of crushing oppression. Anne Frank aspired to be a novelist or a journalist; posthumously, she became both.

This weekend almost certainly will stir strong emotions within Harmonium, which sang at Auschwitz in 2002. A number of Harmonium members lost relatives in the Holocaust, Anne Matlack says.

Music, contends the Yale-educated conductor, is uniquely able to convey the innocence of youth…and the grown-up terror of a knock on the door.

In his Naxos CD liner notes on Annelies, composer James Whitbourn says Anne Frank morphed from a literary figure into his contemporary during the three years he worked on the cantata. Over time

…it seemed to me almost as though I were putting together the music for the family’s memorial service. I have often advised people on their choice of music for memorial events, and I have always noticed that, however adventurous and experimental the person is in life, when it comes to key events, they revert to something simple, tonal and melodic. Never do I recall anyone asking for a 12-tone composition to be performed at their funeral. Annelies was to be a kind of Requiem: Too Christian a word to adopt in the title, but true in the essence of what was sought. It was to be a commemorative work, not only for Anne Frank, but for those by whose side she lived, those she watched with penetrating eyes, and, tragically, those who shared her fate.

The Morristown United Methodist Church is at 50 South Park Place.

The Harmonium Choral Society will perform at St. Peter's in Morristown on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9.

The Harmonium Choral Society will perform ‘Annelies’ at the Morristown United Methodist Church on March 1-2, 2014.



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