MTT & The SF Symphony Triumph With The Heartfelt Diary of Anne Frank
Written by Mary Kluck
Over 30 million copies of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl have been sold, and on a recent Friday evening (November 16), a captive audience witnessed Michael Tilson Thomas’s (MTT) musical composition of the famous diary. Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in 1942, following Germans police roundup of Jews in Holland. During this time, thirteen year-old Anne kept a diary. The eight inhabitants lived in secrecy for over two years before being betrayed. Anne ultimately died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Her diary, describing their day to day life, as well as her hopes for the future and for the world, has become one of the most widely read works about the Holocaust and is a testament to the enduring human spirit.
MTT excels at building tension; transitioning the orchestra between passages of the diary as the family’s safety and isolation grew dire. His energy and enthusiasm is obvious; he grasped the rails for support as he threw himself into conducting the orchestra. His energy was infectious, and as we alternated from recited passages of the diary and the orchestra, we grieved, we triumphed, and we felt hope with Anne. The entire time we were spellbound, waiting for the next note. As much as sounds filled the hall, the absence of sound, the intentional silence, were as equally powerful.
MTT eloquently led us on a journey through Anne’s diary, and therefore her life. The composition is divided into four sections, and the mood of Davis Symphony Hall changed with each dramatic transition. We started with an introduction to the diary and to Anne’s imaginary friend. The tone was playful, harmonious, and simple. The section grew more menacing as Anne describes the fear and frustration of going into hiding. There is clearly despair, expressed by opposing harmonies, building into an aggressive rage. That subsides, and the audience calmed down. Anne wrote often about nature, and in the third section MTT’s evocative percussion and woodwind up-tempo was the perfect translation. In moments of fear, like when Anne wrote “many who wait for death” the bells acted as the natural death toll chime. We felt melancholic, as we’re all too familiar with the unfortunate ending of Anne and so many Jews during the Holocaust. However, while the fourth section took a somber tone, there was again playful optimism that is so characteristic of Anne’s writing.
This composition was written in 1989 as a vehicle for Audrey Hepburn, who was an ambassador for UNICEF. November marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was a treat to watch MTT perform this composition, but the timing serves as an important reminder to us that we not take for granted our freedoms. We have a call to action – to continue to work for, support, and champion equality everywhere. Much like the closing notes, we are left with tentative hopefulness and there is nothing like a magnificent night of music to lift the spirits and to bring some unity to all of us.
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