The anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation is bringing Minneapolis musicians together.
University of Minnesota landscape architecture professor David Pitt joins other area professionals — from aerospace engineering to nursing and law — in the male chorus, called the Apollo Club, to present a show on Tuesday commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz.
“We hope that in the audience, whether Jewish or not, we can generate a certain sensibility about the liberation itself,” Pitt said.
Sean Vogt, artistic director and conductor of the Apollo Club, said he started planning the concert “Liberation of Auschwitz” shortly after visiting the concentration camp during a trip to Europe. The show is scheduled on the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
“I told [organizers] that I don’t care what day of the week it falls on, [January 27th] is when we’re doing the concert,” Vogt said. “I think that because you don’t hear very much about the liberation event, doing an event on the day that it happened will probably be more memorable for people.”
Members from the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, along with Four Voices String Quartet, accompany the chorus.
The musicians will premiere James Bassi’s “Five Prayers” — an oratorio based on five Hebrew prayers and specifically written for the occasion.
Vogt interwove other musical pieces and narratives into the concert’s repertoire, which he describes as a “musical menorah.”
The music’s mood starts out light, symbolizing life before the war, he said, and then the sonic palette grows darker as the war begins and progresses.
It ends jubilantly to represent the liberation.
Aaron James, baritone soloist and Apollo Club arts administrator, said by participating in the show he gained a new understanding of the Holocaust.
“I want to try and feel everything that’s put into [the music I play] and communicate that,” James said.
While preparing for the concert, he read an excerpt authored by retired University professor and Holocaust survivor Robert O. Fisch called “Light from the Yellow Star,” which recounts the author’s time in a concentration camp.
“I had been working on this music for months and trying to feel like I [could] be that voice in the wilderness,” James said. “But it really all came from an academic point of view until I actually read some of [Fisch’s] day-to-day life in the death camp. It just struck me like a thunderbolt.”
Vogt said throughout the rehearsal and performance process the chorus aimed to maintain an appropriate portrayal of Jewish culture.
Vogt explains the composition and nature of each line, Pitt said, which is especially important considering the majority of the text is Hebrew.
The Apollo Club gave tickets to members of the 101st Airborne Division, which helped liberate concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas Steve Hunegs said about 7,800 Minnesota soldiers died fighting in World War II.
And over 300,000 men and women from Minnesota served in the forces, he said.
"We use the [anniversary] to remember all the contributions of the allied armies,” Hunegs said.
Hunegs said the JCRC donated 20 tickets to Hillel, the University of Minnesota Jewish Student Center.
Benjamin Varhula, president of the Hillel student board, said he plans to attend the concert.
“We’re just really happy that [the Apollo Club] is putting this thing on,” he said. “We think it’s really important to support them.”
Vogt said 5 percent of the concert’s proceeds will go toward JCRC.
“It was a very generous offer on the part of the Apollo Club,” Hunegs said, adding it would further Holocaust education efforts.
Performers, specifically James, expressed gratitude for the experience.
“It’s not been a pleasure but an honor to be able to sing and bring this experience to the Twin Cities,” he said. “And that experience is one of joy and of liberation from [World War II], this horrible thing.”
What: “Liberation of Auschwitz”
Where: Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 S. 4th St., Minneapolis
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday