Anne Frank’s birthday inspires music festival’s theme of heroes, heroines

Anne Frank’s birthday inspires music festival’s theme of heroes, heroines

Cantor Elizabeth Shammash sings the role of Anne Frank.
Cantor Elizabeth Shammash sings the role of Anne Frank.

Eighty-five years ago, one of the world’s most famous autobiographers was born.

“Anne Frank: A Living Voice” is a lyrical tribute to the spirit of the young woman who spent two years hiding in an office attic during the Holocaust, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival — co-sponsored by The Holocaust Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh — brings the story to life on Monday, May 19, at Rodef Shalom.

“The music brings her writings to life vividly in ways that a private reading cannot,” said Aron Zelkowicz, founder and director of the festival. “[Michael Cohen’s ‘I Remember’ and Linda Tutas Haugen’s ‘Anne Frank: A Living Voice’] capture the hope and idealism of Anne’s ‘Diary of a Young Girl,’ while communicating her anxieties and growing pains.”

The current year — a milestone for Anne’s voice — fits neatly into the festival’s original theme, “Heroes and Heroines,” an umbrella that meshes with Haugen’s creative intent.

“June 12 is the 85th anniversary of Anne Frank’s birth, [and] it is appropriate that her life and legacy be remembered and celebrated, especially as we are continually reminded that intolerance and discrimination remain with us in 2014,” composer Haugen said of her piece that premiered in 2004. “An understanding of the tremendous suffering of the Holocaust and the lessons of hope and compassion revealed in Anne Frank’s story remain vital in today’s world.”

Frank was 15 when she died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The work, Haugen said, includes lyrical vocal lines, strong harmonies and emotional string-quartet writing. For years, the Jewish Music Festival team waited for the green light on telling Haugen’s highly acclaimed Anne Frank story through music.

“The Pittsburgh School for Choral Arts and its director, Kathryn Barnard, had coincidentally been hoping to perform the Haugen work, so it was decided that we would collaborate and make it happen this year,” Zelkowicz said.

When the curtains go up, the audience can expect to be moved by the concert, sung in English and Hebrew, with translations and photography projected behind the musicians performing beneath subtle lighting effects.

“[It will be] an evening-length musical experience,” Zelkowicz said.

Highlights of the evening will focus on varying degrees of creative interpretation.

“I Remember” features an emotional 25-minutes of voice, flute, harp and cello portraying Cohen’s loose take on Anne’s diary entries, with Elizabeth Shammash, cantor at Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, Pa., singing the role of Anne; Haugen’s text and vocals are taken directly from the English translations of the “Diary.” 

In addition to the words of Anne, the show will feature poetry written by Hannah Szenes, an international heroine who was parachuted into Yugoslavia by the British Army to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz, only to be captured, tortured and eventually killed.

As the performance comes to an end, those watching will be privy to an a cappella medley of “Lo Yisa Goy,” “Shalom Chaverim,” and “Hinei Ma Tovu,” an appropriate close to the evening with a prayer for peace that Frank and Szenes so fervently wished for, Zelkowicz said.

Peace is something Haugen also wants as a farewell.

“Otto Frank, Anne’s father states: ‘I hope that Anne’s book will have an effect on the rest of your life so that insofar as it is possible in your circumstances, you will work for unity and peace,’” Haugen said. “It is my hope that ‘Anne Frank: A Living Voice’ will also be an inspiration to this end.”

For information and to purchase tickets, which range from $10 to $20, visit the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival’s website:

(Bee Schindler can be reached at