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James Whitbourn

Publisher: Chester Music

Annelies (2004)
Commissioned by the Mostar Foundation and the Jewish Music Institute
Text Writer
Melanie Challenger (compiled and translated)
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
1 Hour 18 Minutes
SATB plus concertante SATB
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Programme Note
James Whitbourn Annelies (2004)
Annelies is the first adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank into a large-scale choral work. It brings to life the diary written by Annelies Marie Frank between 1942 and 1944 when she and her family hid in the back of an Amsterdam warehouse. From the windows, Anne looked up to the beauty of the sky, and downwards to the brutality meted out by the Nazis. The contrasting sights inspired some of the most profound and memorable thoughts in an extraordinary diary, read by millions of people throughout the world.

Preview the score:

  • 19 FEB 2020
    Pollack Concert Hall / Montréal / Canada
    Chamber Ensemble
    Tracy Smith Bessette, soprano; Jean-Sébastien Vallée, conductor
  • 05 MAR 2020
    St Ann’s Church / Dublin / Ireland
    RIAM Chorale
    Blanaid Murphy, conductor
  • 14 MAR 2020
    Lory Student Center / Fort Collins / CO / USA
    Larimer Chorale
    Michael Todd Krueger, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15 March - Lory Student Center / Fort Collins / CO / USA
  • 15 MAR 2020
    Richardson Auditorium / Princeton University / USA
    Lily Arbisser, soprano; Ryan Brandau, conductor
  • 29 MAR 2020
    Church of St. Francis of Assisi
    Ottawa Choral Society
    Aline Kutan, soprano / Marjolaine Lambert, violin / Timothy McCoy, cello / Andrew Tunis, piano / Kimball Sykes, clarinet; Jean-Sébastien Vallée, conductor
  • 18 APR 2020
    SUNY Ulster / Stone Ridge / USA
    Ars Choralis
    Lily Arbisser, soprano; Barbara Pickhardt, conductor
  • 19 APR 2020
    Woodstock Jewish Congregation / Woodstock / NY / USA
    Ars Choralis
    Lily Arbisser, soprano; Barbara Pickhardt, conductor
  • 09 MAY 2020
    Theater Trier, GERMANY
    Philharmonisches Orchester Trier
    Jochem Hochstenbach, conductor

All who attended the premiere of Annelies, in a stirring performance by Clare College Choir, Cambridge, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, at the freshly opened Cadogan Hall in Sloane Terrace will have been moved by so direct and touching an evocation of the young diarist’s life and aspirations. Central to the evening’s success was the young soprano, Louise Kateck, whose singing of Anne herself, movingly free of sentiment and mawkishness, proved highly affecting. Much else was energised and inspired, not least the way lines sung in German — the language of the oppressor — in a rapturous passage as the family’s fear of eventual disaster gets heightened, is couched in the form of a Bach-like chorale, superbly intoned by the enlarged Clare College choir, whose singing brought the work so alive. Every line was audible, and the nuanced lines’ poignancy was further emphasised by the youth of the choir and the youthfulness of their tone. Two moments that put me in mind of the music of Arthur Bliss were especially effective: first, the delightful aubade Whitbourn includes near the start: “As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, how can I be sad?”, which beautifully underlines Anne’s unsuppressible optimism; and second, in the terrifying warlike music — “Open up! Open up!” — shades of Troy arming in Morning Heroes — which, midway through, anticipates the family’s ultimate betrayal and capture. When the terrible moment arrives, the onslaught is evoked not by dramatic outburst, but by sad male-voice chant, eerie bowed percussion, and drear chorale-like trombones: one of several moments where, by carefully eschewing the obvious, Annelies achieves all the more striking an effect.
Roderic Dunnett, The Church Times,22/04/2005
The world premiere of Annelies - the Anne Frank Oratorio gripped the audience from the outset. As the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra began to play, it soon became obvious that it was a fitting way to commemorate Anne's writing, mainly because hers is not just the story of one girl's insights. The music doesn't just represent her experiences, but what they epitomise: a universal tale of spiritual strength and the triumph of the human soul over its physical surroundings. And all the elements of Anne's diary were presented; you could still feel the claustrophobia of the annex on Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, as well as her longings for and fear of the outside world. Naturally, as the work is greatly condensed, we lose some of her discerning social commentary, but Anne's fortitude still shone through her words. Composer James Whitbourn structured the piece into 14 movements with Jewish folk melodies permeating it throughout. One of these movements, The Life in Hiding, recalls the tunes Anne would have heard on BBC radio at the time, with contemporary waltzes. Bells from the Westerkerk church in Amsterdam, near to the annex, punctuate the movements and serve to represent the passage of time. One of the oratorio's notable points is the gripping severity of some movements. When the Nazis break into the annex in The Capture Foretold, it is the orchestra's sweeping volume that shakes the audience together with the chilling depth that the choir, which often has the quality of a Greek chorus, hinting at the ordeals ahead. The threat of the family's eventual capture is ever-present and the theme of the break-in to the annex functions as a metaphor for the intrusion into a young girl's awareness of the horrors of prejudice and violence. This hint at an outer world of dark, unstoppable power comes to the fore in The Plan to go into Hiding, where the strings take on a relentless, sweeping grandeur similar to those of Wagner, ironically one of Hitler's favourite composers. It also served to highlight the dark forces that push this young girl from her home. Yet her spirit shines through this darkness. The words 'We must be brave and trust in God' were beautifully reproduced by soprano Louise Katech, clad in dress similar to that of Anne and sitting at a writing desk, while Anne's sadness is evident when she prays that God may comfort her persecuted friends. The final two movements include deeply poignant words that are lightly adapted from Lamentations and Psalms, which suggest the formal mourning of those lost. As the strings die away and Anne says, 'As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you'll know you're pure within', we are reminded that although she may have passed away, works like Annelies will draw people toward her writings for generations to come.
Alan O'Sullivan, The Baptist Times,14/04/2005
This fine requiem, using many Hebrew melodies, was superbly performed and made a powerful, deeply moving evening.
David Fingleton, The Sunday Express,10/04/2005
This new 80-minute oratorio based on The Diary of Anne Frank is an example of a job very professionally done and accomplished in performance. If at times it teeters perilously on the brink of sentimentality, it can also tug genuinely at the heartstrings. Melanies Challenger's libretto draws on the story of Anne Frank in a way that sensitively blends childlike innocence and adult understanding. The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most famous and widely read books of all time. Adapting it into an oratorio must have been a problem in itself, but Challenger has approached it with a poetic eye to the contrasts between the teenage Anne's reveries on the beauties of nature, her down-to-earth descriptions of the living arrangements in her Jewish family's hiding place in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, her observations on the nightly raids in her neighbourhood, and the constant fear of being found and led away. It was a mix of emotions that the soprano Louise Kateck conveyed poignantly. James Whitbourn's score responds directly to the text. Among his previous works are a Pentecostal cantata, The Hurricane, a large-scale piece commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima, and the music for the Queen Mother's funeral and the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Whitbourn is used to tackling the big issues, and his score for Annelies is nothing if not resourceful… he has pulled together his influences adeptly. He can draw on the manner of a Bach chorale just as easily as he can craft a 19th-century waltz ballad. He can make grand gestures or spin a sugary line from a violin solo. He can emulate plainsong with a skill in choral writing that would not have disgraced Vaughan Williams or Walton, and which the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, delivered with great panache. The orchestral writing is polished to the same degree. On a basis of juicy harmony and lush timbres, Whitbourn compiles a glossary of effects - tremolos for apprehension, drum taps for threat, brushes of the cymbals for cold, string glissandos for aircraft engines - in a way that can seem cinematic… the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin combined the diverse elements into a coherent context, and the standing ovation signified that the work had had its effect.
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph,08/04/2005
The composer James Whitbourn is a brave young man. It would take either genius or a very particular type of assiduous humility to pull this one off. With the help of Melanie Challenger's compilation and editing from the famous Diary, Whitbourn has assiduously and humbly carried the day. Both Whitbourn and Challenger wanted, like Britten, to be "useful, and to the living": Anne Frank, after all, voiced similar aspirations about her short life. While Annelies seems to me to add nothing to the power to affect of the Diary itself, at least it doesn't subtract. Whitbourn has artfully avoided the fatal snare of being reductive. For the 14 movements, which elide cinematically into one another, Anne Frank was sung by the soprano and uncanny lookalike, Louise Kateck. A writing desk was next to the podium; a piano, exquisitely played by Simon Lepper, was centre stage; and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, ably doubling as full, robust chorus and as focussed concertante choir, stood at the back. Whitbourn's skill at tuning his ear to Bach and Broadway, and to the Lutheran and Jewish cantorial traditions which link them, lifts the score above being merely a magpie pastiche. Melodies of a distinctly Jewish hue colour the entire work. They can be sung in Kateck's sweet, childlike soprano, with oboe or cello obbligato also conjuring spectres of Bach's Passion writing; or they can reverberate into a great choral sunburst, complete with cymbal. And when it comes to the birdsong, and the tingling of spring longing in the young Annelies, the solo violin magically fuses avian song and a sweet, high fiddling on the roof. The sound of church bells, the drone of aircraft (double-bass glissandi), and finally the stifling silence of the camps (bowed marimba) add discreet detail to a score whose respectful understatement is its greatest strength.
Hilary Finch, The Times,07/04/2005
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