Saturday, April 12
Sunday, April 13

The Warehouse
1525 S. Rogers St

Bloomington Chamber Singers presented the regional premiere of James Whitbourn’s Annelies on Saturday, April 12 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, April 13 at 3pm, in a site-specific performance at The Warehouse, 1525 S. Rogers Street, Bloomington. Gerald Sousa, in his 25th year as Artistic Director of the Chamber Singers, conducted the sixty-voice choral ensemble. The role of Anne Frank was sung by Elizabeth Toy, a professional soprano completing her doctorate in voice at the Jacobs School.  Joining Sousa and Toy was a distinguished quartet of chamber solo musicians who provided the instrumental foundation for Whitbourn’s remarkable score.

British composer James Whitbourn’s Annelies is the first adaptation of the Anne Frank’s diary into a major choral work.  Whitbourn, a graduate of Magdalen College, University of Oxford, began his musical career in the BBC, for whom he has worked as composer, conductor, producer and presenter. His compositional output has achieved acclaim for its direct connection with performers and audiences worldwide and for its ability to “expand the experience of classical music beyond the edges of the traditional map of classical styles.”  Several seasons ago, BCS performed to great acclaim Whitbourn’s Son of God Mass, scored for the unique and remarkably effective sonority of chorus, organ and soprano saxophone.

Whitbourn originally conceived of Annelies as a work for chorus and large orchestra, and it had its first complete performance in that version on 5 April 2005 in London, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.  Following that performance, Whitbourn rescored the work as chamber music, replacing the orchestra with a quartet of violin, clarinet, cello, and piano.  In its recast form, the work takes on a intimate, transparent, and vulnerable quality, poignantly reflecting Anne’s isolation and inner struggles as she confronts her loneliness and fear,  all the while seeking to retain her trust in hope, truth, and goodness.

Annelies is structured as a sequence of fourteen chronological vignettes, beginning with the Franks’ plan to go into hiding, and ultimately ending with their capture and final transfer to the concentration camp.   The diary itself, and Whitbourn’s intensely expressive musical vocabulary, inspire profound reflections on issues that are universal and relevant in our time.   BCS presented Annelies as a dramatic, multimedia work, with hundreds of images projected during the course of the work, compiled and sequenced by BCS Artistic Director Sousa.  The venue for the evening, The Warehouse, is just that—a huge warehouse in Bloomington that was in the process of being converted into a youth center.  The open expanse and stark atmosphere of the vast space was chosen specifically to provide an immersive environment for Whitbourn’s music.   Our work on Annelies has fostered a number of collaborations with other local and regional groups, including local schools, religious organizations, and the Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, which loaned exhibit material that was displayed before and after the performances.

The 65-minute work was performed in English with supertitles without an intermission.

Annelies Reviewed

Peter Jacobi, Arts Reviewer for the Bloomington Herald-Times, wrote the following (April 15, 2014):

For 24 years, Gerald Sousa has challenged the Bloomington Chamber Singers with musical assignments that should have been beyond their abilities. After all, the choir consists of amateurs who give of their time and energy after hours in an endeavor set apart from their professional pursuits and qualifications….

At the center of the performance was Elizabeth Toy, a soprano from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, whom many of us have seen in IU Opera Theater productions. She was this production’s Annelies, and she was remarkable in projecting, through music and manner, the unquenchable faith that this young girl exhibited throughout the years of hiding, the innate goodness she sustained right to the end, when the world around her turned into horror and hell. Toy’s voice embraced the role, both Anne’s engaging youth and the beyond-her-years maturity that circumstances forced upon her.

Sousa’s devoted choristers sang with tremendous fervor and cast a spell unbroken until, after the final notes and a long silence, the applause rang out.

The instrumentalists — violinist Muriel Mikelsons, cellist Adriana Contino, clarinetist Iura de Rezende and pianist Alice Baldwin — were marvelous, adding to the sought-for moods demanded by story and music.

A remarkable occasion!