Local composer brings ‘voices’ of the Holocaust to life

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Composer Michael Shapiro, former conductor of the Chappaqua Orchestra, will perform his latest work, “Voices,” in Bedford on November 9.

About 25 years ago, when Michael Shapiro was a music consultant at the American Holocaust Museum in Washington, he found a book of Sephardic poetry about the Holocaust.

The text of the poetry was in several languages ​​- Italian, Spanish, French, among a few others. More than two decades later, this discovery will serve as inspiration for Shapiro to compose his last work.

Shapiro sat down and wrote the piece which he titled “Voices”. Deborah King, who is artistic director of Ember Choral Arts and conductor of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, urged him to write what he described as “my requiem.”

“Through his good graces, his influence and his benevolence, I was inspired to write this and wrote it in seven months,” said Shapiro, the former conductor of the Chappaqua Orchestra who remains its laureate conductor and continues to live in Chappaqua. “It just slipped my mind, and I can tell you it’s one of my most accomplished works, no doubt about it. I think it will have an immediate impact.

On November 9, area residents will have the opportunity to hear the world co-premiere of “Voices” at the Shaaray Tefila Temple in Bedford. The show will feature the Ember Choral Arts, the American Modern Ensemble, conducted by King, and tenor Daniel Mutlu, the principal cantor of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue and one of America’s preeminent cantorial voices. The following evening it will be performed at the central synagogue.

The performances coincide with the 84e anniversary of Kristallnacht, a pogrom against the Jewish people in Germany, which is often seen as the start of the Holocaust.

Shapiro said the just over an hour long choral and chamber ensemble reflects the many musical styles, languages ​​and voices of the Jewish people.

But “Voices” is more than a memory of the six million lost or honored Sephardic Jews, those whose origins can be traced to the Mediterranean rather than Europe. It’s a cautionary tale with the rise of right-wing extremism in countries around the world, including the United States, Shapiro said.

“I see this piece as a warning, a human rights warning to the world that I can give as an artist,” Shapiro said. “What happened is that yes, six million of my fellow citizens were brutally murdered. You cannot compare the Holocaust to anything else, which was brought about by the country most civilized world, the German army, which is just crazy when you think about it – and there have been other genocides since.

The work, which opens and ends in Hebrew, begins with “Ani Ma’Amin” (“I believe”), which is attributed to Azriel David Fastag, who composed the piece in a cattle car en route to a Nazi death camp. . One of the other people on board survived by jumping off the train and brought the music to a chief rabbi when he arrived in Israel.

“I’m hopeful in this piece, and I think I’ve been successful in giving voice to those who don’t have a voice, whose voices have been destroyed,” Shapiro said.

The final part is “Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, our King, hear our prayer”) and he weaves in “Hatikvah”, the Israeli national anthem towards the end. In between, listeners will listen to music in other languages ​​and styles.

Shapiro, who now conducts orchestras around the world, hopes the piece will be remembered not just for the music but also for the message, which people from all walks of life can enjoy.

“So I hope my piece will last beyond me and be heard by a generation a hundred years from now,” Shapiro said.

For those wishing to attend the November 9 program at the Shaaray Tefila Temple, you can register to purchase tickets by visiting www.shaaraytefila.org. Tickets are free but a donation is requested.

The program will also air Nov. 10 on the Central Synagogue’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. Both programs begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by a Q&A session.

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