ChoralNotes, September 2019


  • Houston Chamber Choir's 24th Season Begins THIS WEEKEND!
    Annelies, the first major choral setting of The Diary of Anne Frank is officially SOLD OUT! Six Pack Subscriptions and Four Pack Subscriptions are still available for purchase without Annelies!

  • We're Racing to Raise $60,000 Between Now and September 30!
    Add your name to our dollar-for-dollar $30,000 matching gift challenge! Your support ensures our expanded concert season, additional education outreach initiatives, and a prestigious trip to New Zealand are a success!

  • Exclusive Interview: Dr. James Whitbourn
    Hear directly from world-renowned composer James Whitbourn, and special guest joining us for Annelies, the full-length choral work based on the The Diary of Anne Frank.

  • Meet Houston Chamber Choir's Newest Choral Conducting and Non-Profit Administrative Intern
    Our distinguished internship program serves local choral musicians at a professional level. Help us welcome Emily Jenkins!

To download this issue, click here!

Exclusive Interview: Dr. James Whitbourn

Dr. James Whitbourn, world-renowned composer of "Annelies," the full-length choral work based on the The Diary of Anne Frank.

April Harris: Dr. Whitbourn, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. How has your Summer been? Any exciting projects?

Dr. James Whitbourn: It’s been very busy - exhausting but fulfilling. I direct the Oxford University choral summer courses and was delighted to welcome a number of students from Texas on one of them. All excellent young singers! Also, after eighteen fruitful years publishing with Chester Novello, I changed publishers and now work with Oxford University Press on new compositions, so that move played a big part in shaping the summer.

AH: Next month, you will be joining Houston Chamber Choir in presenting Annelies, the first major choral setting of the Diary of Anne Frank. What do you hope those who hear this work will take away?

JW: Over the years I’ve learnt not to limit my expectations or be predictive. I am always astonished at the range of reactions. But I hope people - as her family told me they did - recognize Anne in this musical portrait.

AH: Wow, what a stirring affirmation to receive from Anne’s family. I, without a doubt, am certain the audiences in Houston will sense her as well, throughout the concert. We're thrilled to have you in town for this amazing collaboration with the Holocaust Museum Houston. Have you ever been to Houston before? Texas?

JW: I’m thrilled too. I have been to Houston before but not for twenty years now. I came last to visit NASA and interview Charlie Duke - the 10th human to walk on the moon and someone involved in the first moon landing. I was presenting a programme for the BBC at the time.

AH: How cool! Are there any other activities unique to Texas that you are looking forward to exploring? Perhaps trying some Houston BBQ or TexMex restaurants?

JW: Now you’ve whetted my appetite - they sound good!

AH: Oh, it IS good! I’m a fairly new resident, but I can confidently say that Houston is in a league of its own when it comes to food! My favorite for BBQ so far has been The Pit Room, in the Montrose neighborhood. I highly recommend it! Now that I've got you hungry for Houston, let's discuss the upcoming concert series more. Annelies will be the first concert performed at the newly renovated and expanded Holocaust Museum Houston. Are there any differences from past performances in how you will prepare for this concert series?

JW: I very much look forward to visiting the museum and will do so before the concert. I will come to Houston with an open mind, ready to join the people of this great city as they are at this particular time. I expect my experience to be shaped of course by the museum and those involved in its work but particularly by the energy and reactions of the singers of Houston Chamber Choir, Robert Simpson and the instrumentalists who are preparing to present Annelies. The energy and personalities of the audience will also be a big part of it. Each performance of this work is personal and distinctive. It is a privilege to know that this concert will be the first of its type in the newly-expanded museum.

AH: How did the Annelies project first develop? Was it suggested to you or did some event or circumstance bring it to your mind?

JW: It was the idea of Melanie Challenger, who as a young poet had the idea of doing something with this story and approached me about it. The final piece took on a very different shape from her original concept, though, after hours and hours of discussion between us, but also through the extraordinary privilege of being granted access to the diary text itself - which had never been previously granted for any such work. The subsequent involvement of Anne Frank’s remaining family and friends became a big influence.

AH: How did you prepare yourself musically and emotionally to undertake such a deeply meaningful project? Has this piece changed you in any way?

JW: I’m not sure I was fully prepared for it, but the piece certainly changed me. Working with this subject matter over a period of three or four years had a profound effect. One of the things that made it possible was that the diary text does not continue after the capture and so it comes from the period when her family still had a small degree of freedom within their hiding place. What happened next was unspeakably harrowing - literally, I suspect: even now, many of the details remain unspoken. It so happened that at the time of writing, my two daughters were roughly the age of Anne Frank when she was writing her diary. Just for that period of my life, therefore, I was quite well attuned to the mindset of young teenage girls and I am certain that this coincidence influenced my music.

AH: Did you feel the need to visit "The Secret Annex"?

JW: Yes. I was very fortunate to be allowed to visit the house one morning before members of the general public were admitted. Having the place entirely to myself for a period of hours and hearing its silence were important to me. I just sat that there for quite a while and listened.

AH: Have you been surprised by any responses to Annelies?

JW: I think at the heart of any reaction is that fact that this young woman wrote a brilliant and personal account of this period of her life. It contains humour along with penetrating observations on the human condition. Anne Frank knew a great deal about what was happening in the world and we still have so much to learn.

AH: Thank you again, Dr. Whitbourn. We hope you enjoy your time with us and look forward to the entire experience!