A thunderous standing ovation rewarded Berkley High School orchestra and a cappella choir students Tuesday evening for their world premiere performance of "My Name is Anne Frank: A Cantata."
Composer Volker Blumenthaler and lyricist Alexander Gruber, both from Germany, joined Holocaust survivors, parents and officials representing Berkley and Huntington Woods in the audience at Berkley High's packed auditorium.
The cantata kicked off a series of events the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills will hold to celebrate its acquisition of one of 11 saplings from the chestnut tree that stood outside Anne Frank's window in Amsterdam and gave her hope as she hid during World War II.
BHS Orchestra Director John Robertson and Choral Director Julie Anne Smith directed the tribute cantata. Hazzan Daniel Gross of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills and Cantor Penny Steyer of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield Township joined the students as featured soloists.
"I'm really impressed at (the students') level of preparedness and their performance," Gross said during a dress rehearsal earlier Tuesday. "This is not easy music and they're doing it greatly.
"I think anything we can do to bring awareness to the Holocaust is vital," he added. "I think it's crucial we teach it in schools. We can't rely on firsthand testimony from survivors for much longer and, unfortunately, there are still those who deny it."
Blumenthaler, the composer, said he was surprised by how engaged the students were with the piece.
"They feel so emotionalized by the theme and Anne Frank; it brings them closer to history," he said. "History is something distant and now it is close to them because Anne Frank would have been a friend."