You can't find a recording of Michael Tilson Thomas' "The Diary of Anne Frank." Ron Spigelman, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's associate conductor, doesn't think one exists.
It's strange, Spigelman admits, that although Thomas is now music director of the San Francisco Symphony and has made many recordings, his composition "The Diary of Anne Frank" is almost unknown. The work was commissioned by UNICEF in 1990. It was narrated by Audrey Hepburn. It puts a human face on one of civilization's worst tragedies.
Spigelman caught a performance of the piece in Fort Worth, Texas, and found it to be beautiful and moving.
"It's very obvious that Michael Tilson Thomas is in deep emotional contact with the story, with its hope and courage," he says. "He decided to tell the story in a way that was both foreshadowing what was to come and describing what was happening at the very moment in Anne Frank's mind as she was writing. She wrote down thoughts of horror, innocent thoughts, even thoughts of just being a teenage girl with bright hopes of the future. The music's moods change dramatically to reflect that."
The music and the emotions that Thomas relayed haunted Spigelman. He wanted to bring the piece to a wider audience. Sunday, as part of the BPO's Buffalo News-sponsored New Attitudes series, he and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing "The Diary of Anne Frank" in Kleinhans Music Hall.
Also on the program is music from the films "Schindler's List" and "Exodus." "Jewish Town (Krakow Ghetto -- Winter '41)" by Ralph Hermann will also be featured, as well as the Israeli national anthem.
The concert replaces the performance of the play "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," which was originally scheduled.
"We were committed to a program in remembrance of the Holocaust," Spigelman says.
For him, the subject hits uncomfortably close to home. Spigelman is the son of a Holocaust survivor. His father was a baby when the Nazis took over Poland, where he lived.
"My grandmother, my father's mother, was alive till I was 16," Spigelman says. "We talked a lot about it. She told me stories that not even my father knew. She hadn't wanted to tell my father. She felt the experience was traumatic enough. But she felt it was important to pass on what happened. The stories she told me were extraordinary, about people trying to survive, living in dumps, dressing up little boys as girls so they wouldn't check to see if they were circumcised. . . ."
Spigelman's family was able to escape through one of those crazy happenstances typical of the era. A guard let the family go because Spigelman's father reminded him of his own little boy.
The family's trauma is commemorated in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Maus," by cartoonist Art Spigelman, a distant cousin. He drew Spigelman's father into the novel as a crying baby. "I have strong emotions," Spigelman says.
"It was such a dark time, and it wasn't all that long ago," he reflects. "It's something people need to be reminded of."
That isn't to say that "The Diary of Anne Frank," or Sunday's concert, is morbid. "At the same time, it's a celebration of life," Spigelman says. "Anne Frank's diary was such a celebration of writing and optimism. It ends darkly, of course. But she very much lived for the present. That's what comes across in Thomas' piece. It's a wonderful affirmation of life, even in the darkest of times."
A special buy-one, get-one-free rate applies to tickets for Sunday's concert. Admission is $22, $18 and $14. With the half-price deal, the concert is an extremely affordable $11, $9 or $7.
For more information, call 885-5000.
Classics on Elmwood, the lively concert series that takes place in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, continues next Friday with a recital by pianist Beata Golec.
Born in Poland, Golec has won a number of awards, including third place at the Silesian Piano Competition held in Zabrze, Poland, in 1997. She was also a prize-winner at the 1998 All-Polish Composer's Competition for her piece "Polish Fantasy for Piano and Cello."
For her recital next Friday, Golec will play Mozart's mighty Fantasia and Sonata in C Minor, followed by two Debussy Preludes, "Ondine" and "Fireworks," and four piano preludes that she wrote herself.
The concert takes place at 8 p.m. next Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 695 Elmwood Ave. Admission is $5.