For the past two years, soprano Kira Braun has been working toward fulfilling her dream of recording Oskar Morawetz’s From the Diary of Anne Frank.
Morawetz, who died in 2007, fled what is now the Czech Republic to Canada in 1940 to escape the Nazis. He was recognized as a leading Canadian composer from the mid-1940s onward.
Braun met Claudia Morawetz, the composer’s daughter, when they sang in the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus together more than four decades ago.
The girls became pen pals – the basis of a lifelong friendship – after Braun left the Toronto-based chorus (now the Canadian Children’s Opera Company) in 1975. She was 12, and moving to St. Catharines, Ont., with her mother, the principal flutist of the Niagara Symphony.
Braun ended up side-stepping a career in music and for the past 30 years has been an interior designer.
About four years ago, Braun heard the music world calling her back. She was welcomed, landing operatic roles and becoming an in-demand soloist.
Braun also contacted Claudia and asked her which of her father’s work would be suitable for her voice.
Claudia sent Braun From the Diary of Anne Frank, an 18-minute concerto for voice and orchestra that premiered in Toronto in 1970.
Oskar Morawetz waited until 1967 to read Anne’s famous diary, 15 years after the English edition was published. “I hadn’t wanted to read it after the war. I was too upset by the whole thing,” he wrote in the April 1974 issue of Canadian Composer.
The concerto’s text is based on an excerpt from Anne’s diary, where she prays for the safety of her friend, Lies Goosens, who, along with her family, had been arrested by the Nazis. “When I was writing this work, I came to one sentence which brought the whole thing back to me: ‘Good Lord… if only You could tell her that I think lovingly of her and with sympathy, perhaps this would give her greater endurance,’” Morawetz wrote.
“During the war, in which I lost many relatives, I had often thought (to) myself that if they at least knew that we were thinking of them, that would give them comfort.”
Braun described the music of Anne Frank as almost like the sound of a person crying. “It has dissonance that is very painful in quite a few places. It’s not painful to listen to, but it sounds painful. It’s got beautiful moments in it, too,” Braun said.
And it’s not easy to sing. “It’s difficult music, to be honest. It’s not the stuff I’ve been trained on, so I’m going to have to work very hard,” she added.
Although the music was composed for a mezzo-soprano, her vocal coach Brahm Goldhamer – the pianist for the recording – feels Braun’s soprano is right for the piece. “I was told by my coach that in my voice this music would be very suitable because I have a light lyric soprano voice and it’s more akin to the voice (Morawetz was) writing here – this is a 15-year-old girl,” Braun said.
Another plus is that Braun’s ethereal voice records well, as is evident on her sixth album, Damask Roses, with pianist Peter Krochak, featuring songs by Mozart, Dvorak and Roger Quilty.
Braun plans to pair the Anne Frank recording with works by other Jewish Canadian composers. So far, she’s considering Srul Irving Glick’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a cycle of songs to children’s poems from the Theresienstadt concentration camp
Reaching out to others in the music community for assistance, Braun has approached Leslie Dawn Knowles, first violinist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, who will help her find musicians for the studio orchestra. Braun has already lined up a conductor, David Bowser, who has led several Canadian orchestras.
Through Linkedin, Braun found a distributor for the recording, Victor Sasche, who owns the classical label Centaur Records, based in Baton Rouge, La.
The anticipated release date of From the Diary of Anne Frank and its performance is April 2020, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of the Second World War.
For more information, visit kirabraunsoprano.com.