To Be Certain of the Dawn: A Holocaust Oratoria

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | 7:30pm

Steven Zielke, Conductor
Oregon State University Choirs

  • Oregon State University Chamber Choir; Steven Zielke, Conductor
  • Oregon State University Meistersingers; Russell Christensen, Conductor
  • Bella Voca; Sanda Babb, Conductor

Children’s Chorus of Washington; Margaret Nomura Clark, Artistic Director
Cantor Arianne Brown
PostClassical Ensemble; Angel Gil-Ordóñez, Artistic Director

To Be Certain of the Dawn is a monumental 75-minute work for large chorus, children’s chorus, cantor, and full orchestra, composed by the late Stephen Paulus with libretto by poet Michael Dennis Browne.

The librettist’s notes on the oratorio best sum up the emotion and significance behind this, the Washington, D.C. premiere performance of the work:

This oratorio was commissioned by Fr. Michael O’Connell, rector of the Basilica of Saint Mary, and intended as a gift from the Christian community to the Jewish community. The first performance was at the Basilica in November 2005, a year which marked the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the death camps and the fortieth anniversary of the Vatican document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), which had much to do with the renewal of dialogue between Jews and Christians.

In Part One (Renewal), we hear from the chorus Christian grief at their failure to support Jews in the terrible ordeal of the Shoah and for many centuries of “the teaching of contempt.” We hear their desire for teshuvah—repentance, atonement, a return to the spiritual roots of their faith in Judaism. We also hear four blessings sung by the children: this is an example of the impulse to praise God, daily, frequently, even while storm clouds are gathering. We also hear from the cantor the Sh’ma and phrases from the Kaddish, as well as the introduction of the recurring theme “You should love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Part Two (Remembrance), the soloists sing dramatizations of four photographs taken from Roman Vishniac’s book Children of a Vanished World—glimpses of what Geoffrey Hartman calls “a vanished life in its vigor.” The chorus continues with more expressions of Christian remorse together with a wish to “grow and be known by our love.” We also hear quotation from the Nuremberg laws of the 1903s with their inhuman constrictions upon Jewish life. The section concludes with Hymn to the Eternal Flame, which is based on the children’s memorial of multiple reflected flames at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

In Part Three (Visions), several themes are woven: the desire for Jews and Christians to walk together in solidarity of interfaith in “the country of justice,” however scarred the world; divine promises as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures; quotations taken from interviews with three Minnesota-based survivors and the daughter of one survivor. At the conclusion, both choruses, together with the cantor, sing “You should love your neighbor as yourself” in Hebrew, and we hear the sound of the shofar, with which the work began.

-Michael Dennis Browne

  • Admission
  • Dates Offered
    • April 24, 2019 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm