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Zane Zalis Photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, October 10, 2011


Zane Zalis 's " I Believe" Holocaust oratorio which premiered in 2009 with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, several soloists and a chorus of 180 singers, has since been featured at a gala concert for the World Religious Leaders G8 Conference in Winnipeg in June 2010.

Now, Zalis's work will receive its Toronto premiere at Roy Thomson Hall on Oct. 25. Zalis was in Toronto earlier to perform excerpts of the oratorio along with his two lead soloists, Kesley Cowie and Marc Devigne,at several “parlour sessions” that were hosted by a volunteer committee devoted to spreading the word about I Believe.

Several Winnipeggers such as Myra and Arnold Frieman, who were pivotal in ensuring the premiere of Zalis's work in Winnipeg, as well as Marsha Cowan, CEO of the Jewish Foundation and Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Centre for the Study of Antisemitism will be in Toronto to attend the Toronto premiere of "I Believe."

As Zalis told the Winnipeg Jewish Review after an abridged version of "I Believe" was performed last year, "It was a very moving experience to have the Eckardt-Grammate Hall filled with religious leaders, delegates and observers from around the world listening to I Believe...Although I Believe is about the Holocaust, the work is universal in its approach and outlook on hate and genocide.”

In fact, to enhance its universal message, in Zai's's work, the words ‘Jew,’ ‘German’ and ‘Nazi’ are not included anywhere in the lyrics, which Zalis claims was a deliberate choice on his part.

“The work is made up of twelve different chapters that when performed sequentially comprise a cohesive show… I Believe. I have spent the last 4 years of my life working on this [composition],” Zalis said before the Winnipeg Premiere in 2009.

When asked in 2009 about his musical background Zalis, responded to this reporter with a smile “I am a Ukrainian Catholic boy who played the accordion at five years old…and I also received a Bachelor of Education majoring in music and history.”

In 2008, Zalis was a guest presenter at a conference put on by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. “It was a very positive presentation. A Holocaust educator from Durban South Africa [who was at the conference] is interested in potentially bringing the show there. My goal is for symphonies around the world to present the show,” he said.

Zalis is of the view that that in order to properly teach the message of the Holocaust, it is important that it be understood not merely as a subject of interest to the Jewish people, but to all of humanity. “If we are going to maintain remembrance of the Holocaust in the significant proportions it merits and warrants, then it must be taken to a universal arena… I am a big believer in the power of the arts to break through walls and barriers…Music for me is a transcendent language.”

"The music for I Believe can’t be categorized and is constantly changing and malleable,” said Zalis, who wrote the melody first and then the lyrics

In 2009, when "I Believe" first premiered in Winnipeg, Bob Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and one of the event’s organizers said, “Every seat in the [2,200 seat] hall was sold out, and we had 250 people on a waiting list.”

Holocaust survivor Arnold Frieman was the first in the Jewish community to be deeply moved by hearing an excerpt of Zalis’ powerful musical composition. He and Zalis developed a strong kinship, and Frieman told Zalis his personal story.

Through Frieman and other supporters of the project, in 2009 the Jewish Federation sold 500 tickets at $250each, ensuring that the $100,000 cost of putting on this elaborate Winnipeg premiere with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra was covered.

Nona Leibl, Frieman’s daughter, told this reporter at the time that the concert “has awakened many latent memories for my father that have come to the surface… He has told us more about his experiences during the Holocaust in the last two weeks than he has throughout his entire life.”

Gina Geurtin, Frieman’s other daughter, and one of the co-chairs of the event, noted that organizers “were even able to raised enough money [about $60,00] to ensure that the concert was professionally recorded… "

To read more about Zalis in Toronto this past June, click here:

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.