PUSH explores themes of invasion, loss and the redeeming power of human kindness. Written by internationally-acclaimed composer Howard Moody, the opera was inspired by the true story of Simon Gronowski.
Howard Moody and Simon Gronowski will both attend the Chichester performance which has been organised by the same team, led by city councillors Clare Apel and Martyn Bell, which in January 2015 marked Holocaust Memorial Day in the city with a tribute to former Chichester Member of Parliament John Abel Smith who campaigned so effectively for religious and political freedoms in the mid-1800s. Martyn, also a key figure at the Oxmarket Gallery, is delighted to confirm that the night before the Cathedral performance, Gronowski will talk about his life at Chichester’s Oxmarket Gallery (Friday, January 26, 7pm). Oxmarket admission is free but strictly by ticket due to limited seating. Tickets are available from The Oxmarket, St Andrew’s Court, off East Street.
Martyn and the team were approached by the cathedral to stage the opera last spring; they have been rehearsing since last August, bringing together a large community choir of around 75 adults and 25 children. The adults come from a range of different singing backgrounds and societies including the Chichester Singers; the children come from a range of schools. There will also be three soloists from the University of Chichester, plus the University of Chichester Orchestra conducted by Crispin Ward.
“The opera was commissioned for and first performed at the Battle Festival in October 2016, marking the 950th anniversary of The Battle Of Hastings. PUSH is based on the true story of 12-year-old Simon Gronowski who was pushed off a death train bound for Auschwitz by his mother, after members of the Belgian resistance managed to slow the train down. Simon was given shelter by the local population and survived the war. His mother and sister died in the gas chambers.
“The story is relevant to other more recent genocidal horrors including those in Sebrenica, Cambodia and Rwanda and also the child refugees from Syria.”
Martyn added: “Since 2015 the city of Chichester has held a commemorative event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. In 2016 the world-renowned conductor Carl Davis led the University Orchestra in the performance of Last Train to Tomorrow in the Cathedral to a packed audience. This was chosen also to commemorate the life of Sir Nicolas Winton who had just recently died and who had, almost single-handed, saved 669 children.
“For January 2016, the team, now working with the University of Chichester and Chichester Cathedral, then organised the production of the opera Last Train to Tomorrow conducted in person by its composer Carl Davis, and then Conspiracies – the Evil and the Good film screenings at New Park Cinema on January 27 2017.”
Martyn believes the more you reflect on and commemorate what happened, the less likely it becomes that it will happen again: “I am optimistic. Certainly in western Europe, we have got a much greater understanding now.”