Chayim Frenkel and Meir Finkelstein, both sons of Holocaust survivors, wanted to offer up a different kind of commemoration for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. What they had in mind, they say, was to focus on the triumph of those who survived, and on Jewish liberation through history.
The result, after more than a year and a half of planning, is an evening-long work, the "Liberation '95" Symphony, which comes to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion tonight. With forces including Hollywood's Billy Crystal and Bob Saget, an orchestra of 85, the 120 singers of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, a children's chorus from the Crossroads School, Melissa Manchester and other soloists, the 14-movement choral symphony will be conducted by Keith Lockhart, the new music director of the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Frenkel, a cantor, and Finkelstein, a cantor and a composer, both stress the uniqueness of their event. "Up to now," says Frenkel, who is co-producer of "Liberation '95," "there has not been in Holocaust commemorations an opportunity to celebrate life. This is such an opportunity: a chance to rejoice in the success of the Holocaust survivors, Jews and non-Jews alike.
"We can never forget the past," he says. "That's why we note this 50th anniversary. But this is a statement for the future, a triumph of the spirit."
Finkelstein, who composes Jewish liturgical music and scores for television (among his credits are episodes of "Falcon Crest" and "Dallas"), says that the text for "Liberation '95" have been drawn mostly from the Bible, primarily the Psalms, with some original lyrics as well. He characterizes his musical style as "classical fusion," its roots coming out of classical models, "but eclectic, running the gamut of styles."
According to Los Angeles public relations executive Michael Sitrick, who has served as co-chair of the event and its fund-raising effort, tonight's performance wouldn't have been possible without the help of "dozens and dozens of volunteers."
The event has multiple producers, and a letterhead that lists as honorary chairs President Clinton, Governor Pete Wilson, Mayor Richard Riordan and Simon Wiesenthal, among other notables.
Sitrick estimates that the cost of "Liberation '95" is in the neighborhood of $500,000. "We are now pretty well finished with raising money for this performance," he said, two weeks before the performance, with contributions coming from "both the Jewish and non-Jewish community . . . from private and public areas." Any monies collected in excess of costs, according to Sitrick, will benefit the Museum of Tolerance at L.A.'s Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The symphony's presentation tonight will include documentary footage of the liberation of the camps, and narrators, among them Crystal and Saget, will read from letters of liberators and survivors that are part of a "commemorative journal" that audience members and "Liberation '95" donors will receive. A tribute to Israel's slain prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, is also planned.
Although both Frenkel and Finkelstein are happy to see the event they dreamed up become a reality, they are also working on its future.
"As of this moment," notes Finkelstein, "we have tentative dates in other cities, like Cincinnati and Boston."
* Conducted by Keith Lockhart, the "Liberation '95" Symphony will be performed tonight at 7:30 p.m., in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 365-3500. Tickets: $25-$200.