Internationally-acclaimed composer and conductor Carl Davis had been emotionally affected by the Kindertransport ever since his wife, actress Jean Boht, appeared in Diane Samuels’ iconic play on the subject in 1996.
The topic stayed with him, so much so that when he was commissioned to write a choral piece for the Hallé Orchestra’s children’s choir in 2012, he chose it as his theme – creating the song-cycle The Last Train to Tomorrow.
“The inspiration was architectural,” he explains. “The choir stalls in a conventional concert hall have the rectangular dimensions of a railway carriage and in my imagination I filled it with children gazing out at the audience as though looking at the passing landscape.
The combination of a large children’s choir and a train journey led me to the Kindertransport.” The London premiere, which is presented by The Association of Jewish Refugees on 9 November, will begin with a dedication to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The special one-off event – which will be attended by a VVIP and introduced by Natasha Kaplinsky – will also feature a performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and the Mozart Overture by City of London Sinfonia and a young soloist violinist from the Yehudi Menuhin School.
Nearly 10,000 children, aged between three and 17, fled Nazi- controlled Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia and came to Britain on the Kindertransport, which was established following the events of Kristallnacht in November 1938 and the start of the Second World War. Most never saw their parents again. Samuels’ play had a profound effect on Boht and Davis, who is Jewish and from New York.
He says: “As I attended many previews and subsequent performances, I felt I heard an inner voice saying there was something for me in this subject.
“It was the Hallé commission that provided the stimulus for this particular treatment. I decided to limit this telling of the story to the journey itself, but have the children recall the events that led to their being on the train.”
The song cycle consists of a series of poems moving the action forward and features spoken as well as song parts, which will be performed by the Finchley Children’s Music Group and told from the children’s point of view. Davis believes the Kindertransport is a great episode in English tolerance and open-heartedness.
“The persecution of minorities and displacement of entire populations is with us every day,” he explains. “The story of the Kindertransport shows us it is possible to help. And it is through the constant retelling … that the message is put across.”
• Last Train To Tomorrow is on at The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, on 9 November. To book tickets, visit http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2014/last-train-to-tomorrow/ and The Association of Jewish Refugees www.ajr.org.uk