Carl Davis: Composer's Kindertransport homage

Premiere of Last Train To Tomorrow
Image caption Some of the children were disturbed by the story

The heart breaking journey more than 10,000 Jewish children made to flee Nazi persecution might sound an unlikely subject for a children's choir.

But that was the suggestion award-winning conductor and composer Carl Davis made when he was commissioned to write a choral piece for the Halle Orchestra's children's choir.

The Kindertransport saw thousands of the children evacuated from countries such as Germany and given a home in Britain, the only country that would house them.

"At first I thought it was a very interesting idea although it might be difficult for the children because it was ancient history to them," said John Summers, chief executive of the renowned Manchester-based orchestra.

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Media captionInge Goldrein

He added: "The more I thought about it, the more I thought about the need to teach them the history as part of this project."

American-born and Jewish, Davis was inspired to write about what he calls "an exceptional story" recalling how his actress wife Jean Boht (better known as Nellie Boswell in the BBC sitcom Bread) had appeared in a play called Kindertransport.

Children's challenge

"I thought about this for a while and started remembering things I knew about Kindertransport, there was something in the story which struck me in a creative way," said Davis, who wrote the theme tune for the ITV documentary The World At War.

He added: "We know that many of the parents of these children did not survive and you are confronting inside yourself, asking yourself as a composer, how am I going to write the notes that will tell this story?"

Davis was convinced he needed words to go with the music and he spoke to children's writer Hiawyn Oram.

"Her first response was 'Carl do you really want to do this to yourself?' I replied, 'yes, yes I do.'"

The work Last Train To Tomorrow also needed older youngsters to voice the words and young actors from the Manchester Metropolitan University joined the the 80- strong children choir to tell the story dramatically.

But learning the work was quite a challenge to the children according to Halle Children's Choir director Shirley Court.

"Some of the children were quite disturbed at the thought of how the Kindertransport children left their parents - one or two just didn't make the performance because they were quite affected by it," she said.

However any reservations were overcome when the children heard from Ann Cohen, a Manchester woman who was a Kindertransport child.

'Amazing change'

"That was amazing," said Ms Court. "It completely changed their perception."

Image caption Carl Davis said the Kindertransport was 'an exceptional story'

Mrs Cohen said: "I lived through it again and the children were lovely."

Survivors of the evacuation who have seen the work say it is not just as a musical history lesson but a warning on the evils of racism.

Kindertransport survivor Inge Goldrein, said of the work: "I didn't really know what to expect but it was an absolutely wonderful piece. They made you feel the panic that the refugees felt.

"People might feel they were going to a concert but once they were there, they were being educated."

In the week of Holocaust Memorial Day and ahead of December's 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport John Summers, the man who commissioned Davis's piece is convinced he made the right call : "From every perspective it was a much richer and deeper project than I ever hoped it could be.""

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