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Inside a once-secret nuclear reactor, music of war, horror and hope

Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will perform Sept. 8-10 at Hanford’s historic B reactor.
Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will perform Sept. 8-10 at Hanford’s historic B reactor.

Mid-Columbia Mastersingers gave a groundbreaking set of performances last fall at Hanford’s historic B reactor.

In a couple of weeks, the acclaimed choral group will be at it again.

This time, the Mastersingers will perform Annelies by composer James Whitbourn.

The cantata is based on the writings of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl whose chronicle of her time spent hiding from the Nazis has touched millions.

Annelies was Anne’s given name.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8-9 and 3 p.m. Sept. 10 at the B reactor. Tickets are on sale now.

mastersingers main (bw)
Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will perform Sept. 8-10 at Hanford’s historic B reactor. Courtesy of Casie Davidson

The piece is powerful, evocative, melancholy, challenging and beautiful, said Justin Raffa, artistic director.

The music’s text comes from Anne’s diary, kept during the two years the teen hid with her parents, sister and four others in a “secret annex” in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Anne and the others eventually were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Only Anne’s father survived.

Raffa chose the piece for the concert months ago, but it’s become especially timely now, he said.

We’re reminding people, this is what actually happened. Here are the facts. This is what went on. We challenge people to decide on their own, what does that mean for us today?

Justin Raffa, artistic director for Mid-Columbia Mastersingers

“We’re reminding people, this is what actually happened. Here are the facts. This is what went on. We challenge people to decide on their own, what does that mean for us today? What is our responsibility in 2017, when these kinds of Charlottesville marches happen?” he said, referring to the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

It challenges us to ask, “What is our obligation as a community? What is our obligation as individuals?” Raffa said.

The choir will be joined by a chamber orchestra and guest soloist Renee Heitmann, a soprano from New York City.

Concert-goers should be prepared for a moving time in a striking, unique setting.

The B reactor was the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor. It produced plutonium for the Trinity Test, which was the first-ever nuclear detonation, and for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, that helped end World War II. Now decommissioned, it’s part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which has sites at Hanford and in New Mexico and Tennessee.

The Mastersingers’ shows last year were the first-ever full concerts inside the B reactor, and were believed to be first-ever choral concerts in such a space anywhere in the world.

Tickets went quickly, and the shows earned rave reviews. Raffa said it was “a transformative kind of experience.”

“I think it’s really extraordinary to be in there,” he said.

The facility was never designed for public access, he noted. It was a secret place, a secret project.

And now, 70-some years later, the public can see it, can walk inside it, can experience art and beauty within its walls, Raffa said.

The Sept. 8-9 shows are for people 21 and older and will include alcohol service. The Sept. 10 show is open to all ages.

Tickets are $65, with a portion of proceeds going to the Hanford Unit of the national park.

Tickets must be purchased in advance and are available at mcmastersingers.org or at the Mastersingers office, 1177 Jadwin Ave., Richland, from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays through Thursdays.

Attendees must bring photo ID to the concert and will travel by bus from the B reactor visitor center.

Food and drink will be available at the performances, catered by Ethos Bakery & Cafe.

Along with the Annelies, the choir has several other inspiring performances coming up, from a Latin American celebration to a show dedicated to works by African American composers.

After the November presidential election, “a number of us arts leaders in the community sat down together and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ We see so much division at the national level. What is our responsibility as artists? How can we help our community deal with these difficult issues? How can we help people have these conversations?” Raffa recalled.

Nearly all of the Mastersingers’ programming this season will deal with that in some way, he said, starting with Annelies and the B reactor shows.

Raffa hopes they’ll not only spark thought, discussion and engagement, but something more.

“I would hope it challenges people to act, to think about what is our individual and collective communal obligation to respond when we see great injustices take place,” he said. “I hope we can challenge people to talk, to think deeply, and to motivate them to do something about it.”

For more information, call 509-460-1766, email info@mcmastersingers.org or go to mcmastersingers.org.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald

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