Home Emotional music A moving memory of D-Day, in concert at the Kennedy Center

A moving memory of D-Day, in concert at the Kennedy Center

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There is a place for occasional performance – its function to celebrate a tribe, party or event; build community; or simply to remember a common history. The eyes of the world: from D-Day to Victory Day at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night, it was all that.

I thought I knew what to expect. Our nation’s capital abounds with these occasional festivities – our annual Memorial Day concerts and July 4th events culminating in explosive fireworks. Just downriver at the Lincoln Memorial, there was a concert that same night, italian operacelebrating Italians and Italian opera.

It was different.

“The Eyes of the World: From D-Day to VE Day” concert on June 4, 2022 at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Pepe Gomez.

For starters, there was something improvisational and delightfully chaotic outside the Opera House as groups and individuals, still emerging from COVID isolation, tried to find each other and find their tickets. The Gold Star mothers of more recent wars thronged with a restless generation of twenty-something students who had little knowledge of World War II, and they in turn with special guests such as the descendants of African-American women. unsung Americans who had joined the war effort and faithfully continued to deliver the mail to the troops in the weeks and months following the harrowing Normandy beach landings.

Officer Jonathan Sneed, on duty at the top of the red-carpeted stairs leading to the vast, chandelier-lit auditorium, entered the fray to rally and lead the troops. “HOV lane over here,” he encouraged, and so we “soldiers” found holes in the well-fortified KC lines.

The event was woven like fabric, part music concert of the time, part story telling of the events following the invasion and push against Germany, and part stunning photographic series projected on the scale of the proscenium from the “eyes” of the correspondents sent there. The stories of the core group of these writers included some of the 20e most famous personalities of the century: Ernest Hemingway, Robert Capa and Martha Gellhorn. Their involvement in the heart of the matter, including their interpersonal dramas, contributed greatly to the success of this woven multidisciplinary performance. There was even a surprise “player” revealed, someone who for most of the evening was simply referred to as “Jerry” (and I was duped, confused if we were talking about a German spy, later revealed that the guy was JD Salinger).

There was something deeply personal about the sentiment of the work, which was curated by historian John Monsky, who also skilfully narrated the evening. He had been captivated by World War II flags as a youth and had assiduously followed their journeys as living history and sacred objects. His enthusiasm was contagious. Each time he revealed the story of a flag that had flown over a particular landing craft, that piece of history was carried above the stage like a living relic, joining the others in a spectacular display that is their own, and we all wanted to clap at the end of a revered “character arc.”

It’s all in the details Monsky has put together: Eisenhower surveying the evening, he has to call D-Day or otherwise due to weather conditions, knowing he could lose up to 80% of his men in the operation; the 9,000 blue stars that turn to gold on that fateful day; Capa’s photos capturing the fear and desperation in men’s eyes – and the shrewd way he later recounts the liberation of Paris, noticing the elation on people’s faces, only to twist the knife as he tells us says most of the boys in the photo would die soon after making their way to Germany. Monsky is a historian who knows how to bring us emotional moment-to-moment encounters.

“The Eyes of the World: From D-Day to VE Day” concert on June 4, 2022 at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Pepe Gomez.

Singers Adam Jacobs, Kristolyn Lloyd, Kate Rockwell and Daniel Yearwood were all terrific delivering the numbers, mostly in quartet arrangements, from the tight harmonies of 1940s popular music to tunes made famous by more recent Broadway shows. .

I loved the rarer solos that enriched the sonic tapestry, like the unsettling opener to Kander and Ebb’s “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” sung in that high tenor’s sweet spot by Daniel Yearwood; Jacobs’ rendition of the galvanizing troops of a young merchant sailor Woody Guthrie, many of whom would face an untimely death, with “What are we waiting for?” accompanied on lead guitar; Kate Rockwell beckons with a tribute to Marlene Dietrich in ‘The Boys in the Backroom’; and a superb original rendition of “La vie en rose” by Kristolyn Lloyd. One by one, the interpreters gave life to the spoken text, like insertions that were too abrupt.

Conductor Ian Weinberger conducted St Luke’s Orchestra, for which he also arranged and even composed some of the music. It captures the shifting emotional landscape from the terrifying rise of Hitler to the foot-stamping big band sound of Glenn Miller entertaining the troops. (Although Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Chanel, cutting short the life of this remarkable musician, we are reminded that this phenomenon was the Beatles before the Beatles.) Then, throughout the music, Weinberger tells us helps through the agonizing push north and east into Germany: the Battle of Hürtgen Forest and the poignant ‘discovery of the camp’, liberating the death camps. Weinberger rearranges certain melodies such as “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” to be a rhythmic march to a dirge in the mud. He is a master at delivering highly theatrical music, and his skillful conducting of St Luke’s Orchestra draws maximum color from these musicians.

“The Eyes of the World: From D-Day to VE Day” concert on June 4, 2022 at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Pepe Gomez.

The eyes of the world: from D-Day to Victory Day It was meant to be an immersive experience, remembering what our country has been through, and as such it did very well. I had an uncle who was one of the few surviving D-Day paratroopers, but he was forever diminished and haunted by the experience. On behalf of this family of several World War II veterans and for many other families of veterans, especially now that this generation is all but gone, this work provides an important service.

Much of this period came as new information. As moving as it is as a live performance, it must also become a filmed event to touch future generations on our history. The words tell the story; music opens our hearts.

Duration: 90 minutes without intermission.

The eyes of the world: from D-Day to Victory Day was performed on June 4, 2022 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House, presented by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the New-York Historical Society.

The eyes of the world: from D-Day to Victory Day
Created and narrated by John Monsky
Musical supervisor, conductor and arranger: Ian Weinberger
Directed by Peter Flynn