Bass-baritone Mark Glanville, opera singer and author of an honored memoir, "The Goldberg Variations," has enjoyed a lifelong passion for Schubert lieder and affection for Yiddish songs. When he began introducing Yiddish and Hebrew songs successfully into his classical recitals, it was not long before memories of family members murdered at Auschwitz materialized. So it was that he awoke at 3 a.m. one morning envisioning a cycle of songs with a Holocaust context. That revelation would soon evolve into "A Yiddish Winterreise: Elegy for a Vanished World."

'A Yiddish Winterreise: Elegy for a Vanished World'

If you go
Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 10
Info: $38; 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324 or
Pre-concert lecture by James Loeffler, "Not Your Grandfather's Yiddish: The Sublime Art of Yiddish Song," North Atrium Foyer, Roof Terrace level, 6 p.m.

During his first meeting with pianist Alexander Knapp at Westminster Synagogue to perform classical Jewish music for high festival days, Glanville discovered that Knapp was a scholar and arranger of Jewish music. Thus began their partnership in developing the song cycle that receives its American premiere at the Kennedy Center.

"The Holocaust always figured significantly in my sense of who I am and where I'm from," Glanville said. "Schubert's 'Winterreise' is about a man wounded in love and reminiscing wistfully as he travels away from his beloved. My hero has just witnessed the destruction of his world, Vilna, the great Jewish city liquidated by the Nazis in 1941 and the home of my father's family.

"It made sense that my hero would be a professional singer, someone I can identify with, so we start the program with a favorite song of mine traditionally performed by a badchen [wedding singer]. This is the last thing the protagonist sings before the ghetto is destroyed. When he arrives on stage, he is in trauma, so he uses songs to reminisce about the world he has lost and lift himself up."

The words and melodies Glanville chose to parallel the sad journey taken by the Schubert protagonist are traditional Yiddish art songs. Some of them are upbeat, but as the cycle progresses, the terrible things he has witnessed, including the murder of his children, are revealed. In the end, he becomes mad with grief and calls on his own father as if he is a child himself.

Knapp, who arranged all but one song in the cycle, points out that the Yiddish language has a medieval, oriental flavor with an intonation different from German. The last song, sung in Aramaic, is associated with funerals or memorials.

Following the Washington concert, Glanville and Knapp will perform the work in New York and Chicago.

"I have been moved by the backing we have received from the German Embassy in London," Glanville said. "The German ambassador gives the introduction to the CD, an eloquent and moving piece. We have used the program to raise awareness of modern genocides and people displacements, in particular in connection with Darfur. To see a number of Darfuris in the audience at one performance [confirms] the contemporary relevance of what we are doing."