Elie Wiesel once told this reporter that he lives in his memories. In his many books, the Nobel laureate has vividly recaptured the atmosphere of his childhood in Sighet, Romania, and his experiences during the Shoah and afterwards in France, Israel and New York.
This Saturday night, for the first time, fans of the writer will get to hear the soundtrack to those memories in a program titled “Elie Wiesel in Concert: Melodies and Stories from Long Ago.” (Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m., 92nd Street Y. See www.92y.org for tickets.)
At the 92nd Street Y, Wiesel will present his first (and only) concert featuring the music of his childhood. On the stage where he has given sold-out lectures for decades, he will sing the niggunim, wordless melodies, he heard from the Wishnitz chasidim his family prayed with, the folk tunes his mother sang to him, and other songs, in Hebrew, Yiddish and Hungarian.
He will also perform the songs he recalls from his days as a choir director at an orphanage in Paris in 1947 and 1948. He led several choirs, some with 30 to 40 boys and girls. “I loved that work,” he says, recalling that he considered attending a conservatory rather than university, but chose the Sorbonne.
Wiesel explains that these songs have been in his head for all of his life; he has sung them in private, to his son and at his Shabbat table. But he hasn’t heard others sing them in many years. The niggunim of the Wishnitz are different from those one would hear sung by other chasidim. These are the tunes he hums to himself.
As a child, Wiesel sang in a synagogue choir in Sighet. More recently, his singing in public includes leading services in his synagogue to commemorate the yahrtzeit of his parents and chanting the haftorah. At the concert, he will be accompanied by conductor Matthew Lazar, along with singers and an orchestra.
“I have niggunim and I want to leave them to my grandchildren,” Wiesel explains.
He decided to begin recording the melodies — the show will feature 20 of them — on his own. And when the renowned music producer Phil Ramone — who has worked with Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Liza Minnelli, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra, among others — heard about the project, he was inspired to produce the concert.