Sitting across from Ira Antelis over lunch one day last week, the conversation, as at nearby tables, was about tragic issues in the Middle East.
“Heartbreaking,” he said. “And in these difficult times, what we need is hope.”
Antelis is a man of seemingly boundless energy, enthusiasm and ideas, and his final concert will be on November 6 at the beautiful new concert venue Salt Shed near the North Branch of the Chicago River.
It’s called “We Are Here: Songs from the Holocaust,” a one-night-only event featuring dozens of local talents. “This is not a Jewish show,” Antelis says. “This is a show about humanity and coming together.”
He then explained how this came about and how it motivated him in 2016. Elie Wiesel’s death He began exploring the life and work of the Nobel Prize-winning author, activist, and Holocaust survivor.
Antelis discovered a book, more specifically a songbook, titled “We Are Here: Holocaust Songs.” It was compiled by Eleanor Mlotek and Malke Gottlieb and published in 1983. It had a foreword by Wiesel.
This is II. The collection of songs written in the shadow of the horrors of World War II was an epiphany for Antelis. “I know a lot about music because I’ve devoted my whole life to doing it and making it,” Antelis said. “But I never knew or imagined that songs were written in camps and ghettos and could survive there.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Antelis came here to make music in the mid-1980s, first doing so at Columbia College with esteemed composer William Russo. She has become one of the city’s most successful and acclaimed music producers/songwriters, working with artists such as Marc Anthony and Christina Aguilera. He was also a filmmaker and the mastermind behind hundreds of commercials, including “Be Like Mike” for Gatorade and “You Get What You Want” for McDonald’s.
He mentored a generation of young musicians like himself. nikki lynette.
“I’m used to doing many things at once,” he says. “I’m not looking to be rich and famous for this. It makes me feel good to know that I’m helping people.”
And as COVID-19 ravages the planet, created a website It was called the Beloved Monument, which allows visitors to contribute the names and photographs of loved ones lost to the disease. These became part of the gallery of the dead, accompanied by music.
In addition to all these activities, Antelis, who is married and has a teenage son, learned through his doctoral thesis in 2014 that 14 more songbooks were published in the post-war years, each filled with songs specific to the camp or ghetto.
“These aren’t all tragic songs,” Antelis says. “Even though most composers knew death was coming, they still created, and the songs they composed were not songs of sadness, but of love, family, and the world as a better place.
“Although these songwriters and composers could never have imagined that their songs would be heard 80 years later, this writing was an act of resistance but also a cry to the future.”
Luckily, he reconnected with an old friend while visiting family in New York. Rabbi Charlie Savenor, who was teaching a class on Holocaust memories at the time.
While talking about old times and current passions, the idea of collaborating on a Holocaust-focused project began to take shape as a concert. They take one song from each book and “honor the authors and people who put the songbooks together.”
“We Are Here” was first performed in April 2022 at Temple Sholom on Chicago’s North Side. The next performance took place in January at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
“It was amazing to see the lines around the block at Carnegie Hall,” Antelis said. “Three thousand seats and they were all full.”
Stars such as Harvey Fierstein, Joel Gray and Chita Rivera took part on the stage.
Antelis has many friends and many contacts in the music industry and has been able to spread the word “We Are Here”. “One person leads to another, which leads to another,” he says. “People have been very understanding.”
The Salt Shed stage will feature artists such as harmonic genius Howard Levy, guitar wizard Fareed Haque, high school choral groups, Steppenwolf Theatre’s Tim Hopper, Plain White T’s’ Tom Higgenson, Jake Lockett and “Chicago Fire’s” Miranda Rae Mayo. ”WTTW-Ch’s Paris Schutz. 11’s “Chicago Tonight” and many more.
“Ira showed me the music and wrote a beautiful melody for the sad song I was going to play,” says Schutz, a pianist and singer who plays with bands but mostly solo at local venues. “I am very proud to be part of this event. “I think it will add a new dimension to what is happening in the world today.”
Savenor will host it, saying, “The diversity of voices in the concert creates a choir of love and harmony at a time when we need it most.”
Presenters who will introduce the songs and offer some context and biographical information about the composers will include Bill Kurtis, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, Senator Tammy Duckworth and others. Proceeds will be donated to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
“We are looking for diversity,” says Antelis. “Howard (Levy) is Jewish, Fareed (Haque) is Muslim, and the rest of the participants have many different beliefs and emotions, all brought together to show that out of fear can come a sense of peace.”
“We Are Here: Songs from the Holocaust” Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m., Salt Shed, 1357 N. Elston Ave.; tickets start at $79 www.saltshedchicago.com