Palo Alto 16-year-old to perform from the Anne Frank rock opera he composed

With the ranks of survivors thinning rapidly and their children entering their 60s, and with the language of Jewish identity moving from trauma and survival to vigor and wholeness, some fear future generations will lose the ability to fully grasp the crushing impact of the Holocaust.

But that visceral connection is something music retains the power to forge, says a young composer who is one nation and three generations removed from the horrors of Nazism.

Julian Hornik, 16, has written a 90-minute musical based on the diary of Anne Frank. He terms it “a modern opera,” and he will sing three pieces from it as part of “Voices of Our Youth: Stories from the Holocaust,” a Yom HaShoah commemoration on Wednesday, April 18 at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.

Julian Hornik poses next to the Anne Frank statue in Amsterdam.

“One of my underlying reasons [for writing ‘Anne Frank — A Musical’] is that it is important not to float away,” said Hornik, a junior at Palo Alto High School. He wrote his musical from ages 13 to 16, which was roughly the same period during which Anne Frank wrote her diary. “With a musical it becomes accessible. Through that you can connect.”

Several summers ago, Hornik’s parents visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and brought back a copy of the book. He discovered something most of her legions of fans missed.

“There is something about Anne Frank’s writing, something musical about her entries,” he said. “I read through the whole book, putting Post-it notes on [key passages]. The lyrics [of the musical] are all in my words, except for that famous quote about believing in the goodness of people.”

The diary chronicles Anne’s thoughts and observations in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam while the Franks were in hiding. After the war, Otto Frank learned that Anne and her sister Margot died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and that their mother died of starvation. He campaigned vigorously to see that the diary was published.

Hornik made it a point not to see the play or the 1958 film version, both of which open with Otto Frank returning to the family’s former hiding place.

“Structurally, mine is really different,” Hornik said. “Certain areas are so important, there is overlap.” The musical, which is entirely sung through, is in the editing phase, he said, and needs a live run-through or two.

Writing a musical came naturally: Hornik, who plays the piano and ukulele, has been performing and singing in local productions for years, and he has been composing since he was 11.

He has performed with TheatreWorks, American Musical Theater of San Jose, Boston Playwrights’ Theater and the Really Useful Group. In 2008, Julian received a Bay Area Theater Critics Circle award for his portrayal of Noah in “Caroline or Change” with TheatreWorks.

He spent his freshman year at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass., and at Palo Alto High, he wrote a score for this year’s spring play — a version of “Much Ado About Nothing” set in the Summer of Love in 1967.

Writing a musical specifically about Anne Frank came naturally, too: The Holocaust was a primary interest of his grandmother, Sue Miller, a teacher at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito who challenged her students to craft essays and poems about it for an annual contest sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the East Bay. Miller also was a longtime teacher at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.

Hornik was 6 when Miller died in 2001. Her influence on him grows over time, he said.

He took care in striking the right tone when choosing songs for the April 18 commemoration, aiming toward uplift and away from hopelessness — “a way to keep alive Anne’s memory, and the memory of others lost in the Holocaust.”


“Voices of Our Youth: Stories from the Holocaust”
will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18 at Temple Isaiah, 3800 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette. Free. (510) 318-6453 or www.temple-isaiah.org. Julian Hornik musical samples are at www.soundcloud.com/julianhornik.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.