Christian Grube knows firsthand the terrors of wartime. As the current crisis in Ukraine escalated, it brought back the conductor and artistic director of Santa Cruz Chorale’s childhood memories of living through World War II in Germany.
Grube and his wife Karen knew they had to act, and quickly made plans for the Chorale’s upcoming Ukraine Benefit Concert for the children of Ukraine. Grube has guided the Chorale, along with guest orchestras and soloists, through memorable performances in Santa Cruz for the past 16 years—and that was after his retirement as a full-time choral director in Berlin. He is also no stranger to creating benefit concerts. Along with Karen—a Bay Area native who met her future husband while at school in Germany, and is a soprano with the Chorale—Grube has a long history of organizing benefits that also succeeded as diplomatic exchanges during his years as a professor of music and choral conducting at the Berlin University of the Arts. Founding the university’s Chamber Choir, Grube toured the world with precedent-setting performances that brought his choral groups to Eastern Europe.
“The first benefit concert we did,” the maestro recalls, “was in Moscow for victims of the Armenian earthquake.” It was the beginning of the era of cultural exchanges between East and West, allowing Grube’s choral groups to forge close relationships with other music groups “desperate to have a taste of freedom.” When the Berlin Wall came down, many of Grube’s singers and their colleagues in East Germany were able to once again sing together. Because of the diplomatic influence of his strategic benefit performances Grube was awarded in 1995 Germany’s highest civilian honor, the National Medal for Distinguished Service.
The Ukraine crisis comes at an especially poignant moment for the Grubes, who lost their home and all their belongings in the CZU fire of 2020.
“We are experiencing the impact of that loss on a daily basis,” he admits. “Watching images on TV of the unbelievable tragedy unfolding in Ukraine made us all feel absolutely helpless.”
But against all odds, and in the midst of rehearsals for a challenging May concert, Grube and his Chorale quickly added the Ukraine benefit to their schedule. Knowing that there would be little time to rehearse, Grube chose music familiar to most of the Chorale singers.
“With music, we are not helpless—and the entire Chorale wholeheartedly agreed. Our concert will give the community an opportunity to support the Ukrainian cause with generous financial donations, while the healing power of music will hopefully help lift our own spirits,” he says.
An uncompromising conductor, Grube knows that a concert of powerful and inspiring music is capable of moving both singers and listeners alike. “Music has healing power, absolutely. It can lead us into a peaceful feeling. Music, even stronger and deeper than the words themselves, goes straight to the soul.” By taking part in this musical invocation of peace and hope, “we are doing what we can for those so desperate for freedom,” he says.
Known as a programming perfectionist, Grube has chosen exquisite prayers for peace from centuries past, including the Gregorian “Da Pacem Domine”; well-loved psalms from “Elijah,” by Mendelssohn; “Shalom Aleichem,” by Aldema; the breath-taking “Kyrie” and “Agnus Dei” by Josquin; “Call to Remembrance,” by Farrant; and others to fill the 45-minute performance. The audience will be invited to add their voices at the end of the concert, singing the familiar round, “Dona Nobis Pacem—“give us peace.”
Santa Cruz Chorale will perform a concert in support of Ukraine on Sunday, March 27, at 4pm at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz. Masks and proof of vaccination are required. Admission is by donation, with all proceeds going directly to Save the Children to support their current humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Donations can also be made at the Santa Cruz Chorale website santacruzchorale.org—when entering donation details, click “add a special message” and enter “Ukraine Benefit.”