The Catholic University of America

May 23, 2006

CUA Musicians Perform 'Defiant Requiem' to Full House in Terezín

NPR Covers Concert Chronicling Jewish Prisoners' Defiance of Nazi Captors

Dean of Music Murry Sidlin leads CUA musicians in a rehearsal in Prague before their performance at the former Nazi concentration camp at Terezín.

Musicians from the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music drew national and international attention May 21 for their standing-room-only performance of Music School Dean Murry Sidlin's "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín" at the 61st Annual Prague Spring International Music Festival.

The group of 156 musicians, most of them from CUA, performed at the former Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic that inspired Sidlin's award-winning concert/drama about Jewish prisoners who performed Verdi's "Requiem" as a way of secretly defying their captors.

A story about the Terezín concert ran May 22 on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. To hear the story, click on

At the Terezín camp northeast of Prague, in a building once used by the Nazis for storage, Sidlin conducted the singers and instrumental musicians, fulfilling his dream of presenting the concert/drama where interned conductor Raphael Schächter led a prisoner chorus in 16 performances of Verdi's score.

"The concert was magnificent," Sidlin wrote in an e-mail from Prague. "The audience was stunned by the quality of our students' performance. Even with a full house, there was absolute silence and then tears at the end of the concert."

The concert featured 130 musicians from CUA, as well as members of The Washington Chorus, the New York City Opera and the Cathedral Choral Society. The CUA entourage also included 23 friends of the music school.

CUA's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music was invited to perform at Terezín as part of the 61st Annual Prague Spring International Music Festival, a showcase for outstanding performing artists, symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles since 1946. According to Sidlin, the festival invitation is one of the few ever extended to a music school anywhere in the world.

"Catholic University has earned the privilege of performing at Terezín," Sidlin added. "We have extraordinary students and faculty who have worked incredibly hard to make this happen."

Dean of Music Murry Sidlin with photo of Terezín conductor Raphael Schäcter

On May 22, the day after the "Defiant Requiem" concert, cellist and CUA associate professor Michael Mermagen, graduate student Kyung Lee and guest violinist Herbert Greenberg, along with vocal soloist Sharon Christman and pianist Ivo Kaltchev, performed at a chamber music concert featuring selections by Nazi-era imprisoned composers.

The concert took place at Terezín's Ghetto Museum and included a panel discussion led by Sidlin with surviving members of the original chorus.

"The concert is a tribute to the bravery of prisoners who performed despite constant hunger, exhaustion and the systematic deportation of chorus members to Auschwitz," Sidlin said. "It's been my dream to have chorus and orchestra members from the school of music present 'Defiant Requiem' at the site of such incredible heroism."

The site of the CUA presentation was just one of several festival venues in and around Prague. Terezín, known during World War II by the German name Theresienstadt, now serves as a memorial to victims of Nazi political and racial persecution during the occupation of the Czech lands in World War II.

Terezín, which is located about 45 miles northeast of Prague, housed many artists and scholars and was maintained by the Nazis for propaganda purposes. The Germans allowed the prisoners to pursue their creative and intellectual work as a way of deceiving the outside world but out of sight the Nazis forced them to perform slave labor.

A Red Cross delegation visited the camp in June 1944 and left with the impression that the prisoners there and at other internment centers were treated well.

"Defiant Requiem" chronicles the story of Schachter who trained more than 150 fellow prisoners to perform the Verdi composition in 1943 and 1944. The Latin text of the "Requiem," with its themes of God's justice and liberation, allowed the prisoners to sing to the Nazis what they couldn't possibly say to them.

The concert is based on Sidlin's research, which he pursued after stumbling upon an obscure book called "Music at Terezín" while browsing in a Minneapolis bookstore in 1994.

The concert incorporates Giuseppe Verdi's powerful score with archival footage as well as video of dramatic commentary and survivor testimonials.

"Defiant Requiem" was first performed in April 2002, when Sidlin was resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony; the performance was taped by PBS and has been aired twice across the country. The production won the Bronze Plaque at the 51st Columbus International Film and Video Festival and the New York Film Festival's Gold World Medal, its top award for television programming and promotions.

MEDIA: To interview Murry Sidlin, dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, reporters should contact Katie Lee or Chris Harrison in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.

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The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is the only university music school in the Washington, D.C., area. It offers both undergraduate and graduate programs of study in performance of instrumental music (including chamber music and orchestral studies), piano, voice (including choral music and opera), composition and theory, musicology, conducting, musical theater, music education, voice and piano pedagogy. The music school designs programs and curricula that inspire young musicians to be imaginative in developing audiences, in providing musical service throughout communities, and in connecting with the evolution of American arts institutions.

The Catholic University of America, an institution of higher learning in Washington, D.C., is unique as the national university of the Catholic Church in America. Founded in 1887 and chartered by Congress, the university opened as a graduate and research institution. Undergraduate programs were introduced in 1904. Today the private and coeducational campus has approximately 6,100 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in 11 schools of architecture and planning, arts and sciences, canon law, engineering, law, library and information science, music, nursing, philosophy, social service, and theology and religious studies.

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Media contact(s):
· Chris Harrison, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600,
· Katie Lee, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600,