The Catholic University of America

May 3, 2006

CUA to Present 'Defiant Requiem' at Former Nazi Concentration Camp

Concert by Music School Dean Chronicles Jewish Prisoners' Defiance of Nazi Captors
Dean of Music Murry Sidlin with photo of Terezín conductor Raphael Schäcter

Catholic University Dean of Music Murry Sidlin will present "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín" Sunday, May 21, at the former Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic that inspired his award-winning concert/drama about Jewish prisoners who performed Verdi's "Requiem" as a way of secretly defying their captors.

At the Terezín camp northeast of Prague, in a building once used by the Nazis for storage, Sidlin will conduct 156 musicians, most of them from the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, 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 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 a tribute to the bravery of prisoners who performed despite constant hunger, exhaustion and the systematic deportation of chorus members to Auschwitz," said Sidlin. "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 May 21 concert will feature 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 includes 23 friends of the music school.

CUA's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music has been 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."

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, will perform at a chamber music concert featuring selections by Nazi-era imprisoned composers.

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

The site of the CUA presentation is 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 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.

Sidlin will leave May 14 for Prague.

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, harrisoc@cua.edu
· Katie Lee, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600, leect@cua.edu