The Catholic University of America

July 1, 2009

CUA Performance at Holocaust Conference Draws Applause and Tears

Concert by Music School Dean Presented at Former Concentration Camp in Czech Republic

 

Dean Murry Sidlin directs a rehearsal of the June 30 production of "Defiant Requiem" at Terezin.

On June 30, the dean of Catholic University's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music and 120 singers, including about 85 CUA students, faculty and alumni, performed on simple risers in a dusty, barnlike hall in Terezin, a small town about 45 miles northeast of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic.

There, for the second time, Dean Murry Sidlin led a performance of his award-winning concert/drama "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín," the story of the Jewish prisoners who sang in defiance of their Nazi captors.

The end of the performance drew applause, tears and even stunned silence as chorus members and orchestra filed out of the filled hall, according to Sidlin. Abandoned for 60 years, the hall was used by the Nazis during World War II.

Also, under Sidlin's direction, seven CUA orchestral students joined the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Associate Professor of Drama Gary Sloan performed the role of Rafael Schächter, the conductor of the Jewish singers who later died at Auschwitz. Soprano Sharon Christman, CUA associate professor of music, performed as one of four featured soloists. Joining the musicians on the trip were CUA's Provost James Brennan and Dean of Graduate Studies James Greene.

"I'm so proud of our students," said Brennan after the performance. "The students were outstanding on the world stage," he said, adding that in addition to the musical experience, "they take with them a life-changing educational experience."

 

Associate Professor of Drama Gary Sloan prepares for the role of Rafael Schächter.

CUA musicians first performed Sidlin's concert/drama at Terezin in May 2006. Their well-received performance three years ago led to an invitation to perform a second time at Terezín, Sidlin says.

Rising sophomore Maoti Gborkorquellie described the experience of performing at Terezin, where Jewish prisoners sang more than 60 years ago, as "moving" and "unbelievable."

The concert/drama was staged on the final day of the international Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, which began on June 26 in Prague.

In 1943 and 1944, Jewish conductor Rafael Schächter assembled a chorus of 150 imprisoned Jews from the Terezín camp. They engaged in 16 performances of Verdi's "Requiem" for an audience of other prisoners, Nazi SS officers and German army staff. Although his chorus periodically was decimated by deportations, Schächter would rebuild the group, teaching all of the performers from a single copy of the "Requiem."

Sidlin said, "Our chorus comprised of current students and alumni, faculty and guests, sang to the heavens to illuminate the triumph of the prisoners of Terezin: the best of mankind who conquered the worst of mankind through Verdi's great Requiem score.

 

The chorus, which includes about 85 CUA students, faculty and alumni, rehearses with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

The Latin text of the "Requiem," with its themes of deliverance - which the prisoners interpreted as liberation - and God's laws of love, compassion and justice, allowed the Jewish captives to sing to the Nazis what they couldn't possibly say to them. Sidlin's presentation incorporates archival footage, chorus survivor testimonials on video, and actors playing the roles of Schächter and other prisoners as well as Verdi's complete score to tell the story of the conductor and his chorus.

The conference is a follow-up event to the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets that was held at the Holocaust Museum in 1998. The aim of the conference is to help resolve matters of dispute over property that was confiscated during the Holocaust and to raise awareness and encourage education about the Holocaust.

On the day of the performance, diplomats and representatives of 47 nations met at Terezín to sign a declaration pertaining to restitutions, restorations and a pledge of greater Holocaust education around the world.

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

In April 2004, Sidlin presented "Defiant Requiem" at CUA's President's Festival of the Arts.

MEDIA: To interview Murry Sidlin, dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, reporters should contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy 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.