The Catholic University of America

June 11, 2009

CUA to Perform at Holocaust Conference in Czech Republic

Concert by Music School Dean to Be Presented at Former Concentration Camp
Dean of Music Murry Sidlin conducts his concert/drama at Terezín in May 2006.

On June 30, for the second time, the dean of Catholic University's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will lead a CUA student performance of his award-winning concert/drama in the former Nazi concentration camp where the work is set.

Dean Murry Sidlin will conduct a performance of "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín" that will feature a chorus of 120 singers including about 85 Catholic University students, faculty and alumni. Also, under Sidlin's direction, seven CUA orchestral students will join the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Soprano Sharon Christman, CUA associate professor of music, will perform as one of four featured soloists.

CUA musicians first performed Sidlin's concert/drama at Terezin - a small town about 45 miles northeast of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic - in May 2006. Their well-received performance three years ago led to an invitation to perform a second time at Terezín, Sidlin says.

They will stage the concert/drama on the final day of the international Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, which takes place from June 26 to June 30 in Prague.

"We are very privileged to have been invited again to perform a work steeped in Catholic liturgy that the Jewish prisoners of Terezín drew strength from for their defiance and resistance of the Nazis," Sidlin says. "The prisoners' story is a compelling drama of answering barbaric behavior with high art: responding to the worst of mankind with the best of mankind."

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."

"To present Verdi's score and the story of the prisoners who sang it in Terezín at an international Holocaust conference - the world stage - is a humbling and astonishing opportunity to illuminate for our students all these dimensions of injustice and the prisoners' dramatic sense of religiosity and spiritual guidance," Sidlin adds.

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 solve 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 will meet 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. Members of the Terezín Memorial Foundation participated in the festival. Among those visiting were Czech Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra and Jan Munk of the Czech Ministry of Culture and director of the Terezín Memorial Foundation.

After seeing "Defiant Requiem," Munk asked Sidlin to bring the production to Terezín in 2006. At that time, 156 musicians - 130 of them from the music school - performed the concert/drama. For this month's signing ceremony, Vondra invited Sidlin to conduct musicians from Prague in "Defiant Requiem." Sidlin suggested that CUA provide the choir and part of the orchestra.

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.