The Catholic University of America

Aug. 17, 2010

Music Professor to Stage Sold-Out ‘Defiant Requiem’ at Kennedy Center

  Murry Sidlin conducts his concert/drama at Terezín in May 2006.

Professor of Music Murry Sidlin will present his concert-drama “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín” before a sold-out crowd at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Concert Hall on Oct. 6, 2010.

Sidlin’s production tells the story of Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (also referred to as Terezín) near Prague during World War II who performed Verdi’s “Requiem Mass.”

The camp was used for propaganda purposes by the Nazis, housing many scholars and artists. Its Jewish inhabitants were allowed to pursue their creative and intellectual work, which was displayed for visiting dignitaries — including a Red Cross delegation — to give the impression that such liberties were allowed throughout the internment system.

“Defiant Requiem” tells the story of Rafael Schaëchter, a conductor interned at Theresienstadt, who conceived of a performance of Verdi’s “Requiem,” with its themes of God’s justice and liberation, as a way for the prisoners to “sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”

Sidlin’s concert-drama recounts Schaëchter’s efforts to marshal and prepare more than 150 musicians who managed to perform the demanding work 16 times between 1943 and 1944, despite constant hunger, exhaustion and systematic deportation of chorus members to Auschwitz.

The appeal of this production, Sidlin says, is that “Defiant Requiem” is a story “about responding to the worst of mankind with the best of mankind using the Verdi ‘Requiem.’ It was more than a statement of faith. It was a statement of defiance and resistance of Nazi oppression.”

Sidlin with photo of Terezín conductor Raphael Schaëchter.

From Verdi’s score, Sidlin has created a multi-media concert-drama featuring testimony from survivors of the chorus and footage from an original Nazi propaganda film. Actors also speak the words of Schaëchter and other prisoners.

Sidlin staged “Defiant Requiem” at the CUA President’s Festival of the Arts in 2004. Since then, the concert-drama has traveled several times to Terezín in the Czech Republic for performances on the grounds of the concentration camp. This past summer, Sidlin and CUA students performed the concert-drama in Budapest, Hungary.

At the Kennedy Center performance, Sidlin will be joined by students and alumni of CUA's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, the Washington National Opera Orchestra and the City Choir of Washington. CUA’s Chair of Voice Sharon Christman will perform as a soloist. Gary Sloan, head of CUA’s Master of Fine Arts Acting program, will perform as Schaëchter.

The Defiant Requiem Foundation, which was founded by Sidlin, will create its own website with educational lesson plans for teachers around the world. The foundation will also produce a two-hour documentary film on “Defiant Requiem” that PBS has agreed to air in the spring of 2011.

The performance is hosted by Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Stuart Eizenstat and his wife Fran Eizenstat.

For more information on Defiant Requiem, visit

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