The Catholic University of America

Sept. 7, 2011

CUA Music Ensembles to Perform in Czech Republic Festival

On Saturday, Sept. 17, and Sunday, Sept. 18, ensembles from Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will perform as part of the Mutual Inspirations Festival, a two-month-long series of events hosted by the Embassy of the Czech Republic to celebrate the 170th birthday of composer Antonín Dvorák.

On Sept. 17 at 7 p.m., Professor Murry Sidlin will conduct The Catholic University of America Symphony Orchestra in a concert featuring Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World,” at the National Museum of the American Indian. Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovic and Grayson Wagstaff, dean of the music school, will open the event with remarks.

“The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is delighted to be invited by the embassy to participate in such a great undertaking; this is a wonderful opportunity for our students in the symphony orchestra to perform one of the most loved works of orchestral music in a stunning space,” says DeanWagstaff. “It is also a great chance for Washingtonians to hear the Rome Trio perform Dvorák’s lyrical trio, a piece they performed to acclaim last fall in Carnegie Hall.

On Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m., the Rome Trio — the faculty trio of the music school — will present Dvorák’s Dumky Piano Trio, Op 90, and works by Dvorák’s student Josef Suk in the West Building, West Garden Court, of the National Gallery of Art. The trio comprises Jody Gatwood (violin), Ivo Kaltchev (piano), and Michael Mermagen (cello). In connection with the concert, Stephen Ackert, head of the National Gallery of Art music department, will present a lecture beginning at 6 p.m. on Art in America at the time of Dvorák’s American sojourn (1892–1895).

“The theme of the Mutual Inspirations Festival highlights the connections between the U.S. and the Czech Republic, making this a perfect time to celebrate the humanitarian and cultural projects of Maestro Murry Sidlin in both countries,” observes Wagstaff.

On Sept. 25, the Archdiocese of the Czech Republic will present Sidlin with the commemorative medal of St. Agnes of Bohemia, acknowledging his philanthropic efforts and activities in the United States and the Czech Republic. Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka will present the award at the Czech embassy in Washington, D.C. The archbishop is visiting as part of the festival, and will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception earlier in the day.

Sidlin created the concert-drama “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín” in the early 2000s. Terezín, known during World War II by the German name Theresienstadt, is located about 45 miles northeast of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic. Maintained by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, the fortress in Terezín imprisoned many artists and scholars. 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.

One of the prisoners, conductor Rafael Schaëchter, organized the performance of Verdi’s “Requiem,” a musical setting of the Roman Catholic Mass for the dead. Sidlin’s concert-drama recounts Schaëchter’s efforts to marshal and prepare more than 150 musicians who performed the demanding work 16 times between 1943 and 1944, despite constant hunger, exhaustion, and systematic deportation of chorus members to Auschwitz. Sidlin staged “Defiant Requiem” at the CUA President’s Festival of the Arts in 2004. Since then, the concert-drama has been presented by Sidlin several times at Terezín.

In addition to the creation and staging of his concert-drama, Sidlin has worked to bring attention to the story of Terezín with the establishment there of the Rafael Schachter Institute of Arts and Humanities. The institute was created to mirror the “accidental university” that was established by the prisoners who were incarcerated from 1941 to 1945. Through lectures, performances, exhibits, and forums, the institute attempts to replicate the manner in which prisoners learned, taught, listened to, and performed music composed in the concentration camp.

“Through courageous acts all associated with arts and humanities, the prisoners kept their hope, faith, and belief in life after imprisonment,” Sidlin says. “My role is simply to bring their bravery to light by telling their story and illustrating the dedicated richness of the environment they created, to respond to the worst of mankind with the best of mankind.”

The Mutual Inspirations Festival 2011 - Antonín Dvorák is an initiative spearheaded by the Embassy of the Czech Republic, under the patronage of Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg. It highlights the inspirations shared by Czech and American cultures.

The festival begins on Sept. 8, commemorating the 170th anniversary of the birth of the composer, and ends on Oct. 28, observing Czech National Day. Dvorák was one of the most prominent Czech composers of concert music. Inspired by his revolutionary thinking, Dvorák’s students would later instruct American legends George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Aaron Copland. Taking in the sounds of America, Dvorák was inspired to create his most famous piece ? Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "From the New World." U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong listened to the symphony during man's first landing on the Moon.

A full list of events related to the festival can be found at


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