‘Defiant Requiem’: They Sang to the Nazis What They Could Not Say
BY ROBERTO LOIEDERMAN | APR 16, 2019
In 1943-44, at Terézin, a hybrid ghetto/concentration camp in the Czech Republic, 150 Jewish prisoners, led by a remarkable conductor, sang Verdi’s “Requiem” as a private act of defiance against the Nazis.
Two separate performances of “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin,”— on April 16 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and on April 17 at UCLA’s Royce Hall — paid homage to those prisoners and to Rafael Schächter, the man who led the choir at Terézin, where the Nazis imprisoned many Jewish cultural figures, including classical musicians.
“Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terézin,” which has been presented nearly 50 times around the world, performs Verdi’s Christian funeral mass in its entirety. The music is intercut with film clips, narration and taped testimonies from survivors. Much more than a concert or musical event, it’s a soul-wrenching testament to the power of maintaining one’s humanity in the most inhumane circumstances.
In a phone interview with the Journal, Murry Sidlin, 78, who created, crafted and conducted “Defiant Requiem,” said that 25 years ago, when he was conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, he wandered past a table of used books. “I walked over and pulled a book from the middle. It was sticking out, almost beckoning me,” Sidlin said. “It was called ‘Music in Terézin.’”
The book, by Joža Karas, deals with music and the Holocaust. Sidlin was drawn to it because he is a noted orchestra conductor and music educator, and his grandmother was killed during the Holocaust.
“That book is about musicians at Terézin,” Sidler said. “I opened the book at random to a chapter called ‘Rafael Schächter.’ It said he had grown up in Romania and had excelled in music. In the last paragraph, it said that [at Terézin] he put together a volunteer choir of 150 singers and taught them Verdi’s “Requiem” by rote, because there was no score other than his own, and they performed it 16 times between September 1943 and June 1944.”
Read the whole feature at this link.