The Defiant Requiem Foundation
UJA Federation of New York
SelfHelp Community Services, Inc.
Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin
Murry Sidlin, Creator and Conductor
Bebe Neuwirth as The Lecturer
John Rubinstein as Rafael Schächter
Jennifer Check, Soprano
Ann McMahon Quintero, Mezzo-soprano
Steven Tharp, Tenor
Wilhelm Schwinghammer, Bass
Herbert Greenberg, Guest Concertmaster & Solo Violin
Orchestra of Terezin Remembrance
The Collegiate Chorale:
Ted Sperling Artistic Director, James Bagwell, Music Director
Honorees: Elizabeth and Felix Rohatyn
At Avery Fisher Hall
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 9, 2015
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Messa da Requiem
I. “Requiem”, II. “Dies irae”, III. “Offertorio”, IV. “Sanctus”, V. “Agnus Dei”,
VI. “Lux aeterna”, VII. “Libera me”.
Murry Sidlin, a dynamic and charismatic conductor, with a resume of international conducting positions and residencies, has served on the White House Commission of Presidential Scholars. Since 2002, as a mission, he has created and led Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin, as an homage to the Jewish prisoners in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (Terezin) in World War II Czechoslovakia, who sang Verdi’s Requiem, under the leadership and piano of fellow prisoner, Rafael Schächter. Schächter had courageously smuggled into the camp a ragged piano-vocal score of the Requiem. They actually sang (in varying groupings, as some were deported to other camps or died at Terezin) for sixteen performances.
One of those performances was for a group of Red Cross inspectors, along with SS officials from Berlin, who were on hand for the Nazi pretense that Terezin was a model Jewish society. Mr. Sidlin presents a backdrop film of spoken memories of survivors of Terezin and its chorus. Additional filmed excerpts are of a Nazi propaganda film, created in conjunction with the pretense that Terezin was an ideal Jewish setting, with a playground for children, picnic benches, serene walkways, and medical care. That Nazi film, of course, was eerily staged and forced. The entire Defiant Requiem production, performed solemnly tonight at Fisher Hall, recreates a level of the original pathos, with astounding musicality and profoundness, to absorb some of the emotions of those sixteen wartime, threadbare productions.
Maestro Sidlin has determined that the world should never forget the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust and the extraordinary determination and bravery of Rafael Schächter. Mr. Sidlin, President of the Defiant Requiem Foundation, travels the globe with this production. Tonight’s New York performance, first performed here in 2013 at the very same Hall, was narrated by Bebe Neuwirth, Broadway actor/dancer/singer. For Defiant Requiem, she reads the part of The Lecturer, wearing somber black, matching the black clothing of members of the orchestra, conductor, concertmaster, Mr. Rubinstein, chorale, and soloists. John Rubinstein narrates the part of Rafael Schächter. Both narrators spoke with crisp eloquence and lack of affect, intentionally. No melodrama, all spoken words as stark reality. The Collegiate Chorale sang with full, warm tones, which should be improved when the Hall is reconstructed. I would love to hear this production in a cathedral, as the Verdi Requiem is actually a Catholic funeral Mass. The acoustics of chorale, solo singers, and orchestra, with the filmed clips, would be spectacular, in a cathedral or synagogue, even both, during an interesting series.
Guest singers were soprano, Jennifer Check, mezzo-soprano, Ann McMahon Quintero, tenor, Steven Tharp, and bass, Wilhelm Schwinghammer. All four singers evoked fortitude and spirit. After all, the prison chorus sang to keep their souls alive until they took their final breaths. Only few survived the death marches and brutal mass murders. Guest Concertmaster and solo violin, Herbert Greenberg, kept the strings and violin solos searingly sumptuous. Maestro Sidlin’s Orchestra of Terezin Remembrance included some musicians who have been reviewed on these pages, such as Jon Manasse (in chamber music and with American Ballet Theatre Orchestra). Mr. Manasse played clarinet for tonight’s final refrains of “Oseh Shalom”, a Hebrew prayer for peace, that took musicians, chorale members, cast, soloists, and conductor out, through the Hall’s aisles, so that when the music stopped, the audience was alone, together. Applause was supposed to be omitted, but some applauded regardless. Many in the audience were wiping tears. We had earlier been told that Rafael Schächter died in a death march, so close to the date of liberation. Mr. Sidlin and The Defiant Requiem Foundation (who also made a documentary film) must take this production from city to city, town to town, as the recent anti-Semitic murders at the Parisian kosher market evoke thoughts of broken windows in early 1930’s Berlin.
Kudos to all.
Murry Sidlin, in response to a few written questions about his production and mission, sent the following comments:
RZ: Do you have plans to circulate "Defiant Requiem" the film in New York theaters, following your concert March 9 at Lincoln Center? How does the film recreate for wide audiences the impact of the live concerts? What are the most critical elements of the live concerts, and have you had any unexpected experiences, following their international presentations?
MS: No plans to bring the film back to NY. In 2012 it played for a week in the Village, and has had a one-night special at the Paris Theater, and over the last month it has been shown in several synagogues in NY, and for students at Iona College in New Rochelle. The film is narrated by a chief narrator ( Bebe Neuwirth), and seven survivors telling their story. The on-stage version features a complete performance of the Verdi Requiem, which has spoken word interspersed. When we show the film, there is always someone in the audience, who has a connection to Terezin through family history. Recently I met a man, who was in the audience for three performances of the Requiem when he was a Terezin prisoner.
RZ: Artistically, how do you vary the lineup of actors, choir, and opera soloists, from city to city, as the March 9 concert includes many who are based in New York? In your concerts in Israel, for example, did you choose Israeli actors, choir, and soloists? Is the narration translated for the international tours with actors chosen, native to the locales?
MS: Usually local actors, chorus, orchestra, and soloists. At times we are asked to bring soloists, and we select people with whom we have performed, who were beautiful performers and very sensitive to the context in which they are performing. In Israel, we used Israeli actors who spoke in Hebrew, but on the screen there was English translation. I spoke in English, and on the screen appeared a Hebrew translation. In Budapest, the same: actors were Hungarian and spoke in Hungarian, translated on screen, and my text translated into Hungarian.
RZ: Please describe, briefly, the catalyst for this longtime project, what moved you and personally motivated the development of "Defiant Requiem"?
MS: My family history contains episodes of Nazi murder of my grandmother and several other relatives, which we learned about in 1946. My father insisted that we study the Shoah and its implications for the Jewish people. When I became a professional conductor, I came across the story of Verdi's music in service to the prisoners at Terezin, and that led me to explore the nature of the arts and humanities during the Shoah era. It was the inspiration of Schächter that brought me to design a concert drama honoring him and exposing his dedication to the population of Terezin.
Murry Sidlin conducts "Defiant Requiem" Orchestra.
at Avery Fisher Hall in April, 2013 (File Photo)
Courtesy of Chloe Seldman, Michael Priest Photography
Murry Sidlin conducts "Defiant Requiem" Orchestra. (File Photo)
Courtesy of Jeff Roffman