Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín
Defiant Requiem tells the story of the courageous Jewish prisoners in the Terezín Concentration Camp during World War II who performed Verdi’s stunning Requiem Mass, despite experiencing the depths of human degradation. Combining Verdi's magnificent music with video testimony from survivors, this powerful and dramatic work will move you.
Created and conducted by Maestro Murry Sidlin, Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín features a full performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass. The performance includes actors, historic film footage from Terezín and interviews with original chorus members relating the full, impassioned story of how and why these Jewish prisoners, who faced death every day, chose to learn and perform the Verdi Requiem during their darkest hours.
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Murry Sidlin, Conductor
John Rubinstein, Actor (“Rafi Schächter”)
David Prather, Actor (“The Lecturer”)
Aga Mikolaj, Soprano
Ann Mcmahon Quintero, Mezzo-Soprano
Edgaras Montvidas, Tenor
Nathan Stark, Bass-Baritone Rita Sloan, Piano
Pacific Chorale—Robert Istad, Artistic Director
Requiem and Kyrie
This concert will be performed without intermission.
“Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín”
Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín is a unique concert-drama that commemorates the remarkable story of courageous Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (Terezín) during World War II, who performed the ambitious Verdi Requiem while enduring the depths of human degradation.
Rafael Schächter (1905-1945), a graduate of the Prague Conservatory, using a smuggled score and single piano, organized a 150-person Jewish choir that performed Verdi’s celebrated Requiem 16 times between 1943 and 1944. Schächter selected this highly dramatic composition by the great Italian composer because of the power of both the music and its Latin text.
This is not an ordinary performance of the Verdi Requiem, but a concert-drama created by Murry Sidlin as a tribute to the inspired leadership and courage of Rafael Schächter and the Terezín choir. It combines the magnificent music of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem with video testimony from survivors of the original chorus, and segments of the Nazi propaganda film made at Terezín in 1944, used to deceive the world about the living conditions of Jews in the camp.
The performance also includes actors who speak the words of conductor Rafael Schächter and others.
The text of the Requiem is part of the living liturgy of the Catholic Church. But for Schächter and the Terezín Jews, it was their act of defiance; a temporary solace from their brutal confinement and likely deportation, an assurance of God’s presence and a desire to express a collective spiritual belief in their own humanity amidst the unspeakable violations perpetrated against them.
The longest section of Verdi’s score, the Dies irae (“Day of Wrath”), was seen by Schächter and the choir as a certainty of what awaited their Nazi oppressors: “nothing shall remain unavenged.” Singing these words to the Nazis gave the prisoners the courage to persevere and to defy Nazi brutality, however temporarily. Schächter told the members of the choir: “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”
Following the deportation of close to 470 Jews from Denmark to Theresienstadt, at the urging of the Danish King, the Nazis agreed to permit a delegation from the International Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt. The Nazis made elaborate and cunning efforts in advance of the visit to deceive the delegation and the world.
On June 23, 1944, the International Red Cross and members of the Nazi high command came to Theresienstadt for an “inspection.” Rafael Schächter and his choir were ordered, under duress, to entertain the delegation with what became their last, and most bittersweet, performance of the Requiem.
On October 16, 1944, four months after the final performance, Schächter and most of the choir were deported to Auschwitz. The majority were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. Schächter survived Auschwitz, but in the spring of 1945, at age 39 and with a great career ahead of him, he most likely perished on a death march. A month later, Czechoslovakia was liberated.
The concert this evening honors the memory of Rafael Schächter, his choir, and the performances of Verdi’s Requiem in Terezín. This concert celebrates Schächter’s moral courage and the transcendent power of the arts and humanities.
Resonating throughout the performance is the universal message that the human spirit can be elevated in the most oppressive conditions, that hope and resilience are indomitable, that mankind can rise above bondage and horror. Schächter and his fellow Jewish prisoners demonstrated that it is possible to respond to the worst of mankind with the best of mankind.
The lessons of Terezín are powerful, dramatic and inspirational, with a contemporary message of hope for all who are caught up in conflict and who hear this story.
Mark Rulison is a seasoned arts administrator with over two decades of experience in concert production, artistic planning, collective bargaining and chorus and orchestra management. In 2002, while on the staff of the Oregon Symphony, Mark produced the premiere performances of Murry Sidlin’s Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín. He has been directly involved in producing every performance since and joined the staff of The Defiant Requiem Foundation as its first full-time employee in 2013.
Herbert von Karajan conducting La Scala Orchestra and Chorus of Milano with Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto and Nikolai Ghiaurov.
0:08:43 Dies Irae
0:10:55 Tuba Mirum
0:12:58 Mors Stupebit
0:14:19 Liber Scriptus
0:19:23 Quid Sum Miser
0:23:13 Rex Tremendae
0:59:51 Agnus Dei
1:04:32 Lux Aeterna
1:10:45 Libera Me
creator & guest conductor
Murry Sidlin, a conductor with a unique gift for engaging audiences, continues a diverse and distinctive musical career. He is president and creative director of The Defiant Requiem Foundation, an organization that sponsors live concert performances of Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín and Hours of Freedom: The Story of the Terezín Composer; as well as other projects including the documentary film, Defiant Requiem; a new docudrama called Mass Appeal, 1943; and The Rafael Schächter Institute for Arts and Humanities at Terezín. In addition, he lectures extensively on the arts and humanities as practiced by the prisoners in the Theresienstadt (Terezín) Concentration Camp.
Sidlin began his career as assistant conductor of the Baltimore Symphony under Sergiu Comissiona and then was appointed resident conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra by Antal Doráti. He has served as music director of the New Haven and Long Beach symphonies, the Tulsa Philharmonic and the Connecticut Ballet. For eight years, he was resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony and, from 2002 to 2010, he served as dean of the School of Music at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He has conducted more than 300 concerts with the San Diego Symphony and conducted 18 consecutive New Year’s Eve Gala concerts at the John Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., with the National Symphony Orchestra. For 33 years, Sidlin was resident artist/teacher and associate director of conducting studies at the Aspen Music Festival where, with conductor David Zinman, he developed the American Academy of Conducting.
Sidlin has also appeared as guest conductor around the world. In the U.S. he has conducted the Atlanta, New Mexico, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Seattle and St. Louis symphony orchestras; the Colorado, Honolulu, Houston, San Antonio, San Francisco and Utah symphonies; the Florida and Minnesota orchestras; the Chicago Philharmonic; and the Boston Pops. In Canada, he has led orchestras in Edmonton, Quebec, Vancouver and Victoria. Foreign orchestras Murry Sidlin has worked with include the Czech National, Iceland, Jerusalem, Lithuanian National, MAV (Budapest) and Spanish Radio and Television (Madrid) symphony orchestras; the George Enescu Philharmonic; the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra; I Solisti Veneti; the Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin; the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra; the Orquestra Gulbenkian (Lisbon); and the Orchester Wiener Akademie, among many others.
In 1987, Sidlin collaborated with the celebrated American composer Aaron Copland to orchestrate a new chamber ensemble version of Copland’s full-length opera The Tender Land. Later, he created a suite from the opera to serve as a companion work to Copland’s chamber version of Appalachian Spring.
Sidlin studied with the legendary pedagogues Leon Barzin and Sergiu Celibidache. He was appointed by Presidents Ford and Carter to serve on the White House Commission of Presidential Scholars. He won national acclaim for the television series Music Is…, a 10-part series about music for children that was seen on PBS for five years. In 1997, the National Association of Independent Schools of Music recognized Sidlin as Educator of the Year. He has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, and CNN International. In May 2011, Sidlin received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater. In September 2011, the Archbishop of Prague presented him with the medal of St. Agnes of Bohemia for his dedication to illuminating the legacy of Terezín. In January 2013, Sidlin was nominated to the International Board of Governors of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Sidlin received the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Medal of Valor on June 11, 2013, for his extraordinary efforts to keep alive the memory of Rafael Schächter.
artistic director of Pacific Chorale
Robert Istad became artistic director of Pacific Chorale in the 2017-18 50th Season, after serving as the Chorale’s assistant conductor since 2004.
He has conducted both Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony and has prepared choruses for a number of America’s finest conductors and orchestras, including: Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony, Esa–Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, as well as conductors Vasilly Sinaisky, Sir Andrew Davis, Bramwell Tovey, Thomas Wilkins, John Williams, Eugene Kohn, Steven Mercurio, Richard Kaufman, Eric Whitacre, William Lacey, Giancarlo Guerrero, Marin Alsop, George Fenton, Case Scaglione, Robert Moody, John Alexander, William Dehning and David Lockington.
Istad also serves as professor of music and director of choral studies at California State University, Fullerton, where he conducts the University Singers and Women’s Choir in addition to teaching courses in conducting, advanced interpretation and literature. He and his singers were featured at the 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas, and the 2012 ACDA Western Division Conference in Reno. Istad’s University Singers also performed for the 2013 National Collegiate Choral Organization National Conference in Charleston. Istad and the CSUF University Singers have performed all over the world, including a 2015 residency and performances in Paris, engagements at the 2012 Ottobeuren Festival of Music in Germany, the 2012 Eingen Festival of Music in Germany, a 2010 performance for UNESCO in Pisa, Italy, and in 2008 at the world-famous Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary.
Istad received his bachelor’s degree in music from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., his master’s degree in choral conducting from CSUF and his doctor of musical arts in choral music at the University of Southern California. He studied conducting with William Dehning, John Alexander and Jon Hurty.
Istad is president of the California Choral Directors Association, and is in demand as an adjudicator, guest conductor, speaker and clinician throughout the nation.
Founded in 1968, the Pacific Chorale is internationally recognized for its exceptional artistic expression, stimulating, American-focused programming and influential education programs. The chorale presents a season at Segerstrom Center for the Arts and performs regularly with the nation’s leading symphonies. It has infused an Old World art form with California’s innovation and cultural independence, developing innovative new concepts in programming and expanding the traditional concepts of choral repertoire and performance.
The Pacific Chorale comprises 140 professional and volunteer singers. In addition to its longstanding partnership with Pacific Symphony, the Chorale has performed with such renowned American ensembles as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra.
Other collaborations within the Southern California community include performances with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Long Beach, Pasadena and Riverside symphonies. The Chorale has toured extensively in Europe, South America and Asia, and has collaborated with the London Symphony Orchestra, Munich Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Lamoureux, Orchestre de Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, National Orchestra of Belgium, China National Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and Argentine National Symphony Orchestra.
The Pacific Chorale can be heard on numerous recordings, including American Voices, a collection of American choral works; Songs of Eternity by James Hopkins and Voices by Stephen Paulus, featuring Pacific Symphony; Christmas Time Is Here; a live recording of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers; the world premiere recording of Frank Ticheli’s The Shore for chorus and orchestra; and the world premiere recording of Jake Heggie’s choral opera The Radio Hour. The Chorale also appears on six recordings released by Pacific Symphony: Elliot Goldenthal’s Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio, Richard Danielpour’s An American Requiem and Toward a Season of Peace, Philip Glass’ The Passion of Ramakrishna, Michael Daugherty’s Mount Rushmore, and William Bolcom’s Prometheus with pianist Jeffrey Biegel—all conducted by Carl St.Clair.