Experiencing The Defiant Requiem
By Cameron Halsey
The Holocaust was a dark time for the world. It was marred by constant death, torture, hunger, neglect and overall suffering. As time goes on, we learn more of the testimonials and the experiences of those that were subject to its atrocities. Through this chaos, we do hear of a few concentration camps that had their own unique aspects to it; Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (otherwise known as Terezin) was one of these camps. Terezin was a concentration camp full of artists, musicians, scholars and craftsmen that together were able to keep their human dignity in the face of despair by doing what the loved, which was creating great works. One of these people, Rafael Schachter, was a musician who organized a choir of fellow Jewish prisoners and with them, rehearsed and performed the Verdi Requiem during their tenure in the camp. This requiem served as their way to gain a sliver of hope in an otherwise spirit-breaking circumstance. This served as their salvation of themselves to not fall into the mental trap the Nazis put them in.
Now, years after their original performance, the Sustainable Symphony, The Defiant Requiem Foundation, and Maestro Murry Sidlin have re-purposed the piece into a compelling concert drama as a tribute to Schachter and his choir’s experience performing in front of the Red Cross and the Nazi SS. In short, the experience was moving and is definitely worth experiencing at least once due to its powerful vocals, rich historical retelling and beautifully done musical accompaniment.
As the attendants were seated, the room went dark and our performers walked on stage and took their positions, all dressed in black and with a stoic expression, we are greeted by Sidlin, who begins to set the tone for the performance by describing the environment and initial experiences of the prisoners in Terezin, giving the backdrop for the performance. As each part of the seven-part performance went on, we were given video accounts from survivors of the Terezin camp describing the feeling and experience of rehearsing and performing the requiem, accompanied by Sidlin and two members of the choir reading the story of Shachter and his thoughts of planning the performance of the piece. All this combined with the powerful vocal choir and four soloists made for a unique experience that served as a history lesson, soulful musical performance and an engaging drama that gave a feeling of no other. As the choir and soloists sang, you could feel the pain, power and defiance through their voices, and served as a way for the audience to be heavily immersed into the performance and story of these resilient people. It simply was moving and passionate, which is necessary for a piece with this much historical and interpersonal weight to it for an entire religious group. Simply put, this performance did much justice and does a great job as an homage to its rather bleak but inspiring origins.
As a musical performance, it is a must-see. As a historical story, it is a must know; and as a drama, it is a great tale of keeping one’s humanity through the deepest of sorrows. Simply, it is an amazing performance that anyone can connect to as a lover of music and as a person overall, and I am glad to have experienced it.