Defiant Requiem Performance In The Konzerthaus Berlin
On March 4, 2014, a sold-out audience experienced the German premiere of Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín. Conducted by Foundation president and concert-drama creator Murry Sidlin, the performance was sponsored by the Jewish Museum Berlin thanks to the support of its director, W. Michael Blumenthal, a colleague and friend of Stuart Eizenstat’s from their days in the Carter White House. The concert included the Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin; the Choir of the Junges Ensemble Berlin and the Vokalakademie Berlin, both directed by Frank Markowitsch; and a spectacular quartet of vocal soloists: Aga Mikolaj, soprano; Gerhild Romberger, mezzo-soprano; Steven Tharp, tenor (this was Steven’s sixth performance of Defiant Requiem); and István Kovács, bass. Portraying the roles of “The Lecturer” and “Rafael Schächter” were the celebrated German actors Iris Berben and Ulrich Matthes, respectively. The entire performance was given simultaneously in both English and German with a translation prepared by Katja Manor, a Foundation board member and the niece of Rafael Schächter. Preceding the performance was a VIP reception hosted by the Museum.
The result of more than a year of detailed planning, the performance and impressive series of events preceding it — including a screening of the documentary film Defiant Requiem — was guided by the dedicated staff of the Museum. The Foundation is grateful to Anja Butzek, Daniela Eck and Johanna Brandt for their work in organizing every aspect of the event; to Ina Holthaus whose attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile (or kilometer) every day was crucial to the success of the performance; to Sascha Perkins for the visually stunning and successful marketing campaign; to Signe Rossbach for curating the remarkable events leading up to the performance, including a three-day tour to Terezín and Prague for guests of the Museum and members of the media who spent many hours speaking with our good friend and Terezín survivor, Felix Kolmer; and to Katharina Schmidt-Narischkin for overseeing a press and media campaign that resulted in many weeks of nonstop coverage for the project.
One of the most gratifying aspects of this performance was the presence of so many members of the Defiant Requiem “family” in Berlin. More than 60 Foundation guests attended the performance — traveling from the U.S., Israel, other cities in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe. We were especially fortunate to once again have three generations of the Krasa family participating in the schedule of events. Edgar Krasa, a member of Rafael Schächter’s choir, and his wife Hana are Terezín survivors and are featured prominently in our documentary film. Their sons, Dani and Rafi, and grandson, Alex, all joined the choir and sang the performance. Edgar maintained a full schedule: participating in the press conference, speaking as part of two workshops organized by the Jewish Museum Berlin’s archives department, sharing his personal story with the choir, talking to students at the Moses Mendelssohn High School, and joining Ambassador Eizenstat for a discussion prior to the film screening on Monday, March 3. Hana kept a watchful eye on all, adding her signature warmth and humanity to the proceedings.
Presenting Defiant Requiem in Germany was a landmark moment for the Foundation. The performance was a resounding success and the widespread acceptance of both our message and the unique nature of this concert-drama was gratifying. In his particularly favorable review, Volker Blech of the Berliner Morgenpost summed up what each of us feels after every performance: “The ‘Defiant Requiem’ is a remarkable project.”