Since the world premiere performance on April 20, 2002, the concert-drama Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín has had an unmistakable and unique connection with audiences and performers alike. Everyone knew they were experiencing a different kind of concert – one that pairs some of the most astounding music ever written with an unparalleled story of human resilience.
On Monday, November 4, 2019, in Budapest, Hungary, that ‘different’ kind of concert celebrated a remarkable milestone: worldwide performance number 50. The venue was especially fitting – the sanctuary of the Reformed Church on Pozsonyi Street – a church whose “founding Reverend” Albert Bereczky was known for his efforts to help Jews in Budapest during the Arrow Cross era. This performance of Defiant Requiem featured the world-renowned Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus led by the concert’s creator, Maestro Murry Sidlin. It was the third performance of the work in Budapest in the past ten years; on this occasion presented as part of the Opera’s 2019-2020 “Christian Spirit Season.” While that would seem to be an odd pairing on the surface, it was actually quite fitting. The season’s intent was to present works that “have either been inspired by biblical stories, or those that convey Christian ideas and values in more indirect ways, but also ones which debate them.” Surely, in a season that explores music inspired by the Christian liturgy, there is a place for the Defiant Requiem story of how and why a group of Jewish prisoners, who faced death every day, chose to learn and perform a Latin, Catholic mass during their darkest hours to deliver a message to their Nazi captors.
That Defiant Requiem’s 50th performance would occur as part of an unusual season is a fitting parallel for the arc this concert-drama has carved since the Portland, Oregon, premiere. Performances of Defiant Requiem have been realized not through one recurring model, but by seizing on many unique opportunities to share the inspirational story of Rafael Schächter and the prisoners in his chorus. Over the course of the last 18 years, performances have been presented by orchestras, community choruses, museums, festivals, Jewish community service organizations, and colleges and universities as special events, memorials, fundraisers, on subscription, and even at the invitation of a Cardinal!
The future of Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín promises to be as varied and inventive as its past. Demand for performances from presenters and audiences remains as strong as ever, bolstered by the concert’s historical success and invigorated by new initiatives including a version for piano, violin, soloists, and chorus that is perfect for smaller communities and venues; performances led by the next generation of conductors with guidance and instruction from Maestro Sidlin; renewed support for The University Residency Project, which helps remove the financial barriers to performances by academic institutions; and performances that use the Defiant Requiem story to foster conversations about contemporary issues including rising Holocaust ignorance and denial, anti-Semitism, and racism.
Each of Defiant Requiem’s first 50 performances has had a profound and lasting impact on the performers, audience, and local community who have experienced this powerful story live. We look forward to connecting with even more people with our next 50 performances!