Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín Comes to Costa Mesa

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Defiant Requiem in concert at Lincoln Center in April, 2013.

DR-Poster3Over the past 150 years there have been many significant presentations of Verdi’s Requiem, but none was more powerful than the performances given by prisoners in the Terezín concentration camp (Theresienstadt) during World War II. These courageous men and women faced starvation, abuse, and imminent death, yet they defied the Nazis by performing this towering masterpiece. With only a single smuggled score, they performed the famous oratorio sixteen times, including one performance before senior SS officials from Berlin and an International Red Cross delegation. Conductor Rafael Schächter – who brought his fellow prisoners together and led the performances – told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”

This extraordinary and little-known story is commemorated in Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin, which will be performed at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on April 16, 2019. This powerful program will be generously sponsored by the Jewish Federation and Family Services, made possible by the Albert Weissman and Rhoda Yvette Weissman Estate.

Defiant Requiem combines the complete Verdi Requiem, with video testimony from survivors of the original Terezín chorus, and footage from a Nazi propaganda film made in Theresienstadt. The performance also includes actors who speak the words of imprisoned conductor Rafael Schächter and others. This “concert-drama” was conceived and created by noted conductor and educator, Murry Sidlin, who will lead the Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale, and an international cast of renowned soloists in this special performance. Defiant Requiem is not just another performance of the Verdi Requiem, but a tribute to the inspired leadership of Rafael Schächter who was forced to reconstitute the choir three times as members were transported to Auschwitz. The performances came to symbolize resistance and defiance and demonstrated the prisoners’ courage to confront the worst of mankind with the best of mankind.

“Nothing shall remain unavenged.”
~ from “Dies Irae” of the Messa da Requiem,
the Catholic Mass for the Dead

The concert’s origins can be traced to the mid-1990’s, when Maestro Sidlin happened upon a book in a used bookstore in Minneapolis, entitled Music in Terezín, 1941–1945 by Joža Karas. Intrigued by the title, Sidlin thumbed through the book and opened to a section about a man named Rafael Schächter. There were a few sentences about how Schächter was deported to Terezín and, while there, recruited a chorus of 150 prisoners, taught them Verdi’s Requiem by rote, and presented 16 performances of this ambitious work.

Soon after purchasing the book Sidlin began to ask himself a nagging question: why would a large group of Jews, imprisoned for being Jewish, willingly volunteer to learn, rehearse, and perform such a demanding choral work that was deeply steeped in the Catholic liturgy? With little new information available he became more and more convinced there was another reason that this chorus of prisoners, all amateur singers, undertook performing the Verdi. The endeavor was either foolish or staggeringly brave. Either way, he knew there had to be a deeper explanation for Schächter’s dedication.

A few years later, Sidlin miraculously located some of the prisoners who sang in those performances, including Edgar Krasa (1924-2017), who not only sang in the Verdi chorus, but was also Schächter’s roommate in the concentration camp barracks. Edgar and his late wife Hana went on to introduce Maestro Sidlin to other surviving members of the chorus: Marianka Zadikow-May and Eva Rocek, and audience member Vera Schiff. These former prisoners helped fill in the missing details, and the answers to Sidlin’s questions and the motivations behind the performances were confirmed – this was a remarkable act of resistance.

As part of the process, Edgar Krasa, Marianka Zadikow-May, Eva Rocek and Vera Schiff recounted their experiences and emotions, and gave videotaped interviews so the world would know their first-hand account of what took place all those years ago. Portions of these videos form an integral part of Defiant Requiem, and the Pacific Symphony audience will see these survivors on screen at the performance on April 16.

Since its debut in 2002, Defiant Requiem has been performed nearly fifty times worldwide and more than 65,000 audience members and performers have experienced the Defiant Requiem story. The performance and its message of how human beings retained their dignity, sustained their spirits, and resisted oppression through the redemptive power of music is universal. Howard Reich, in the Chicago Tribune, wrote, “Never again will I hear Verdi’s Requiem without thinking of this performance, and what happened in Terezín.”


You can learn more about the concert, or purchase tickets, on our website here.

GAIL WEIN is a New York-based music journalist who has written for The Washington PostPlaybill and Symphony Magazine, and was producer of National Public Radio’s Performance Today.

A Christmas Playlist

The temperature drops, the days are shorter, but the music is so good. As you wrap gifts and get together with your family and friends, let this Christmas playlist be the soundtrack to your holidays.

 

1. “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi Trio:

 

2.  “O Tannenbaum” by Ernst Anschütz:

 

3. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Felix Mendelssohn:

 

4. “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert:

 

5. “Silent Night” by Franz Xaver Gruber:

 

6. Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “L’inverno” (Winter) by Antonio Vivaldi:

 

7. The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71 “Russian Dance” (Trepak) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:

 

8. Carol Symphony Scherzo: Allegro molto moderato by Victor Hely-Hutchinson:

 

9. “Carol of the Bells” by Mykola Leontovych:

 

10.  “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson:

My Favorite “Messiah” Story

In my previous incarnation as a freelance oboist, I got a call to play Handel’s Messiah with a pickup orchestra at Monumental Baptist Church on Chicago’s Southside—a Sunday afternoon rehearsal and concert, $50 check at the end. Easy gig. I got there and was bummed to see Mozart’s arrangement—which includes clarinets—on music stands. The conductor Dr. Hortense Love was long on enthusiasm, but a bit short on authentic performance practice. The rehearsal droned on and I resigned myself to a less-than-inspiring experience. Halfway through the rehearsal, Dr. Love says “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr. William Warfield.” Wow! He’s the famous bass-baritone, who famously recorded Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with Leontyne Price.

Warfield rips into “Why do the nations,” all fire and brimstone, his bulging eyes glaring a challenge to this feeble band of freelancers as if to say: “I double-dog dare you to match this intensity!!!” Hard to believe, but the concert is even MORE intense. Congregants start fainting left and right. Nurses stationed in the center aisle with oxygen tanks at the ready adroitly administer masks to those overcome with emotion. With the scent of fried chicken wafting in the air, Warfield storms the heavens, alternately fierce and transcendent, transfixing the audience. It’s now an interactive Messiah with the congregation in rapid call-and-response mode: “YAAAS!”…“Tell it!”…“Whoa!”…“Lord Jesus!!”…“Brang it on home!” Afterward, Dr. Love invites the orchestra to the social hall for the tastiest fried chicken feast in the whole world. BEST. MESSIAH. EVER!

But I must say that “Messiah” is such a great piece that in every performance I hear something new. I’m looking forward to hearing Pacific Symphony this Sunday, December 8, which is sure to be a memorable performance with its use of theorbo (long-necked Baroque lute) and countertenor. No fried chicken, though.

You can learn more about Pacific Symphony’s concert here.


 

Jean Oelrich, Pacific Symphony’s Director of Marketing and Communications, is a recovered oboist.

Interview: Christopher Warren-Green

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Ahead of our always popular “Handel’s Glorious Messiah,” we sat down to interview guest conductor Christopher Warren-Green who will be manning the podium, conducting Pacific Chorale, soloists and Pacific Symphony in this staple of the holiday season.

—Alexey Bonca, Public Relations & Social Media Manager


 

AB: You include the theorbo in this performance of Messiah – how do you see this instrument blending with a modern orchestra? Was your thought to evoke a somewhat historical performance sound when the theorbo is playing with the harpsichord? 

Credit_info_Jeff_CravottaCWG: My intention with the theorbo is to create a dramatic sound. The theorbo is actually louder than the harpsichord, in the right hands. Although it’s more involved in Italian baroque, I’ve found that I can do without the harpsichord if I’ve got the theorbo. And the organ. Using both together is actually a lot of fun. The point here is that I have my own material marked up to make a modern orchestra sound like an original orchestra, but with the power of the modern instruments. And Handel was an operatic, dramatic composer—it was the drama of the Messiah that I draw out. That’s why I use the theorbo.

AB: You also include a countertenor as soloist; is this in place or an alto soloist? Could you expand upon your choice here?

CWG: Handel used different singers in almost every performance, sometimes using sopranos. With the version that I do, which is almost like the “1754 Foundling Hospital” version, I’ve always found that the right countertenor, for me adds, again, more drama. With the countertenors that I like I can actually get more drama from them. In other words, you’ve got a man’s voice in a woman’s register. If you have a countertenor that sounds like a mezzo- or contra-alto, you’ve defeated the object: you want a countertenor who sounds like a tenor in the woman’s register.

AB: Quick follow-up question: did you hand-pick the soloists for this concert?

CWG: Yes. Pacific Symphony has been absolutely fantastic about getting me people I want. Without them, you can’t get the Messiah that you want.

AB: Anything else you’d like to add in terms of this performance? Maybe what the audience can expect, especially in terms of the aesthetic presence of this piece, and its history of performance for over hundreds of years.

CWG: You know, the Victorian tradition of doing it with huge orchestras, and huge choirs—all of it is fantastic, because the piece is simply fantastic music. What I try to do is use modern instruments creating a kind of sound that can be more brutal and more dynamic than people can perhaps understand; they think if you’re going for an authentic performance, it’s going to be really too delicate, but that is not the case—far from it with my Messiah, far from it. So, I use more-or-less a baroque-size orchestra. I know by reputation that your chorus (Pacific Chorale) and orchestra are fantastic, so given that I’ve been allowed the theorbo, and the large organ as well, and with the soloists that I wanted, I’ll be able to give the Messiah that I want to give.


Here’s our guest theorbo player, Michael Leopold, giving a demonstration of the unique period instrument.


If you’re interested in buying tickets, or learning more about the concert, you can visit our website here.

Pacific Symphony’s President Recommends

dsc0601-original-2.jpgNext week is a great concert to bring guests and introduce them to the Symphony! It’s a busy time of year, but this program is perfect for the season.

It’s a glorious program of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (based on 16th-century hymns for string orchestra), the monumental Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 (performed by Markus Groh, the brilliant German pianist who stepped in for an ailing André Watts more than 15 years ago and helped select the beautiful Hamburg Steinways we use), and a brilliant re-imagining of “The Nutcracker.”

Here is a well-written preview specifically about the Ellington/Strayhorn version of “The Nutcracker.” Also, we expect this will be an emotional return for Principal Cellist Tim Landauer, who has been absent from the concert stage for a number of months. His duet with the piano soloist in the Brahms is one of the most beautiful solos in the orchestral literature.

—John Forsyte, Pacific Symphony President


 

Check out “A ‘Nutcracker’ Like You’ve Never Heard” in Voice of O.C.

 

 

Lower Your Taxes with the New Tax Law

New this year!

For smart taxpayers, the new law provides easy opportunities to lower taxes even more.

Congress doubled the standard deduction to: $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filers. Whether you typically itemize or take the standard deduction, there are some strategies you can use to receive new tax savings as well as other non‑tax benefits.

The most significant opportunity for you is probably the standard deduction.

It can be used instead of itemizing your deductions, where in the past you might have claimed a deduction for mortgage interest, state and local taxes and charitable giving.

Muffin Man Musical Storytime

Make an outright gift of an appreciated asset to charity.  This strategy allows you to support the causes that matter most to you while generating a charitable tax deduction and potentially capital gains tax savings. This strategy provides tax benefits to itemizers and non‑itemizers.

Give from your pre‑tax assets by making an IRA rollover gift. If you are 70½ or older, this strategy allows you to give up to $100,000 directly from your IRA rather than take the required distribution from your IRA. This strategy does not result in a charitable deduction but will help you avoid tax on the distribution. This strategy works for both itemizers and non‑itemizers.

Fund a charitable gift annuity. Provides you with annual income, a charitable income tax deduction and potentially favorable capital gains treatment while allowing you to support the causes that matter most to you. Your specific benefits will be affected based on whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.

Elizabeth Kurila, Pacific Symphony’s planned giving expert, can help you take advantage of the new law to its fullest. You can reach her at ekurila@pacificsymphony.org, or (714) 876-2374.