An act of defiance

Conductor Murray Sidlin leads the JSO in his concert-drama ‘Verdi at Terezin.’

Conductor Murray Sidlin (photo credit: Courtesy)
Conductor Murray Sidlin
(photo credit: Courtesy)
American conductor Murray Sidlin (pictured) will lead the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, together with solo singers and actors, in a concert performance entitled “The Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin,” a multimedia concert drama that he created. The concert is part of the Israel Festival and the Days of Prague festival.
Sidlin, a first-generation American whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Latvia and Belarus, says his father’s entire family perished during the Holocaust, “but I never imagined it would influence my artistic life.”
The change came at a book sale in 1992, where picked up a book that told the story of the Terezin ghetto.
“I just pulled it from a huge pile of books, and it opened on the story of Rafael Schächter, a musician who was arrested by the Nazis and put into the Terezin camp along with other artists, scientists and intellectuals just for being Jewish.
There, together with more than 100 volunteer singers, he led the performance of Verdi’s Requiem. I stood there as if struck by lightning.” As an established conductor, Sidlin knew how much it cost to prepare such a monumental piece even under optimal conditions. “But this was a camp; people were sick, hungry, dying.”
Sidlin says he realized that he didn’t know very much about the Terezin ghetto which, as he and many others believed, was just a showplace for the Nazis, who tried to present the camp to the outside world as an example of their “humane attitude toward Jews.”
Sidlin undertook lengthy research, which brought him to the conclusion that “Terezin was probably the most thriving cultural center of occupied Europe and, above all, the prisoners were doing this all for themselves and not for the Nazis. It is often though that the Jews just accepted their fate and did not fight back. But there are various types of resistance. In the case of the Requiem, they sang in the face of the Nazis what they could not say in words – that there is a God; He is the one who rules the world, and not the criminals, who will eventually be punished. They managed to stay human under inhuman conditions, and this was their response and their true fight.”
The “Defiant Requiem” performance includes filmed interviews with the surviving members of the Terezin Choir.
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Kuhn Choir from the Czech Republic and soloists Ira Bertman, Bracha Kol, Yotam Cohen and Assaf Levitin, as well as actors Sasson Gabai and Yona Elian, will participate.
May 31 at Binyenei Ha’uma in Jerusalem. For more details: and the Israel Festival website