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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


 

April 6, 2018  RSS feed
Culture

Text: T T T

Florida Orchestra to perform, tell story of Verdi work known as Holocaust’s ‘Defiant Requiem’

The Florida Orchestra is partnering with the Florida Holocaust Museum for its upcoming performances of Verdi’s Requiem to tell the story of how the work became known as the “Defiant Requiem” in the Theresiendstadt/Terezin Concentration Camp.

The performances, April 20-22, will feature the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, under the baton of Music Director Michael Francis. At the beginning of each performances, the Holocaust Museum’s Executive Director Elizabeth Gelman and Florida Orchestra President & CEO Michael Pastreich will speak briefly about the connection between the Requiem and Terezín. A free pre-concert talk starting one hour before each performance will take an in-depth look at the Requiem.

“There is an enduring fallacy that Jews did not resist the Nazis during the Holocaust. There were many methods of resistance including armed struggles and uprisings, as well as more spiritual forms,” says Gelman. “The story behind the Defiant Requiem tells how prisoners of Theresienstadt used music to resist Nazi efforts to degrade, deprive and dehumanize them.”

Located 30 miles north of Prague, Terezin/Theresienstadt was turned into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp by the Nazis after their occupation of Czechoslovakia. The camp was unusual in that inmates included Jewish scholars and scientists as well as internationally renowned artists, musicians and actors such as Czech composer Rafael Schächter and the famous German rabbi Leo Baeck.

In 1943, Schächter recruited 150 singers who met for months in a dimly lit basement to learn the Verdi Requiem. Using a single vocal score, he taught the complex music through rote and repetition, accompanied only by piano. Schächter conducted 16 performances of the Requiem for other prisoners. Replacements for chorus members were needed at least three times, as transports of prisoners were continually sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

The actions of the prisoners of Terezin to hold onto their humanity through the arts and sciences were in direct defiance of the Nazis. The performances of the Verdi Requiem later became known symbolically as “The Defiant Requiem.”

“We wanted to sing to the Nazis in Latin what we never could say to them in German: that when the supreme judge sits in judgment, no sinner will escape,” Edgar Krasa, a member of the camp’s chorus, told the Boston Globe in a 2002 interview. He died at age 92 in 2017.

“These performances allowed the performers and the audiences to immerse themselves into the world of art and happiness, forget the reality of ghetto life and deportations, and gather strength to better cope with the loss of freedom,” Krasa said.

The final performance of the Requiem was on June 23, 1944 when the International Red Cross was allowed to make an inspection of the camp, which was cleaned and dressed up to give the impression that the Jews had a good life in Terezin.

The singers hoped that the inspectors would hear the theme of the Requiem and understand their plight. Instead, the inspectors were completely taken in by the Nazi efforts. Holocaust architect Adolph Eichmann was later quoted as having said, “Those crazy Jews singing their own requiem.”

This is the first time in 10 years the Florida Orchestra has selected to perform the Requiem.

“Verdi’s Requiem is sublime all on its own. When you know this amazing connection with Terezin, it makes both the music and the story even more powerful. There is no doubt everyone in the concert hall will feel it,” says the orchestra’s Pastreich.

Concerts will be held at the Straz Center in Tampa on Friday, April 20 at 8 p.m.; the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday, April 22 and at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Sunday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets start at $15 and are available at FloridaOrchestra.org or by calling (727) 892-3337 or (800) 662-7286. Children and teens 5-18 get in free with Classical Kids tickets, available in advance.


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