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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life + Arts

Choruses pay victims tribute

At the Nazi concentration camp and ghetto of Terez’iacute;n during the Holocaust, Czechoslovakian composer Rafael Sch’auml;chter used music as a way to raise the morale of his fellow inmates by organizing a choir and performing Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem 16 times from 1943 to 1944.

There was no orchestra at Sch’auml;chter’s disposal; just a legless piano in a cramped barracks basement with only one piano-vocal score for him to use. In the absence of a full score, Sch’auml;chter was forced to teach his volunteer chorus the piece by rote, bit by bit and part by part.’

Sch’auml;chter was very passionate about Verdi’s Requiem. The piece featured Latin phrases such as ‘Libera me’ (‘Deliver me’) and ‘Salva me’ (‘Save me’), which he felt was important to perform for and to the Nazis. The choir could sing to their overlords what they could not say to them, in particular verses dealing with eternal damnation.

On Friday, the Moores School of Music and Moores School undergraduate choruses, in collaboration with the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, paid tribute to Sch’auml;chter and his 150-person choir with A Defiant Requiem, a special choral and multimedia presentation of Verdi’s Requiem. The presentation was accented by video footage and narration by former Terez’iacute;n prisoners.

Guest composer Murray Sidlin led the orchestra. Sidlin was the creative force behind the documentary film Defiant Requiem at Terezin and served as the founder and director of the Rafael Sch’auml;chter Institute of Arts and Humanities at Terez’iacute;n. Sidlin conducted A Defiant Requiem on the former grounds of the Terez’iacute;n concentration camp in 2006.

Requiem itself was performed masterfully, the orchestra capturing the poignant nature of the piece to the fullest extent, pulling the audience into the emotional journey expressed by Verdi and so respected by Sch’auml;chter.

The placement of several off-stage trumpets in the Moores Opera House balcony created a stereo effect that enhanced the total emersion of the audience into the music.

Demonstrating exceptional range and vocal prowess were four featured soloists, soprano Cynthia Clayton, mezzo-soprano Melanie Sonnenberg, tenor Joseph Evans and bass-baritone Hector Vasquez, all whom are Moores School of Music faculty.

‘ There was not much in the way of set design, but the strips of sheet metal that bordered the central video screen served to recreate the bleak simplicity of the Terez’iacute;n concentration camp.

The incorporation of video footage featuring testimonies from former prisoners of Terez’iacute;n was, while appropriate at times, sometimes a distraction to the performance at hand. Quiet introspection is often a more effective tool than overt exposition, as was the case here.

Nevertheless, these types of multimedia events are what help to keep the Moores School of Music at the forefront of quality University performances. A Defiant Requiem succeeded in honoring the legacy of Sch’auml;chter and his fellow inmates at Terez’iacute;n.

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