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Requiem for Darfur: A song of solidarity

© UNICEF/HQ05-0943/Haviv
Girls leave the Abu Shouk Camp for displaced people near El Fasher, North Darfur. Proceeds from the Requiem for Darfur concert will support UNICEF and other relief agencies working in the region.

By Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, USA, 22 January 2007 – More than 100 musicians and 120 singers will join tonight in a song of solidarity for the victims of the ongoing violence in Darfur.

‘Requiem for Darfur’, to be presented at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, is a historic performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. It is being held to honour the more than 200,000 people who have perished during the conflict in western Sudan and raise funds to help the millions displaced throughout the region.

“It is really a gathering of community to build compassion and solidarity and be a vehicle of transformation through music,” said George Matthew, artistic director and conductor of the Requiem for Darfur orchestra and chorus.

© 2007 Chris Lee
New York City’s Carnegie Hall is the venue for a historic performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem to honour victims of the Darfur conflict.

Presented by the Democracy Council, a non-profit that advocates for human rights and the rule of law in developing nations, Requiem for Darfur will benefit agencies providing humanitarian relief in Darfur. UNICEF, American Jewish World Service, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and Refugees International will put the concert proceeds to work.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, who has travelled twice to the region to highlight the plight of women and children in Darfur, will host the programme. Former United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland will be present as well to share his view of the situation.

Testament to the human spirit

Messa da Requiem, composed originally as a tribute to Verdi’s artistic contemporaries, lends itself well to a tribute to the suffering of millions in Darfur, says Mr. Matthew.

“What it is most of all is music developed on the theme of fear and terror,” he explains. “And terror of death and the fear of the unknown, and most of all the fear of becoming nothing. Verdi's music is a tremendous testament to what the human spirit is capable of when facing the most terrifying conditions. And somewhere in there is defiance in the face of fear.”

The concert should not be considered a death knell, emphasizes coordinator Stephanie Kleschnitski. “This is not a funeral for a nation,” she says. “It’s a tribute for those that are still struggling through the conflict.”

© UNICEF/HQ06-0697
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, host of the Requiem for Darfur programme, is greeted by children at the Gereida Camp in South Darfur State during a June 2006 visit.

A global chorus

The Requiem for Darfur chorus and orchestra, composed of world-class artists from 45 ensembles across four continents, owes its existence to the efforts of Mr. Matthew, a modest freelance conductor who called nearly every one of the performers to ask for their participation.

Tonight at Carnegie Hall, soloists from the Metropolitan Opera in New York will join young talent from the national youth orchestras of Great Britain, South Africa and the Netherlands. Principal musicians at Symphonies from Shanghai to St. Louis will share the stage with members of Philharmonics from Berlin to Philadelphia.

Many of the artists were involved in a similar benefit concert arranged by Mr. Matthew last year to raise money for survivors of the devastating October 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan. Mr. Matthew cites UNICEF and the legacy of the 1971 ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ benefit as the inspiration for his latest Requiem.

“I’m very touched that UNICEF would be involved,” he says. “Those concerts with George Harrison are very much in my mind. This is in many ways, not the child, but the grandchild of those concerts.”




21 January 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem previews the historic benefit concert, Requiem for Darfur, in New York City.
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22 January 2007:
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow speaks about her involvement in the Requiem for Darfur benefit concert.
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