The Violins of Hope are coming to San Mateo County.
The Violins of Hope are a collection of some 85 musical instruments that survived the Nazi Holocaust. Their Jewish owners were variously victims, survivors or refugees. Some of the instruments were played in concentration camps. They have all come in to the collection of Amnon Weinstein, an Israeli luthier who has restored them to playing condition and sent them out on tours, to be displayed in museums and to be played by local performers in concerts. Their first residency on the West Coast will be taking place in the Bay Area, primarily on the Peninsula and in San Francisco, between Jan. 16 and March 15 in a schedule packed with performances, exhibitions, discussions, presentations, films and religious services from a wide variety of presenters.
Here the violins “will speak anew,” says Patricia Kristof Moy, executive director of Music at Kohl Mansion and principal producer of the residency, “serving as life-affirming symbols, fostering important discussions on peace and human dignity, and ultimately creating a musical bridge of grace and compassion.”
The central performance of the residency will be a concert at Kohl Mansion in Burlingame Sunday, Jan. 16. This will feature “Intonations,” a newly commissioned song cycle by Jake Heggie, composer of the opera “Dead Man Walking.” Distinguished mezzo Sasha Cooke will sing lyrics by frequent Heggie collaborator Gene Scheer in the personae of the violins, telling their stories of the Holocaust. Cooke will be accompanied by musicians of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, playing instruments from the collection. The instrumentalists will also perform dark and passionate quartets by Mendelssohn and Schubert. This program will be repeated with different performers in San Jose Feb. 9 and at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco Feb. 21.
The violins will reappear at Kohl Sunday, Feb. 16, in the hands of the Ariel String Quartet, in a concert featuring searing and intense music by Schubert, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. This will be preceded the previous evening by a ticketed talk with the performers at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.
The other major local performance will be a Peninsula Symphony concert March 13 in San Mateo and March 14 in Campbell, focusing on Jewish music. Violinist Cihat Askin will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and his own setting of the Jewish prayer Avinu Malkeinu. The concert will also feature Jewish-inspired music by Prokofiev and the Jewish Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch. There is much more, including an Oakland Symphony concert on Feb. 22, a San Francisco Symphony chamber music concert Feb. 23 and a Bay Area Rainbow Symphony concert in San Francisco Feb. 29. Many of the violins were used to play klezmer, Eastern European Jewish folk music. Concerts featuring klezmer will be heard at the San Mateo Public Library Feb. 15, the Oshman Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto Feb. 29 and on other dates elsewhere in the Bay Area.
Besides concerts, there will be discussions and forums in various locations. Two of these will be held at the San Mateo Public Library. On Jan. 18, Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshalom, curators of the collection, and James Grymes, author of a book on the violins, will lead a discussion on the violins. On the afternoon of Jan. 26, Rabbi Dan Stein and Holocaust educator Dr. Yedida Kanfer will converse about music in the Holocaust.
Related films will be screened in various locations. Religious services featuring the violins will be held, including an interfaith service at the Congregational Church of San Mateo on the morning of Jan. 26.
Lastly, museum exhibits will be held in conjunction with the residency. The largest of these, at the San Francisco Veterans Building (adjacent to the War Memorial Opera House), opens Jan. 17. Another exhibit, of striking photographs of Weinstein’s workshop, showing the conservation work done there, is already up in the hallways of the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.
Go to violinsofhopesfba.org/events to find a calendar of all the events taking place around the Bay Area.