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November 14, 2017

“Violins of Hope” Features Instruments Saved from the Holocaust

Supported by a $150,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Music at Kohl Mansion is commissioning composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer to write a chamber work for soprano, violin soloist, and string quartet. It will be performed in the “Violins of Hope San Francisco Bay Area” community initiative during the 2020 season.

The Burlingame chamber-music series, now in its 35th season, announced today “Violins of Hope,” a Bay Area-wide community initiative featuring programs for a collection of stringed instruments rescued from the Holocaust and restored by Israeli violinmakers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein.

A variety of concerts and community events around the Bay Area will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Music at Kohl Mansion is selecting and coordinating a network of partner organizations for this in-depth celebration of the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. The “Violins of Hope” collection consists of more than 60 stringed instruments, each with its own story to tell. They have been played in concert halls, synagogues, churches, universities, and other spaces around the world.

Each instrument has a unique story, chronicled by author James A. Grymes in Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust — Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour. “Since the Shoah, when the Jewish cultural world was eradicated, I seek out the remaining sliver of culture: dusty violins in thousands of pieces, and I renew their lives as I repair and renovate them, piecing them together and cleaning them so that they may play their lively tunes once again,” says Amnon Weinstein.

Responding to the Music at Kohl Mansion announcement, the Weinsteins sent this message from Tel Aviv:

Expanding the worldwide “Violins of Hope” project to the West Coast is a dream we have had for years. We look forward to meeting audiences and communities in the Bay Area to share the stories these musical instruments tell. We are thrilled these stories will find new voices in the new chamber music piece commissioned for the project from Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer.

Organizations inspired to partner with MAKM for the project, which combines concerts, lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, broadcasts, exhibitions, and education programs include:

Congregation Emanu-El San Francisco; Facing History and Ourselves; Grace Cathedral; InterMusic SF; Jewish Community Center East Bay; Jewish Community Center San Francisco; Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma Counties; Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center; KlezCalifornia; Mercy High School Burlingame; Osher Marin Jewish Community Center; Oshman Family Jewish Community Center; Peninsula Jewish Community Center; San Francisco Interfaith Council; Veretski Pass; Young Chamber Musicians; Under One Tent; and the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest. The list of community and organizational partners continues to expand.

“Music at Kohl Mansion is honored to bring together a coalition of partners invested in sharing the powerful message of memory, justice, and healing symbolized by the Violins of Hope” says MAKM Executive Director Patricia Kristof Moy.

“In response to the tragic reoccurrence of mass genocide and ethnic cleansing in today’s world, this project will serve as a connector to many worlds: secular and religious, educational and artistic, activist, Jewish, Christian and multi-faith. We must constantly remember in order not to repeat the past. We are deeply honored to have been awarded a prestigious Hewlett 50 Commissions grant to give new voice to the historic ‘Violins of Hope’ and carry their message into the future”.

The commission will receive its world premiere on the Kohl stage and will be repeated in a variety of community concerts and events that make up the month-long “Violins of Hope” project.

“What an absolute thrill and profound honor to be invited to craft a piece for these historic violins,” says Jake Heggie. “This is a rare opportunity to bring people into a place of beauty and reflection to tell the harrowing, powerful and hopeful stories of these instruments — to give them a voice and make sure their stories of the Holocaust are not forgotten.

“A new work of this scale is already a community event — but this one has a powerful international resonance. Though it will begin in the Bay Area, it promises to open up doorways and build bridges to schools, museums, as well as arts organizations far and wide. I am absolutely overjoyed at the opportunity.”

 S.F. Conservatory Goes Global with International Fellowship

Two SFCM graduates, horn player Craig Hansen ’16 and clarinetist Lotte Leussink ’17, are the first San Francisco participants in a new international program, called the Future of Orchestral Culture, in which San Francisco Conservatory of Music partners with University of Music and Drama Hamburg, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and symphony orchestras in Hamburg, Berkeley, and Shanghai.

Research and performance projects undertaken by fellowship participants explore new directions in orchestral culture, from management to performance, and the concert experience. The program, which began in September, gives eight fellows who are recent graduates of the participating conservatories the opportunity to spend a full academic year researching and developing innovative formats for the orchestral concert experience. Fellows study and perform alongside symphony musicians while crafting new ideas and concepts that will be implemented in experimental events with the participating orchestras.

Participants are based in Hamburg and will spend several weeks in San Francisco and Shanghai, implementing approaches they cultivated in Hamburg with the cities’ respective participating cultural institutions.

The new fellowship is funded through the next three years by the Federal Government of Germany with additional support from the University of Music and Drama Hamburg and Symphoniker Hamburg. All partner institutions have contributed to the concept and implementation of this project.

“We are honored to partner with our innovative colleagues in Hamburg, Shanghai, and Berkeley,” says SFCM President David H. Stull. “There is enormous potential in young artists seeking to advance their knowledge with professional musicians from across the world. Global relationships are strengthened and secured through the bonds of creative work — we look forward with enthusiasm to the future of this alliance.”

Bach Collegium Japan Presents Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Davies Hall on Dec. 9

In a welcome return to San Francisco, Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan will perform Bach’s Christmas Oratorio on Dec. 9 in Davies Hall. The Gramophone Classical Music Award winners are touring in their 27th season. Soloists are soprano Sherezade Panthaki, countertenor Jay Carter, tenor Zachary Wilder, and bass Dominik Wörner.

Bach wrote the oratorio, really a set of six cantatas, for the Christmas season of 1734, incorporating music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas. The text — author unknown — covers several Christmas feasts: Nativity, Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Magi.

When Suzuki last visited San Francisco, conducting Philharmonia Baroque, Classical Voice interviewed him and asked about his understanding of Bach’s universal appeal. His reply:

When you perform German cantatas in German, it is not easy for any kind of foreign audience. In Asian countries like Japan, even English doesn’t work so well. European languages are very difficult for our audience, but we can provide a Japanese translation to the audience members and then we get a chance to talk and think about the context of the text. Bach’s music helps a lot. Sometimes you can understand the context of a cantata without knowing the text itself, because the music is so powerful.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].