Disturbing, endearing and memorable ‘Violins of Hope’ program and concert

Harold DuckettOur Town Arts

No one in the large audience at the Tennessee Theatre Wednesday night will soon forget the well-written, flawlessly performed and emotionally moving program of the “Violins of Hope” concert that featured restored instruments and stories of unimaginable horror and political and social suffering of the Jewish people during Nazis’ control of Central Europe in the years building up to and during World War II and the resulting Holocaust.

Originally written by Donald Carrier and Rachel Lerner-Ley and performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Knoxville performance was directed by Calvin MacLean.

The program featured Hallerin Hilton Hill as the narrator who tied all of the pieces together.

After cogent opening remarks by Marian Esther Wilhelm, head of the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School, which sponsored the “Violins of Hope” exhibition, concert and other events around the city, Knoxville poet laureate Marilyn Kallet read her poem written especially for the occasion.

Then there was a series of narrations by Hill and a cast of eight actors, representing Jewish people who experienced the events of the 1930s and 1940s. Katie Cunningham, Tony Cedeno, Carol Mayo-Jenkins, Connor Mize, Brady Moldrup, Danielle Pressley, Terry Silver-Alford and Meg Sutherland told personal stories and recounted the horrifying and disastrous events that took place in the lives of Jews in Europe.

They also told of the founding of the Palestine Orchestra by Bronislaw Huberman and the large number of musicians and their families who were saved by getting them to Palestine.

Many of the “Violins of Hope” instruments were played by the original members of the Palestine Orchestra, which became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the world’s great orchestras.

These stories and narration were wrapped around music played by members of the Knoxville Symphony, under conductor Aram Demirjian. The pieces were chosen especially for the concert.

The music began with African-American and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Walker’s 1946 “Lyric for Strings.” A lovely, almost prayer-like composition, it was beautifully performed by Demirjian and the KSO.

After more narration and stories by the cast, the KSO played Sergei Prokofiev’s “Overture on Hebrew Themes,” Op. 34, written in 1919 for the unusual combination of clarinet, string quartet and piano, later orchestrated for orchestra.

That was followed by an orchestral arrangement of the second movement of Shostakovich’s emotionally devastating “String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor,” Op. 110. It was written in 1960 during a visit to Soviet-ruled East Germany.

Next, KSO associate concertmaster Gordon Tsai played John Williams “Theme” from the film “Schindler’s List,” the remarkable film about the saving of Jews from the death camps. Tsai played the beautifully restored and sounding “Wagner Violin” played by one of the violinists in the Palestine Orchestra.

After a story about a violinist who was taken to a German military gathering and ordered to play a J.S. Bach sonata, KSO concertmaster William Shaub gorgeously played the “Sarabande” movement from Bach’s “Partita for Violin, No. 2 in D Minor.” Shaub played the “Auschwitz” violin that was saved by the rescuing Allied Forces.

Zofia Glashauser, playing the “Weichold” violin used by a violinist in the Palestine Orchestra, beautifully played the third “Simchas Torah” (“Rejoicing”) from Ernest Bloch’s 1923 “Baal Shem, Suite Hébraïque,” (“Three Pictures of Hassidic Life”).

KSO principal cellist Andy Bryenton followed more stories and details about inhuman Jewish treatment by playing the Dr. Alfred Steizner cello, another instrument from the Palestine Orchestra, in an endearing performance of Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei” (“All Vows”), Op. 47, written especially for the traditional service of Yom Kippur.

There were stories from musicians who survived the death camps that when the camp orchestras were playing, even the faces of the German prison guards changed.

If there is a summary of what has taken place surrounding the “Violins of Hope,” it is this: Music Matters.

The “Violins of Hope” presentation and concert will be performed again tonight at the Tennessee Theatre. As of early this morning there are tickets remaining. Tickets may be purchased here.

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