Wheeling Symphony Orchestra to use ‘Violins of Hope’ during concert
WHEELING — Several violins and other stringed instruments originally played and owned by prisoners of Holocaust concentration camps will be used during a special Wheeling Symphony Orchestra concert next week.
Violins of Hope is slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling. The violins are on loan from the national organization, Violins of Hope, that has restored the instruments.
“Right at the outset, it needs to be said that this concert has been planned for two years,” said WSO Conductor and Music Director John Devlin, “but of course with the events of the Middle East in the last seven days it takes on an added dimension of importance as we look at the plight of the Jewish people through the lens of arts and culture.”
The events Devlin was referring to were the deadly attacks against Israel by Hamas militants that killed hundreds of people on Saturday. Israel has declared war against Hamas since then.
“Violins of Hope as an overall concept is a project that has rescued and restored violins used by Jewish artists during the Holocaust in and around concentration camps,” he noted. “We will have over a dozen of those instruments with us here in the Capitol. Members of the strings section of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra will be playing them.”
Devlin said the first selection will be a piece by Paul Ben-Haim chosen by the orchestra’s principal clarinetist Roi Mezare, whose grandparents were murdered in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
“This is a tribute in their memory,” Devlin added. “We’re glad to partner with Roi on something that is so meaningful to him and his community.”
The centerpiece of the program will be the world premiere of a piano concerto by composer Walter Bricht.
“This piece we discovered in a Viennese archive that had rescued artistic projects from concentration camps and has never been seen before,” Devlin said.
“Bricht fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s and moved to West Virginia. So this is a huge connection to our state, and we’re going to give birth to a piece that was not heard because of Jewish antisemitism during the 1930s in Germany.”
Devlin said after intermission the symphony’s final piece will be the Third Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn.
“Mendelssohn lived about 100 years before the Holocaust, but himself faced antisemitism as a German artist,” he said. “In fact, because he was originally a Jewish man, he had to change his name to mask that fact in order to have his pieces performed even 100 years before the Holocaust.
“These are the types of stories we’re going to tell here at the Capitol on Thursday night, and we look for that to be a deeply meaningful artistic experience.”
According to Violins of Hope, the instrument collection is owned by Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, father and son violin-makers.
“They dedicate their expertise and endless love to ensure that those instruments, most of which were rather cheap and unsophisticated, get a new beautiful make-over,” according to Violins of Hope. “Not enough, they also get a fantastic sound worthy of the best musicians and large music halls.”
WSO Concertmaster Rachel Stegeman, who played a short piece on Thursday for members of the press, said the instruments will help tell the story of what happened to the people who once owned them.
Playing the violins and other instruments likely gave some hope and helped them cope with the atrocities happening around them in the camps, she said.
“Music transcends everything,” Stegeman said.
Tickets for the concert can be purchased at www.wheelingsymphony.com.
Leading up to the concert, some free educational programs, titled the Festival of Ideas, will be taking place.
∫ The first, Lunch With the Symphony, is slated for 12:30 p.m. today at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling. It will include a panel discussion with Devlin; Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom; Barb Lewine, Violins of Hope docent; and Roi Mezare, WSO principal clarinet.
∫ At 2 p.m. Sunday, a Recital and Meaningful Conversation will take place at Temple Shalom. It will feature Roi Mezare, clarinet; Linda Cowan, soprano; Andy Sledge, bassoon; commentary from Michael Ellis Ingram; and remarks from Lief and Devlin.
∫ At 7 p.m. Tuesday, an Evening With Dominic Cheli will take place at the Stifel Fine Arts Center.
∫ At 6 p.m. Thursday, a Concert Talk will take place at the Capitol Theatre Ballroom, and include conversation with Devlin, Lief, Mezare, Cheli, Ingram, Sandra Rosen and WSO violinists.