Elgin-area residents have a unique opportunity to see, hear, and learn about instruments that were owned and played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust. Twenty-four violins that have been lovingly restored by Israeli violin makers Amnon Weinstein and his son, Avshalom (Avshi), will be played by Elgin Symphony Orchestra musicians in a Violins of Hope concert on Saturday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m., at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin, Ill. The event will also include commentary on the violins featured in the performance by Dr. James A. Grymes, musicologist and author of the book “Violins of Hope.”
Conducted by Matthew Sheppard, artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, the concert will include “Theme from Schindler’s List” by John Williams, as well as music by Mahler and Mendelssohn.
Violins of Hope aims to bring awareness and insight by telling the stories of resilience, resistance, and unity through the power of a musical experience. Rather than Holocaust statistics that, in their enormity, can be difficult to fathom, Violins of Hope uses the violins and the music to explain the sufferings and hope of Jewish people.
Each violin has its own story. For some Jewish musicians, their violin gave them passage to freedom. Others threw their instruments off trains bound to concentration camps, seeing no point in bringing the violins with them. Still others provided music in the camps. Many of the violins had been lost, found in disrepair, and identifiable as Jewish-made or -played only by the Star of David inlaid into the instrument by craftsmen.
“We are honored to be able to bring this piece of history to the Elgin community,” said Marc Thayer, CEO of the ESO. “Through their music and history, these violins provide a unique opportunity to experience the real-life stories of those who lived through, and those who died because of, the Holocaust.”
The ESO concert is one of more than 50 events across Illinois from April through September arranged by JCC Chicago to showcase the violins and their histories. Other Elgin events include a Violins of Hope exhibition at the Gail Borden Public Library, opening April 24, and an event at Congregation Kneseth Israel. Bringing Violins of Hope to Ilinois is made possible through significant funding from Front Row Sponsors: MacArthur Foundation, Jelmar, and Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. Locally, the ESO concert will be held in partnership with the Gail Borden Public Library and the City of Elgin.
Tickets for the ESO’s Violins of Hope concert start at $20 and are available on the ESO’s website, www.ElginSymphony.org, and, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, by calling its box office at 847-888-4000. Student tickets are $10, and youth age 17 and under are free with an accompanying adult, limit one free youth ticket per adult ticket purchase.