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Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra to feature “Violins of Hope” at December 3 concert

By Myron Love On Saturday, December 3, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will be featuring a program with a strong emphasis on music with Jewish connections – pieces for example such as Prokofiev’s “Over-ture on Hebrew Themes,” Joseph Achron’s “Hebrew Melody, Op. 33,” Marc Lavry’s “Three Jewish Dances,” and John Williams’ “Theme from Schindler’s List” in a concert featuring two violins that were saved from the Holocaust.

“In a moving and unforgettable program, the audience will hear the stories behind both of the violins and experiences in performance the sounds the owners heard as they played them,” notes Brent Johnson, the WSO’s associate director, education and community. “This concert will offer a musical journey from Holocaust to hope.”

The violins will be played by Concert Master Gwen Hoebig and Sonia Lazar, a member of the WSO’s first violin section. Lazar (who is married to Ezra Lazar, the son of Matthew and Nola) is eagerly looking forward to playing one of the violins. She and Hoebig will also be doing solo performances.

This concert, notes Jim Manishen, the WSO’s artistic consultant, was originally supposed to have been performed two years ago – but was shut down by Covid. The story behind it begins in 2016 when Shelley Fain-tuch, the Jewish Federation of Winnpeg’s former community relations director, first heard the two violins being played while attending an AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. “I was in a cafeteria,” she recalls. “At the sounds of the violins, everyone went silent.”
As soon as she returned to Winnipeg, Faintuch contacted Jim Manishen about arranging a concert featuring the violins.

Faintuch explains how the violins that were saved from the ashes of the Holocaust came to reemerge in public. It began when someone in Israel brought a violin to Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein for repairs. While examining the violin, the two Israeli violin builders saw black ash inside and realized that this was a violin that had come from a concentration camps. The word got out and soon the brothers were receiving many more violins for repair that had come out of the camps. Over time, the brothers amassed a collection of several of these violins.

“These violins of hope have been played in concerts by prestigious symphony orchestras throughout America,” Faintuch says.
Of the two violins that are coming to the WSO, it is known that one of them, a Stradivarius, was owned by the Hecht family, originally from Billefeld in Germany. The family fled to Holland after the Nazis came to power. In Amsterdam, Mrs. Hecht – whose first name was Fanny, and who played the violin, became friendly with a neighbour, Helena Visser, who was also a violin player. Before the Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Amsterdam – including the Hechts – Fanny Hecht gave her violin to her neighbour for safekeeping.

The Hecht family, Fanny and Alex, and their sons, Fritz and Ernst, were all murdered by the Nazis.
When the Visser family, on a visit to Yad Vashem, learned the fate of the Hecht family and, subsequently – about the Violins for Hope, they donated the Hecht violin to Amnon and Avshalom.
The provenance of the second violin at the concert isn’t known.
Avshalem, Shelley Faintuch notes, will be in attendance at the concert and will be telling the story of the violins.

In addition to the appearance of the violins at the concert, Brent Johnson notes, the instruments will be part of a Holocaust awareness program in schools – featuring presentations by Faintuch and performances by Sonia Lazar at several Winnipeg high schools, including Grey Academy.
“We are also offering students a special discounted price for the concert of $25,” Johnson adds. “Students can order up to six tickets at our special price.”

The violins from VOH will be arriving in Winnipeg on November 22.
Johnson notes that, prior to the concert, there will be an extended pre-concert talk, from 6:40-7:10 – with appearances from Shelley Faintuch, Avshalom Weinstein. and WSO conductor Daniel Raiskin.

Jim Manishen reports that, following the concert, the two violins will be loaned to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights where they will be on display until March. While at the museum there will be numerous outreach programming presentations once again involving Shelley Faintuch and Sonia Lazar – including a special presentation and performance on Jan. 27, 2023 (International Holocaust Remembrance Day) at the CMHR Garden of Contemplation featuring violinist Victor Schultz.

Johnson reports that more than 1400 tickets have already been sold for the concert so interested readers should consider ordering tickets as soon as they can by phoning the box office at 204 949-3999 or going online at wso.ca .
Adds Jim Manishen: “These violins have to be played and heard.”
And Johnson concludes that “in a moving and unforgettable program, the audience at the concert will hear the stories behind both violins and experience in performance the sounds the owners heard as they played them – a musical journey from Holocaust to hope.”

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