More than 3,000 local students and community members listened to music, learned about the Holocaust and were taught how music can invoke hope even in the most challenging times during The Cleveland Orchestra’s “Violins of Hope” concert’s encore presentations March 8 to 10 at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland.
The hour-long show consisted of music played by the orchestra, interspersed with eight actors telling the audience about what Jews endured in the Holocaust and how music helped them survive.
The performance was conducted by The Cleveland Orchestra’s associate conductor Brett Mitchell and featured first associate concertmaster Peter Otto and assistant principal cellist Charles Bernard.
“They didn’t really realize how successful it was going to be, so immediately when we started it last time, everybody I think had this collective feeling that there was something very special and so it would be a shame to just do it one time,” Otto told the Cleveland Jewish News. “I think even though it’s not particularly gruesome in its descriptions of what happened, it still gets the major points across and I think even for young kids the message is very uplifting because it’s ultimately about hope.”
The Cleveland Orchestra and the Case Western Reserve University / Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Program in Acting presented the program. It included “Simchas Torah” (“Rejoicing”) from “Baal Shem,” by Ernest Bloch; “Kol Nidrei,” Opus 47 by Max Bruch; Overture on Hebrew Themes, Opus 34 by Sergei Prokofiev; and John Williams’s music from the film “Schindler’s List.” The actors played Jewish and European characters, dressed in 1930s and 40s attire, who between songs described the role of music in Jewish life before, after and during the Holocaust.
“Music was central to Jewish life,” said one of the eight characters, who described when the Nazi’s came to power and began forcing restrictions on Jews.
“The instruments are the voices of the victims,” a character said, adding that some Jews survived the concentration camps because they were given jobs playing music. “As long as they wanted music, they couldn’t put us in the gas chamber.”
The first presentation of the program was in December 2015 was was attended by more than 10,000 students. For that production, The Cleveland Orchestra played instruments preserved from the Holocaust, which were collected by Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein. Although those instruments were not available for the 2017 program, Otto said that the program retains the always-relevant message.
“I think it’s a great educational tool for children and I think, ultimately, a lot of them don’t know anything about it,” said Otto, who in the original show played a violin saved from Auschwitz. “And in an environment with anti-Semitism on the rise again, I think it’s never too early to start educating people.”