World-class musicians will perform classical works, traditional Jewish melodies and songs from Broadway musicals. But the stars will not be the musicians, but the instruments they’re playing.
Beginning Feb. 1, the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee will present a series of events centered around 16 violins that belonged to Holocaust victims. An Israeli violin maker, Moshe Weinstein, collected and restored the violins. In the mid-1990s, his son Amnon decided to share the violins and their stories with the world.
“What happened about 20 years ago was that Amnon decided to make them mean something,” said Jeremy Lisitza, the director of programs for the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.
Amnon Weinstein, who will be in Sarasota for “Violins of Hope,” continued to build the collection. At one point it included almost 70 violins. Many were donated to a museum in Cleveland. Weinstein’s collection now includes about 50 instruments. He will bring 16 violins and one viola when he comes here.
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Another violin belonged to an Italian Jew. His mother had given it to him when he was a child, telling him that music would help him get through the desperate moments in life. The boy took the violin with him to a forced labor camp, and its music helped him persevere.
One belonged to a Romanian Jew whose entire village was deported. A former judge bought the man an expensive violin, and fed him and his family in exchange for performances. A Nazi officer stole the violin. A peasant helped the man buy another violin, and he was able to keep his family alive by continuing to perform.
Another violin belonged to an Italian Jew. His mother had given it to him when he was a child, telling him that music would help him get through the desperate moments in life. His mother ended up being forced into the first train to Auschwitz. The boy took the violin with him to a forced labor camp, and its music helped him persevere.
Another belonged to a musician who played in the men’s orchestra at Auschwitz.
Each of the 16 violins has a different story, and each story has elements of defeat, despair, hope and triumph.
Lisitza said the Jewish Federation learned of the collection about 18 months ago, and has been working ever since to bring Violins of Hope and Weinstein to this area. The collection has traveled to only a handful of other American cities.
The opening night event at the Ritz-Carlton features music by Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler and others, performed on violins from the collection played by internationally acclaimed violinist Shlomo Mintz. Andrew Lane of the Sarasota Orchestra conducts. Actor Henry Winkler will be on hand to offer some opening remarks.
Conversations with Weinstein and James A. Grymes, the author of “Violins of Hope: Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour,” are scheduled for Feb. 6 at the Riverview Performing Arts Center and the next day at Temple Beth Israel.
It’s not going to be in small communities, and Sarasota is a small community. It’s going to go big. So if you want to see the “Violins of Hope” in your hometown, this is your chance.
Those are followed by a concert titled “Celebration of Jewish Music on Broadway,” Feb. 9 at the Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida in Bradenton.
A classical concert titled “Music and the Eternal Spirit,” featuring Bach, Brahms, Delibes and others, is slated for Feb. 13 at First United Methodist Church in Sarasota. The final concert, titled “Classic Jewish Melodies,” is set for Feb. 16 at Temple Beth Shalom in Sarasota.
“One of the things I was very conscious about was scheduling the events at different events around the community,” Lisitza said. “Each program is different, except for the conversations. The music is different at each event.”
Some of the individual events are already sold out, but organizers are taking names for waiting lists and are trying find ways to reconfigure seating to allow more people in.
Weinstein typically takes the collection only to large cities. It’s not likely to be back in these parts anytime soon.
“For southwest Florida, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “It’s never going to be in small communities, and Sarasota is a small community. It’s going to go big. So if you want to see the ‘Violins of Hope’ in your hometown, this is your chance.”
Violins of Hope schedule
8 p.m. Feb. 1: The Len Mazur Memorial Concert, Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. $36-$54.
7 p.m. Feb. 6: A Conversation with Amnon Weinstein and James Grymes, Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way, Sarasota. $12.50 advance, $15 day of event.
10:30 a.m. Feb. 7: A Conversation with Amnon Weinstein and James Grymes, Temple Beth Israel, 567 1 Bay Isles Road, Longboat Key. $12.50 advance, $15 day of show.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 9: “Celebration of Jewish Music on Broadway,” Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. $10 advance, $15 day of event.
7 p.m. Feb. 13: “Music and the Eternal Spirit,” First United Methodist Church, 104 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. $12.50 advance, $15 day of event.
7 p.m. Feb. 16: “Classic Jewish Melodies,” Temple Beth Shalom, 1050 S. Tuttle Ave., Sarasota. $12.50 advance, $15 day of event.