Violins of Hope at Community Music Center

By Suzanne Korey

On Saturday, February 15, I attended Violins of Hope in the Community Music Center Concert Hall.

The moment the musician put her bow on the string, the power of the Violins of Hope was clear. These stringed instruments, which belonged to prisoner-musicians from the camps of the Holocaust, represent what is both the worst and best of humanity: the cruelty of war and the beauty of art, the power of faith. Now, through the devotion of Amnon Weinstein, a renowned violin maker, these instruments have been beautifully restored and are being shared in schools and concert halls around the world. 

The Community Music Center was fortunate to see the instruments and hear the Ariel quartet perform two virtuosic pieces with these treasured violins and cellos: Prokefiev’s Sonata for Two Violins and the first movement of Schubert’s Death of a Maiden. Avshi Weinstein, Amnon’s son and a craftsman himself, is traveling with the instruments on a two-month tour of Bay Area venues.

In a perverse use of art, Jews incarcerated in the camps were ordered to play in orchestras for the entertainment of the guards, during labor marches, during executions. For some of these musicians, being a violinist probably saved their lives. James Grymes, author of Violins of Hope, said that “Wherever there were violins, there was hope.” Perhaps that is what the audience took away from the performance – even in the face of the most unspeakable horror, where there is music and beauty there is hope.

It takes a village: The Bernal Hill Players and the spirit of collaboration

The 25th Anniversary season of the Shenson Faculty Concert Series at Community Music Center kicks off on Sunday, February 23 with It Takes a Village with the Bernal Hill Players. Their chamber music program emphasizes multiculturalism, women’s empowerment, and celebrates San Francisco’s vibrant local musical community. The concert highlights music by North and South American composers in diverse styles, including classical, folk, tango, contemporary, and experimental. It also features a commission by CMC faculty member and composer Erik Pearson.

Bernal Hill Players and the spirit of collaboration
Martha Rodríguez-Salazar (CMC flute/voice faculty and choir conductor) and Jennifer Peringer (CMC piano faculty and choir accompanist) founded the Bernal Hill players in 2008. The spirit of collaboration has always been a core principle since the early days of the Bernal Hill Players with CMC students and other musicians as performing members. The upcoming concert It Takes a Village pays homage to this collaborative vision, which fuels creativity and innovation for the group. As Peringer says, “One of the concepts behind the concert title is that it takes a village to continue to grow and flourish in our creative path. We love inviting others to play with us.” Peringer and Rodríguez are opening the door to new collaborators in the upcoming performance with CMC faculty members Rachel Condry (clarinet) and Annelise Zamula (woodwinds) performing, as well as Sharon Wayne (guitar) who is a CMC community member. Piano faculty member Matylda Rotkiewicz will also join the program performing a piano duet with Peringer. Each skilled player comes from a different musical path, yet they find common ground in classical chamber music. For Rodriguez, it’s a “joy to be able to make music with so much diversity of musical expertise.”

Building bridges through repertoire
The upcoming chamber concert explores themes of multiculturalism and women’s empowerment. Both of these themes reveal other important aspects of the Bernal Hill Players’ ethos. As Peringer puts it, “One of the goals of Bernal Hill Players has always been to cross musical bridges.” With their choice of repertoire the group has sought to celebrate cultures and diverse voices, whether those be in the Bay Area, Mexico, or South America, in addition to the European classical music canon. For the group, the theme of celebrating cultures takes on special meaning in the current political climate. As Peringer says, “It feels important during this time when there is so much tension between the United States and Mexico, Central, and South America to build bridges and not walls.” Through the input of ensemble collaborator Rachel Condry, the concert program explores compositions of Pauline Oliveros. For the group, it was important to put forward Oliveros’s feminsist voice during a historical moment when women’s voices are at the center of discourse. Oliveros’s work was also selected for her anti-virtuosic musical sensibilities—to bring people together to experience musical performance as communal and spiritual.

A concert for “everyone”
It Takes a Village features musical configurations of duos, trios, and quintets, while also rejoicing in the motif of inclusion. The audience will be included and invited to experience music in a non-traditional way, with moments for participation and meditative listening. For the group, CMC feels like the perfect place to present a concert that crosses musical boundaries, celebrates cultural and gender diversity, and seeks to include everyone in the musical experience. As Rodríguez says, “CMC is also a musical home to the Bernal Hill Players, so this theme of ‘inclusion,’ ties into CMC’s mission. It feels like the right place and right time to offer this concert.”