The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra presents a performance of particular poignancy on May 5th. Entitled The Violins of Hope, this is a unique event, since some of the instruments to be played belonged to victims of the Holocaust – and have lain silent for 70 years. These violins were found, almost destroyed, in the desolation of the liberated camps and empty ghettos at the end of the Second World War – each instrument representing a human life, someone who died, or, in some cases, a life which the violin helped to save.
The violins have been lovingly restored by internationally renowned Israeli master luthier, Amnon Weinstein, and they will be brought to life again in the first performance of a world tour, by violinists Shlomo Mintz, Cihat Aşkin and musicians of the Monte- Carlo Philharmonic, led by the Orchestra’s Artistic and Musical Director, Gianluigi Gelmetti.
This performance, organised by the Association of Friends of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, under the High Patronage of HSH Prince Albert, Honorary President of the Association, will take place, in the presence of the Prince, at the Salle des Princes, at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte-Carlo.
Amnon Weinstein is the initiator of the Violins of Hope project, and has devoted 16 years to the sourcing and restoration of what has become a collection of 28 violins, 25 of which are now able to be played. The violins are mainly of European origin, some donated by private owners, and the full story of most of them is known. 21 have a direct connection to the Holocaust, and 15 are inlaid with the Star of David.
“One of the most important violins I have is decorated with five Stars of David,” Mr Weinstein says. “I received it in a nylon bag; it was in pieces. The restoration took one and a half years. Every violin has a story to tell. Many of them saved musicians’ lives.”
Having learned his craft from his father, Moshe, Mr Weinstein studied in Cremona, with Pietro Sgarabotto, Giuseppe Ornati and Ferdinando Garimberti, and in Paris with Etienne Vatelot. He works with orchestras and artists both in Israel and abroad.
An entry on the website of Shlomo Mintz describes the story of The Violins of Hope as one of contrasts: “of sadness and joy, of darkness and light, of despair and hope. It’s a legacy of a lost generation rescued from oblivion. Many personal stories were collected. Violins that saved lives and violins that were lost. Violins that tell a story of revenge and violins that remain silent, having disappeared without a trace. In this painful chapter of history these instruments played a role that was never shared in the past. Amnon Weinstein felt that it was time to make the voice of a lost generation heard.”
This concert marks the first performance in the Principality of Monaco by the Russian-born Israeli violinist, who started playing the violin with his father, at the age of three-and-a-half. He made his concerto debut with the Israel Philharmonic at the age of 11, and played the Paganini Violin Concerto at age 13. His Carnegie Hall debut was with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when he was 16, the age at which he entered the Juilliard School of Music to study with Dorothy DeLay.
Shlomo Mintz has toured throughout Europe with conductors such as Carlo-Maria Giulini, Antal Dorati and Eugene Ormandi. Amongst the awards he has received is one from the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, under the auspices of Isaac Stern. In 2006 Mr Mintz was granted an Honorary Doctoral Degree by the Ben-Gurion University, Israel.
Turkish violinist, Cihat Aşkin, is currently Professor of Music at the Turkish State Music Conservatory, where he started violin lessons at the age of 11 with Professor Ayhan Turan. He gave his first recital at the age of 12. Mr Aşkin completed his studies in at the Royal College of Music in London, under Rodney Friend, and took his doctorate at City University London under Yfrah Neaman. Following his return to Istanbul, he founded the Advanced Music Research Center (MIAM), becoming its first director in 2000.
Cihat Aşkin has been a guest soloist for all the major orchestras in Turkey, and tours throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA. The founder and music director of the Istanbul Chamber Orchestra, he was also the founder of the Istanbul Modern Music Ensemble (IMME). He established an educational project, CAKA (Cihat Aşkın and Little Friends) to develop education in the study of the violin throughout Turkey, and he recently established the ‘Aşkın Ensemble’ which has a wide repertoire, from chamber works to experimental Turkish music.
The performance on May 5th will feature Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the Symphony No 5 by Beethhoven, Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem, an arrangement by Cihat Aşkin of a traditional work, AvinuMalkeynu, and the world premiere of a work entitled Ke’ev by Maestro Gelmetti, specially written for the occasion.
The concert will be followed a Gala Dinner in the Empire Room of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, and all proceeds from the event will be donated to the University of Jerusalem, in aid of the Centre for Brain Research, regarded as one of the best in the world.
The Violins of Hope takes place on Sunday, May 5th at 7 pm, at the Grimaldi Forum, 10 Avenue Princesse Grâce, Monte-Carlo.
All photographs courtesy of Association of Friends of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra unless otherwise stated.