For the past two decades, Amnon Weinstein has restored violins that survived the Holocaust. The violins in his collection have been played in concerts in Jerusalem, Berlin and Charlotte. This fall, seven cultural arts organizations are working together to bring the instruments to Cleveland with an array plays, concerts, lectures, exhibitions, films, and other public events. A Violins of Hope exhibition featuring the violins and their individual stories at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage anchors the community-wide collaboration. Earlier this morning, the museum hosted a press conference to announce details around the program, which brings together nearly 20 local arts institutions and more than 50 funders.
At the start of the press conference, Maltz Museum director Ellen Rudolph provided an overview of the exhibition, which will open on Oct. 2 and be on display until Jan. 3. The exhibit will include 19 violins, one of which is coming from Holocaust authority Yad Vashem and will make its American debut. Historically, concentration camp orchestras often played to entertain SS officers or while prisoners marched to their deaths. But the orchestras’ music also “reminded prisoners of their own humanity.” The exhibit will touch on these aspects and be multi-sensory; it will feature circular pods that will be “dramatically lit” as a soundtrack of klezmer and classical music plays. While the exhibit is on display, musicians from Baldwin Wallace Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music will stop in the gallery to play on the actual Violins of Hope in the exhibition. “It’s an amazing opportunity to bring those voices to life and connect with those who are lost,” said Rudolph.
The press conference included a video greeting from master violin maker Amnon Weinstein, who recalled finding a violin with a Cleveland connection — it belonged to former Cleveland Institute of Music director Ernest Bloch. He talked about the various organizers who have helped put the program together. “My English is not good enough to praise all the people and efforts for this outstanding project,” he said. “I hope people will be able to listen to the sounds and stories.”
The Cleveland Orchestra chairman Richard Bogomolny then provided background on how the project got started. He initially heard about the violins in 2007 when there were only 14 or 15 instruments (there are now about 50) in Weinstein’s collection. He wanted to bring the violins to Cleveland but because of the recession, he didn’t think Cleveland’s art institutions could find the finances at that time to put the exhibit on.
“This project could have only happened in Cleveland,” he said. He said he first approached Maltz Museum chair Milton Maltz, who immediately wanted to do an exhibition at the museum. “[Maltz] said, ‘I want this exhibition to be good enough that we could take it on the road to New York or Washington D.C.’” Bogomolny also quickly scheduled a performance with the Cleveland Orchestra at Silver Hall (now the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel), a venue that is in the midst of an extensive renovation. “The ground rules for this exhibit are that we operate as one organization,” he said with regard to the collaborative nature of the event. “I have never seen an organization work like this one has where it’s all for one and one for all.”
Maltz talked about his own personal connection to Cleveland and spoke about the renovation of Silver Hall, which he said is slated to re-open as part of CWRU on Sept. 27 with the Cleveland Orchestra performance featuring the violins. “I’m so proud of all the friends I’ve made in Cleveland, Ohio,” he said as he recounted the circumstances that brought him to the city.
Case Western Reserve University president Barbara R. Snyder said she was “thrilled” about the performing arts center, the collaboration and all of programming that would be coming out over the next three months. “The hall is stunning,” she said in reference to new performing arts center. She talked about the various courses that Case will offer in conjunction with the arrival of the Violins of Hope. Filmmaker Malcolm Clarke, the director of The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, will even be on hand to conduct a class. “We hope to attract families from across the region,” Snyder said. “I think we’ll remember Violins of Hope Cleveland for many, many years.”