With ‘Violins of Hope,’ community examines Holocaust, social issues

Posted on: September 30th, 2017 by tgregory

By Kathy Carlson

Amnon Weinstein restores instruments played in Nazi concentration camps. PHOTO COURTESY OF NASHVILLE SYMPHONY

Vintage musical instruments that were lovingly restored after surviving the Holocaust will give all of Nashville a focus for better understanding how people confront injustice and hatred. 

The instruments – collectively called the Violins of Hope – will be played by Nashville Symphony musicians and exhibited at the Nashville Library next spring as the city’s Jewish, arts and community organizations come together with a host of related programs. 

Mark Freedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, spoke at a news conference detailing upcoming programs. He thanked the many partner organizations and individuals who have worked to bring the Violins of Hope to Nashville.

At a news conference at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Mark Freedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, tells what the Violins project means to him.. PHOTO COURTESY OF NASHVILLE SYMPHONY/LINDSAY BINKLEY

He recalled how he visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, in 1986. The visit inspired him to compose a poem on the spot that said, in part, “There are 6 million songs lost in the hills of Jerusalem.

“…I didn’t know what that meant until I learned about Amnon Weinstein,” the Tel Aviv violinmaker who with his son, Avshi, has restored the Violins of Hope, Freedman said. Weinstein’s workshop “is a sacred, holy place, and we are bringing that sacredness and holiness to Nashville.” The presence of the Violins of Hope in Nashville will allow the instruments to tell the stories of those who played them in the concentration camps.

Avshi Weinstein and University of North Carolina-Charlotte musicology professor James Grymes will speak at the Southern Festival of Books on Oct. 14 at the Nashville Public Library’s downtown location. Grymes received a National Jewish Book Award for “Violins of Hope,” published in 2014.

Thirty-four Violins of Hope instruments are coming to Nashville, 25 of which can be played by musicians. They will arrive in Nashville in mid-March. The Nashville Symphony’s Violins of Hope program will be performed on March 22-24. On the following Monday, March 26, the instruments will be placed on exhibit through Memorial Day at the Nashville Public Library. There will be no charge to view the instruments.

Nashville Symphony President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Valentine said he held one of the violins when they were on display in Sarasota, Fla. “You could feel the energy coming off this instrument.” 

“Each violin will have its own soul,” said Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony. Musicians will decide among themselves who will play which instruments. “The instruments are going to have voices. Music is a conduit to that message. … The musicians very much look forward to sharing the stage with these incredible instruments.”

It is believed that most of the instruments were brought by their owners to concentration camps. “The instruments were in horrible condition” when Weinstein began to restore them, Guerrero said. They had been played in the rain, had lain forgotten in survivors’ attics. 

Symphony Chief Operating Officer Steven Brosvik learned about the Violins of Hope in reading James A. Grymes’ 2014 book of the same name. 

During the Holocaust, the instruments and musicians were “used to grisly purpose by the Nazis,” said  Brosvik. Musicians played to concentration camp visitors, including the Red Cross, for propaganda purposes. They played to incoming prisoners to create a false sense of safety and even during executions of fellow prisoners. “Reading Grymes’ book has changed the way I view history and think about the future,” he said.

Scores of local events – ranging from musical performances, art exhibits, lectures and more – are planned, including:

• Author James Grymes and instrument restorer Avshi Weinstein will speak at the Southern Festival of Books (October 14, Main Public Library)

• Vanderbilt Holocaust Lecture Series (October 24 & 28, Vanderbilt University)

• Nashville Ballet performs Light: The Holocaust and Humanity Project (February 9-11, TPAC) 

• “Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex,” photography exhibit by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick (February 23-May 28, Frist Center for the Visual Arts)

• Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony perform John Williams’ Three Pieces from Schindler’s List and the world premiere and live recording of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 4 “Heichalot,”  with orchestra musicians performing on the Violins of Hope (March 22-24, Schermerhorn Symphony Center)

• Violins of Hope Exhibit – free and open to the public (March 26-May 28, Main Public Library)

• “Voices of Hope” youth choral festival, featuring ensembles from across Tennessee (March 26, Schermerhorn Symphony Center)

• “We Shall Overcome: Civil Rights and the Nashville Press 1957–1968,” photography exhibit (March 30-October 7, Frist Center for the Visual Arts)

• “Nick Cave: Feat. Nashville,” live performance by visual artist Nick Cave (April 6, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, presented by the Frist Center)

• Holocaust Remembrance Day / Yom HaShoah Memorial Service (April 12, Schermerhorn Symphony Center)

• Joshua Bell performs Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Nashville Symphony (May 9, Schermerhorn Symphony Center)

• A series of six concerts and lectures at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music 

Many more events – including chamber concerts, movie screenings, community dialogues and more – will be announced in the months to come. 

Information on the Violins of Hope, including a regularly updated schedule of events, is available online at: ViolinsofHopeNashville.org.  •


Violins of Hope Nashville Program Partners include the following:

• Akiva School

• Barnes and Noble at Vanderbilt

• Belcourt Theatre

• Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt

• Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival

• Christ Church Cathedral

• Congregation Micah

• Fisk University and the Fisk Jubilee Singers

• Frist Center for the Visual Arts

• Humanities Tennessee

• Intersection

• Jewish Federation & Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee

• Lipscomb University

• Nashville Ballet

• Nashville Children’s Theatre

• Nashville Film Festival

• Nashville Jewish Film Festival

• Nashville Repertory Theatre

• Nashville Public Library

• National Museum of African American Music


• Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt

• OZ Arts Nashville

• Parnassus Books

• Tennessee Arts Commission

• Tennessee Holocaust Commission

• Tennessee State Museum

• Vanderbilt University Chancellor’s Lecture Series

• Vox Grata Women’s Choir