SONGS from the violins of hope • Premiered AUG 7, 2021


INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope
Text by Gene Scheer
Inspired, in part, by the book Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust, by James A. Grymes

1. Ashes 

When they told him not to pray,
Told him to forget,
When they told him not to hope,
He played the violin. 

Who touches me now?
Who opens me like the Torah
Searching for answers
And beneath a carved piece of spruce
Finds only ashes? 

Whose ashes? Whose hands?
Who will listen if I sing again? 

They told her not to pray,
Told her to forget,
Told her not to hope… 

How could it happen?
I was never meant to be an urn for ashes.
I was crafted, carved, created,
Born to intone and vibrate
To thread yesterday, today and tomorrow
With inextinguishable song. 

When they told us not to pray,
Told us to forget,
When they told us not to hope,
We played these violins. 

2. Exile

Erich picks me up nervously,
As he did on the cattle car to Dachau,
On the march to Buchenwald.
He takes me in his hands,
Touches a string
And I cry like Isaac in Abraham’s arms. 

Twelve hundred exiles on a ship
In the middle of the ocean
On our way to the Promised Land.
But the ship is listing, drifting,
And the call goes out:
“All the coal is gone!”
“We must feed the furnace!”
“Find every piece of wood!”
“Tear up the floorboards, the railings,
the walls and the doors!”
“Rip the ship apart!”
“Every piece of wood into the furnace now!” 

“Is it time to let you go?” he asks me.
“Are you just another piece of wood to fuel the fire?” 

Erich is gone. I am still here.
Now, every time someone picks me up
And draws a bow across these strings,
Part of me is back in Erich’s hands,
And I cry again like Isaac in Abraham’s arms. 

3. Concert 

“Play something romantic,” the Commandant orders.
“Something from before all this.”
The officers are all seated.
They tap their feet as they wait for the concert to begin. 

Henry looks up at the showerheads
That have never shed a drop of water.
We know why.
Here in the gas chamber, everything but murder is a lie.
“Forgive me,” he whispers to me.
“But if I play, I will not die today.” 

Together we soar and sing
Of walks along the Rhine, hands intertwined.
The tune rolls forth like a wave.
Henry must be brave.
So no one can see beneath the wave,
Where a riptide pulls him down. 

Before all this? 
Before you stole the future? Before you killed my brother? 
Before you ripped children from mothers? 
Before the glass was broken? The temples and bodies burned? 
Before you forced me to stand and play 
In the place where each day you murder thousands? 

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba b’alma div’ra chirutei, 
v’yamlich malchutei…

The concert in the gas chamber is over. 
There is even some applause… 

4. Motele

Motele was nine years old
When I became the beat of his heart. 
We had no secrets.

He played Mendelssohn like a master that night. 
I still feel the touch of his fingers
The weight of his bow.
Bravo, Motele! Bravo!
His family stood and cheered with the crowd. 
Oh, how proud!

Now, now he is twelve. 
All his family is gone.
So young, but not alone. 
I am with him.
Even as he is forced to perform
For the men who murdered his family.
But, we have a secret.
And Motele is not alone!

For weeks and weeks in the case where he keeps me 
He’s been smuggling gunpowder.
Little by little, patiently, slowly,
Over time he has built a bomb in the basement
of the Officers’ Club. 
And tonight is the night.

Again I feel the touch of his fingers,
The weight of his bow.
They applaud, shouting “Bravo!”
He goes to the basement (Bravo!)
Lights the fuse (Bravo! Bravo!)
And runs like the wind to the edge of the forest 
To watch the explosion and hear their cries
As the horror dies and dies and dies…

He closes his eyes
Holds me close and quietly strums.
In his heart, he hears his mother and father
Whispering “Bravo, Motele! Bravo!”

Motele is not alone.

5. Feivel

Pull the bow across my strings
I will sing and there they will be
Family and friends together again.
Listen! These are not simply notes you hear,
But the voices of eternity.

When the old man could not longer play,
Could no longer read.
He said: “Feivel, take my violin,
Make music to feed your family.
I have lost everyone. It’s all over for me.”

Feivel takes me in his hands,
Thanks the old man.
Promises to share what he is paid
As soon as he can.
At the first wedding, Feivel is on fire.
He plays and we sing all night
Of love, of weddings,
Of children multiplying,
Dancing toward the promise of Jerusalem.

Pull the bow across my strings
I will sing and there they will be
Family and friends together again
Listen! These are not simply notes you hear…

Paid in loaves of bread,
Feivel runs to give the old man
The portion he had promised.
But, there on the table is a bottle of poison.
And he remembers the old man’s words:
“I have lost everyone. It’s all over for me.”

How I wish the old man could see
That with me, his violin, Feivel saved seventeen souls.
Their descendants sing of love, of weddings,
Of children multiplying,
Dancing toward the promise of Jerusalem.

Pull the bow across my strings
I will sing and there they will be
Family and friends together again.
Listen! These are not simply notes you hear,
But the voices – the stardust – of eternity.

6. Lament

7. Liberation

Is it over? Finally over?
Did we survive again?

A tired soldier gives him a piece of bread, and says:
“Open your eyes.
Arise, my friend,
the liberation has begun.”

Is it over? Can it really be over?
For a moment?…
Yes, but for a moment only.
The past is a clock without any hands.

When the wheel of history comes round
When hatred is chanted and screamed – again –
When innocents are blamed – again –
When the gun is loaded
When the match is lit
Let someone – someone – pick me up
And let me sing again … to remember. Remember…

When they tell us not to pray
Tell us to forget
When the tell us not to hope
We will play these violins.

Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope ©2020 by Jake Heggie & Gene Scheer. All rights reserved.


Jake Heggie, composer

“Arguably the world’s most popular 21st century opera and art song composer” (The Wall Street Journal), Jake Heggie is best known for his acclaimed operas Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick, It’s A Wonderful Life, Three Decembers, Two Remain and If I Were You. The operas and his nearly 300 art songs have been performed extensively on five continents, championed by some of the world’s most beloved artists. Dead Man Walking has received 70 international productions and two live recordings since its San Francisco Opera premiere, making it the most widely performed American opera of our time. The Metropolitan Opera has announced a new production of Dead Man Walking for a future season starring Joyce DiDonato, directed by Ivo van Hove and conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Heggie is currently at work on his 10th opera, INTELLIGENCE, conceived and created with librettist Gene Scheer and director/choreographer Jawole Zollar, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. Songs for Murdered Sisters, a song cycle to poetry by Margaret Atwood for baritone Joshua Hopkins, recently received its premiere in an acclaimed film by director James Niebuhr, streamed by Houston Grand Opera and released on Pentatone. Last season featured the world premiere of Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope (texts by Gene Scheer), a dramatic song cycle performed by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and violinist Daniel Hope with string quartet. Recorded live by Pentatone, the work was commissioned to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Pentatone also recently released Unexpected Shadows, featuring beloved mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, cellist Matt Haimovitz and Heggie in a recital of the composer’s songs. Jake Heggie lives in San Francisco with his husband, Curt Branom.


GENE SCHEER, librettist

Gene Scheer’s work is noted for its scope and versatility. With the composer Jake Heggie, he has collaborated on many projects, including the critically acclaimed Dallas Opera world premiere, Moby-Dick, starring Ben Heppner; Three Decembers (Houston Grand Opera), which starred Frederica von Stade; and To Hell and Back (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra), which featured Patti LuPone. Other works by Scheer and Heggie include Camille Claudel: Into the fire, a song cycle premiered by Joyce di Donato. Scheer worked as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera as well as Thérèse Raquin, written for the Dallas Opera. Scheer collaborated with composer Jennifer Higdon on an operatic adaptation of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain for the Santa Fe Opera. The opera won the International Opera Award for best world premiere in 2016. Other collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away, featured in Marsalis’s work Congo Square. With Steven Stucky, he wrote the Grammy-nominated oratorio August 4, 1964. With Joby Talbot, Scheer wrote the opera Everest, premiered by the Dallas Opera. Also a composer in his own right, Scheer has written songs for singers such as Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn. The lyrics to his song “American Anthem,” sung by Norah Jones in Ken Burns’ film about World War II entitled The War, were cited by President Biden at the climax of his inaugural address. Random House has recently released a children’s picture book entitled American Anthem: A song of our Nation.

Benjamin Beilman, violin

Benjamin Beilman has won international praise both for his passionate performances and deep rich tone which the Washington Post called “mightily impressive” and The New York Times described as “muscular with a glint of violence.” The Times has also praised his “handsome technique, burnished sound, and quiet confidence,” and the Strad described his playing as “pure poetry.” A 2018 feature in the Boston Globe remarked that Beilman’s “playing already has its own sure balance of technical command, intensity, and interpretive finesse.”

Highlights of Beilman’s 2020/21 season include engagements with the San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, and San Antonio Symphony; debuts with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Basel Symphony, and Staatskapelle Weimar, as well as a return to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Highlights in recent seasons include debuts with the Budapest Festival Orchestra as soloist in the Beethoven Concerto, conducted by Janowski; return engagements with the Philadelphia Orchestra, both at home, and at Carnegie Hall; and his return to the London Chamber Orchestra to play-direct.

Beilman studied with Almita and Roland Vamos at the Music Institute of Chicago, Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy, and has received many prestigious accolades including a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a London Music Masters Award. He has an exclusive recording contract with Warner Classics and released his first disc, Spectrum, for the label in 2016, featuring works by Stravinsky, Janáček, and Schubert. Beilman plays the “Engleman” Stradivarius from 1709 generously on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.

SASHA COOKE, mezzo-soprano

Two-time Grammy Award-winning Sasha Cooke has been called a “luminous standout” (The New York Times) and “equal parts poise, radiance, and elegant directness” (Opera News). She is sought after by the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music ensembles for her versatile repertoire and dedication to new music. Cooke has sung at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, Seattle Opera, Opéra National de Bordeaux, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, among others, and with over 70 symphony orchestras worldwide under conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Sir Mark Elder, Bernard Haitink, James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Trevor Pinnock, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Edo de Waart. Recently Cooke collaborated with 17 composers on a project called Songs in a Time of Silence which will be released on Pentatone and premieres at San Francisco Symphony on their Great Performers series in January. In the 2020-2021 season, Cooke reprises the role of Jan Arnold in Joby Talbot’s Everest with Opera Parallèle, while in concert, she will give a solo recital at Houston Grand Opera with pianist Kirill Kuzmin, sings Mahler’sLieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, and performs Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson with the Cincinnati Symphony. Previously scheduled operatic engagements included returns to Dallas Opera as Sylvie in the world premiere of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, to the Metropolitan Opera as Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, and San Francisco Opera as Offred in Poul Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale. This summer she appears at the Bard Summerscape Festival in the first fully staged American production of Chausson’s Le roi Arthus.

Cooke lives near Houston, Texas, with daughters Evelyn and Julia and husband, baritone Kelly Markgraf.

St. Lawrence String Quartet

Geoff Nuttall, violin
Owen Dalby, violin
Lesley Robertson, viola
Christopher Constanza, cello

“Modern,” “dramatic,” “superb,” “wickedly attentive,” “with a hint of rock ‘n roll energy” are just a few ways critics describe the musical phenomenon that is the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The SLSQ is renowned for the intensity of its performances, its breadth of repertoire, and its commitment to concert experiences that are at once intellectually exciting and emotionally alive. Fiercely committed to collaboration with living composers, the SLSQ’s fruitful partnership with John Adams, Jonathan Berger, Osvaldo Golijov, and many others has yielded some of the finest additions to the quartet literature in recent years. The Quartet is also especially dedicated to the music of Joseph Haydn. According to The New Yorker, “…no other North American quartet plays the music of Haydn with more intelligence, expressivity, and force….” Established in Toronto in 1989, the SLSQ quickly earned acclaim at top international chamber music competitions and was soon playing hundreds of concerts per year worldwide. It established an ongoing residency at Spoleto Festival USA, made prize-winning recordings for EMI, earning two Grammy nominations and a host of other prizes before being appointed ensemble-in-residence at Stanford University in 1998. At Stanford, the SLSQ is at the forefront of intellectual life on campus. The SLSQ directs the music department’s chamber music program, and frequently collaborates with other departments including the Schools of Law, Medicine, Business and Education. The Quartet frequently performs at Stanford Live, hosts an annual chamber music seminar, and runs the Emerging String Quartet Program through which it mentors the next generation of young quartets. In the words of Alex Ross, “The St. Lawrence are remarkable not simply for the quality of their music making, exalted as it is, but for the joy they take in the act of connection.”

Thais Chernyavsky, violin

Thais Chernyavsky started playing violin when she was three years old, studying with her parents Anastasia and David Chernyavsky. In 2019 she won first prize in the Junior category at the “Rising Stars” violin competition in Riga, Latvia. She learns a lot of new violin repertoire and performs around the Bay Area. Thais loves playing chamber music and is participating in the C’est Bon Chamber Music Festival this year. Besides music, Thais enjoys learning about animals and wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. Thais attends Taylor Middle School and is going to the 7th grade this fall. She turned 12 years old on June 3rd.

Elena Park, director, executive producer

Director, producer, and curator Elena Park seeks to spotlight and uplift a range of remarkable artists through live and virtual programs created for institutional heavyweights but also for smaller, nimble outfits with an appetite for risk-taking. The daughter of Korean immigrants, through her company Lumahai Productions, she is excited to explore ideas and make connections among the worlds of arts, culture, media, technology, and current affairs with an open mind and an abiding belief in equity.

In recent days, Park has directed video portraits for San Francisco Opera’s new In Song series, featuring J’Nai Bridges and Pene Pati, and Vân-Ánh Võ & Blood Moon Orchestra for Stanford Live. She created MTT25: An American Icon for the San Francisco Symphony and produced Stanford filming projects featuring musicians from Zakir Hussain to Garrick Ohlsson to Kronos Quartet, including Kronos’s rendition of “The President Sang Amazing Grace” featuring Meklit – a video highlighted by Thomas Friedman in The New York Times just before the November 2020 presidential election.

In more typical times, her NationalSawdust+ series taps artists such as Laurie Anderson, Marina Abramović, Yo-Yo Ma, Nico Muhly, Caroline Shaw, Esperanza Spalding, and Carrie Mae Weems. Park is Supervising Producer of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series and Executive Producer of its Saturday radio broadcasts, as well as Artistic Consultant for the Kennedy Center. She has worked as a strategic advisor for San Francisco Opera, Meyer Sound, and Cambodian Living Arts, a non-governmental organization based in Phnom Penh. Film and TV credits include Music Producer for the feature film Bel Canto starring Julianne Moore (voiced by Renée Fleming) and Ken Watanabe, and Creative Consultant for Mozart in the Jungle, the Golden Globe-winning TV series.

FRAZER BRADSHAW, director of photography

Frazer Bradshaw works as a producer, director and cinematographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended art school, not film school, and his ideas and approach are centered not on mainstream filmmaking traditions, but on cinema as a way to create art experiences, both narrative and non-narrative. His sensibilities are rooted in more than fifteen years of studying Soto Zen. As a director, Bradshaw’s first feature, “Everything Strange and New,” premiered at Sundance Film Festival, won an International Film Critics FIPRESCI prize, a best first feature prize in Munich, was nominated for Gotham and Spirit awards, and is currently in distribution. His newer feature, “The Deep Sky,” premiered at Mill Valley Film Festival in 2017 and is currently streaming. Additionally, Bradshaw’s shorts, more than 40 in all, have played widely, including Sundance and New York Film Festival. Having begun producing in earnest in 2016, Frazer’s credits include his own features, Richard Levien’s “Collisions,” Adam Flaa’s “La Uva” (in editorial), and David Lewis’ new feature, “Ranchlands.” As a cinematographer, Bradshaw has shot 17 features, seven feature documentaries, and numerous shorts and commercial projects, including Tom E. Brown’s “Pushing Dead” and Kurt Norton and Paul Mariano’s “These Amazing Shadows.” Bradshaw is driven by work that is challenging and authentic, and which makes social and artistic contributions.

STEVEN E. Mallorca, editor

Steve Mallorca is an award-winning filmmaker who graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. As a director, editor, and director of photography, he has produced a large body of work that spans across narrative, documentary, commercial, corporate, and music video film fronts. Mallorca co-directed, edited and shot A Peloton of One which won the 2020 Greenwich International Film Festival’s Audience Award and will be premiering digitally in Fall 2021. He also served as the Director of Photography and Editor of the 2015 lacrosse documentary, The Lost Trophy, which was picked up by ESPN. His debut feature film, a culture-clash road comedy entitled Slow Jam King, was hailed by The New York Times as “do it yourself filmmaking at its purest… with spirited characters and high levels of comic energy” and won Asian Cinevision’s Emerging Director Award. Mallorca is also an independent musician, composing and performing music for Slow Jam King, as well as releasing albums with his band P.I.C and his solo project, Sulu and Excelsior.

DAVID v.r. bowles, audio engineer, editor, mixing & mastering

Recording producer and engineer David v.R. Bowles formed Swineshead Productions, LLC in 1995, specializing in high-resolution stereo and immersive recording. His productions have won multiple “Just Plain Folks” awards and been nominated for GRAMMY and JUNO awards. Many of these have received critical acclaim for his audio engineering. Bowles is a member of the Audio Engineering Society: on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, the San Francisco section committee, formerly on the Board of Governors and international convention committees. He is a guest lecturer in 3D audio at NYU Steinhardt Music Technologies Tonmeister Seminar, and at Royal Danish Conservatory.

How can we help you?

More results...

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors