Violins of Hope
Sun., August 7 • 7pm • Sc Civic Auditorium

Benjamin Beilman, violin

Violinist Benjamin Beilman has won praise for his passionate performances and rich tone, which the Washington Post called “mightily impressive,” The New York Times has praised his “handsome technique and burnished sound.” 

Beilman’s recent highlights include performances of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge Concerto with the Indianapolis, Toledo, and Charlotte Symphonies, as well as the premiere of a new violin concerto by Chris Rogerson with the Kansas City Symphony led by conductor Gemma New. In Europe, highlights include performances with the Swedish Radio Symphony and Elim Chan, and the Antwerp Symphony and Krzysztof Urbański. He will also return to the BBC Scottish Symphony and the Tonkünstler Orchestra, with whom he has recorded a concerto by Thomas Larcher.

Beilman has performed with major orchestras worldwide, as well as   in recital and chamber music performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Kölner Philharmonie, Berlin Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, Louvre (Paris), and Bunka Kaikan (Tokyo). Festival appearances include Verbier, Aix-en-Provence Easter, Prague Dvorak, and Music@Menlo. In 2018, he premiered a work dedicated to political activist Angela Davis written by Frederic Rzewski and commissioned by Music Accord. In 2021, he was featured violin soloist in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music’s filmed presentation of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope.

Beilman studied with Almita and Roland Vamos (Music Institute of Chicago), Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank (Curtis Institute of Music), and Christian Tetzlaff (Kronberg Academy). He is the recipient of 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 plays the “Engleman” Stradivarius (1709) on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.

Thais Chernyavsky, violin

Thais Chernyavsky began her violin studies at three years old, under the tutelage of her parents Anastasia and David Chernyavsky. In 2019 Thais won first prize in the Junior category at the “Rising Stars” violin competition in Riga, Latvia. In 2021 she appeared alongside Sasha Cooke, Benjamin Beilman, and St. Lawrence String Quartet in Cabrillo Festival’s filmed production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope. Thais learns a lot of new violin repertoire and performs around the Bay Area. She loves playing chamber music and has participated in the C’est Bon Chamber Music Festival for the past two years. Next season, she will join the San Francisco Youth Symphony Orchestra as the youngest participant in the ensemble. 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 into the 8th grade this fall. She turned 13 years old on June 3rd.

Composers

Jake Heggie

 “Arguably the world’s most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer” (The Wall Street Journal), Jake Heggie is best known for the operas Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick, It’s A Wonderful Life, Three Decembers, Two Remain, and If I Were You. He is currently at work on his tenth full-length opera, INTELLIGENCE, with Gene Scheer and Jawole Zollar, as well as new works for violinists Daniel Hope and Joshua Bell, the Miró Quartet, and the Classical Tahoe Festival. His operas and nearly 300 art songs have been performed extensively on five continents, championed by some of the world’s most beloved artists. With a libretto by the late Terrence McNally, Dead Man Walking has become “the most celebrated American opera of the 21st century” (Chicago Tribune) with more than 70 international productions since its San Francisco Opera premiere in 2000. The Metropolitan Opera has announced a new production of Dead Man Walking for a future season, directed by Ivo van Hove and conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The Metropolitan Opera has also announced that it will produce Moby-Dick. Recent premieres include the song cycle What I Miss the Most… composed for mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and to new texts by Joyce DiDonato, Patti LuPone, Sister Helen Prejean, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Kathleen Kelly. Jamie Barton is also featured on Unexpected Shadows, a recording of Heggie’s songs released by Pentatone and nominated for a 2022 GRAMMY Award. Songs for Murdered Sisters, a cycle for baritone Joshua Hopkins to new poetry by Margaret Atwood, was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and premiered last year in a film by director James Niebuhr. It was nominated for the 2022 Canadian Juno Award for Best Solo Classical Album.  INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope, with texts by Gene Scheer, was composed for mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and violinist Daniel Hope to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (Pentatone), and presented as a filmed production for the Cabrillo Festival’s 2021 Virtual Season, featuring Sasha Cooke, Benjamin Beilman, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Jake Heggie lives in San Francisco with his husband, Curt Branom.

Christopher Rouse

From 1993 to 2016, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra performed 25 of Christopher Rouse’s works with the composer in residence during fourteen of those seasons. In fact, Rouse was one of only a few composers in the Cabrillo Festival’s long history to have had an entire concert program dedicated to his music. His was work that challenged our adventurous players—and our daring audiences––in all the best ways. He was beloved here for his brilliance, his spirit, and his remarkable music. We are honored to present a posthumous tribute this season with the West Coast Premiere of his final symphony.

One of America’s most prominent composers and winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Trombone Concerto, Christopher Rouse created a body of work perhaps unequalled in its emotional intensity. The New York Times called it “some of the most anguished, most memorable music around.”

Rouse’s music has been played by every major orchestra in the U.S. and numerous ensembles overseas. From 2012-2015, Rouse served as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. He also was in residence at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Symphony, Helsinki Biennale, Pacific Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival, and Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

His final work, Symphony No. 6, received its posthumous world premiere with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Louis Langrée in October 2019, a month after his passing. Other late works include a Bassoon Concerto, debuted by soloist Andrew Cuneo and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under Cristian Macelaru, and Berceuse Infinie, written for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Rouse’s longtime collaborator Marin Alsop in November 2017.

The catalog of Christopher Rouse is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

PROGRAM NOTES + INTONATIONS TEXT

INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope

Texts 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 no 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… 

Remember: 

When they tell us not to pray

Tell us to forget 

When they 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.

INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope (2020)
Jake Heggie (b. 1961) 
Texts by Gene Scheer (b. 1958)

The original chamber version of INTONATIONS was commissioned by Music at Kohl Mansion and was inspired, in part, by the book Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust— Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour by James A. Grymes.

The orchestral version of INTONATIONS was commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music with generous support from Bette & Joseph Hirsch and Diane & Richard Klein. 

Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Cabrillo Festival was unable to present its scheduled premiere in 2020. In 2021, the Festival produced a stunning hybrid version of the work in a film directed by Elena Park which interwove sections of the orchestral score (recorded remotely by members of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra) with the original chamber music score performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet with soloists mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and young violinist Thais Chernyavsky. Tonight’s performance marks the live world premiere of the full orchestral version of INTONATIONS. 

In February of 2017, our friend Patricia Kristof Moy reached out to tell us about the Violins of Hope project. She explained the almost unimaginable history and journey of these 86 instruments, played by prisoners in concentration camps, restored over the past four decades in Tel Aviv by Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein. The collection had already been to major cities around the world. Patricia and Music at Kohl Mansion in Burlingame wanted to bring them to the West Coast in early 2020 for an extended, Bay Area-wide residency with orchestras, chamber groups, schools, community centers, religious organizations and more. 

Central to this ambitious project, Patricia wanted to commission us to create a new composition to be premiered as part of the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. We were floored. And we immediately said yes. The project was awarded a 2017 Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions Grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Shortly thereafter, the Cabrillo Festival asked for a fully orchestrated version of the piece for its distinguished 2020 summer festival. 

The project presented us with a new opportunity: to tell stories of the instruments actually being played. The singers of the Holocaust are gone, but these instruments—84 violins, 1 viola and 1 cello—still exist to sing, vibrate and intone. These are instruments that have been held by many hands and rested on many shoulders through generations; some have vibrated with music by revered composers, others were specifically Klezmer instruments. Violins of Hope. 

Fortunately, many of the instruments’ histories had been shared with the Weinsteins. Some of these stories are documented in James Grymes’ book Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust. It was an invaluable resource. 

We decided that our piece would be a dramatic song cycle with a solo violinist, a solo singer as the voice of the violin, and a quartet of the original instruments. Each song would intone, or tell, a story from the perspective of the violin itself. This way, we could use music and words to explore the physical and emotional journeys of the instruments. 

Gene read and researched the stories in the book and other sources, and found six he wanted to explore. 

The first song, “Ashes,” is told from the perspective of one of the first violins Amnon Weinstein restored. When he removed the case, he discovered it was filled with human ashes. How could this happen? A journey ends and another begins. 

In “Exile,” we have the perspective of the violin played by Erich Weininger. Exiled from Germany, on a ship, with Palestine at last in sight, Erich and the other refugees suddenly realized there was no more fuel for the furnace. The boat was listing and sinking. The call went out to use any and all wood on the ship to feed the furnace. Erich wondered if his beloved violin was just another piece of wood to feed the flames. Eight decades later, the violin still sings.  

Prisoners were often forced to entertain Nazi officers in the camps. “Concert” tells the harrowing story of Henry Meyer when he was ordered to play a concert in the reverberant gas chamber, where family and friends were murdered every day. He apologizes to the violin and plays a waltz while an undertow of emotion pulls him down. But thanks to the violin and the music, he survives another day. 

Motele Schlein was a child prodigy with a promising career when he and his family were imprisoned. After his family was murdered, he was randomly selected to entertain at the Nazi Officers Club. At 12 years old, he devised a plan to avenge his family. Week by week, he smuggled gunpowder in his violin case to create a bomb in the basement of the Officers Club. He set it on fire and ran to the woods to watch the explosion and witness the destruction. Through it all, he was never really alone. He always had his violin and music. 

Feivel Wininger’s is a story of legacy through music. An older man, distraught from the losses of the war, gave his violin to Feivel so he could make a living with music. After the first wedding he played, Feivel was paid in loaves of bread and returned to give the old man half of what he had earned. The old man had taken his life. But Feivel went on to save many others, generations that now thrive thanks to the kindness of that old man, his violin and the music of hope. 

The sixth section of INTONATIONS is a Lament for string quartet. Here, the instruments sing a song without words. 

The liberation of Auschwitz began on January 27, 1945. The final song is inspired by Paula Lebovic’s recollection of that day and the kindness she received from a Russian soldier. Her experience and the experience of millions of others who were sent to the camps is something that must not be forgotten. May the voices of the millions who perished, distilled into the sound of these remarkable violins, remind us of the late Elie Wiesel’s words: “as we remember the past, we must remember to always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

The premiere of the original chamber version of INTONATIONS took place January 18, 2020 at Kohl Mansion in Burlingame with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, violinist Daniel Hope, youth violinist Sean Mori, and a quartet of instrumentalists from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra: Kay Stern, violin 1; Dawn Harms, violin 2; Patricia Heller, viola; and Emil Miland, cello. 

— Jake Heggie & Gene Scheer 

Symphony No. 6 (2019) 
Christopher Rouse (1949-2019)
[West Coast Premiere]

In memory of Chris Rouse, an extraordinary composer and friend who continues to hold a special place in our hearts.

Symphony No. 6 was Rouse’s final work before his death in 2019. Included among the words he wrote about this work were the following: “Now I hope to have lived a full enough life to have something to say that is worth perhaps a little of my listeners’ time. To live one’s life is, it sometimes seems, to spend all of one’s time on a rollercoaster as we try adapting to the sudden, unexpected changes of direction our ‘amusement park ride’ subjects us. (Sometimes those changes aren’t always very ‘amusing.’) Nonetheless, it is the very unpredictability of life that makes it so wonderful.”

In my earlier years I found the task of writing a program note for a new work a comparatively easy, even pleasant, one. More than a few of my pieces had some sort of quasi-programmatic basis, and I found that I could often say much about the sources of inspiration in hopes that my observations might help the listener better understand my intent. In more recent years, however, I find that my new pieces fall into one of two categories: (a) scores that, while always placing emotional expression at the forefront of my intent, had no particular story or triggering event that led to the work’s composition, or (b) works that were so deeply personal that I found myself reluctant to share intimately private sources of motivation. In both cases, though, it seemed that there wasn’t much I could say.

My Sixth Symphony inhabiting the second of these two groups, I hope listeners will not be disappointed if I limit myself to more “objective” observations about the music. Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, this twenty-five minute symphony was completed at my home in Baltimore on June 6, 2019. The first challenge I face when planning a new piece is to settle upon a beginning and an ending and to decide the number and order of movements; in this case, I (rather unusually for me) chose a more-or-less standard four-movement structure with the outer movements being slow in tempo and elegiac in mood. The two middle movements are faster and the third, in particular, is meant to be highly dramatic. As is usual in my music, each movement connects to its successor without a break. In each of my symphonies I’ve also chosen to use an instrument or instrumental combination that might be seen as somewhat unusual in a symphonic context. My First Symphony, for example, requires a quartet of Wagner tubas. Here I have chosen to make use of the fluegelhorn, a larger and more mellow member of the trumpet family, and it is the fluegelhorn that presents the symphony’s opening melodic material; it returns later in the first movement and again near the end of the entire work as a way of bringing the music “full circle”. The scoring comprises two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets (second doubling of bass clarinet), two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets (first doubling on fluegelhorn), three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion (two players), and strings. As is also my wont, the harmonic language traverses areas of substantive dissonance as well as sections much more consonant (especially near the end of the symphony).

I know the “meaning” of this work in my own mind but wish to leave it to each listener to decide for him or herself what this could be. My main hope is that it will communicate something sincere in meaning to those who hear it.

—Christopher Rouse

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