Reading Symphony Orchestra prepares climactic ‘Violins of Hope’ concert

The Reading Symphony Orchestra will present “Violins of Hope” Saturday, November 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Santander Performing Arts Center in downtown Reading. The concert, the climax of the Violins of Hope concerts and events taking place across Berks County from November 1-14, will feature renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth playing the music of Bruch and Mahler.

Zukerman, Forsyth and RSO musicians will play the Violins of Hope, historic violins connected to the Holocaust that were restored by Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein. Each violin tells the story of Jewish life in Europe before, during and after Hitler’s rise to power. Amnon’s father gave Zukerman his first violin, and his parents were Holocaust survivors. RSO Executive Director David Gross calls him “one of the greatest violinists past or present.”

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Both Bruch’s and Mahler’s music was banned by the Nazis. Mahler was Jewish, and the Nazis assumed Bruch was Jewish because of his composition Kol Nidrei (which the RSO will perform Saturday), named after the prayer of declaration recited in synagogue on Yom Kippur. Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was inspired by Jewish folk and klezmer music.

“Unfortunately we are living in a time that the Holocaust is either being forgotten or in some cases even being questioned of its existence,” Gross said. “The instruments and their stories reconfirm the terrible atrocities of the Holocaust and remind us that it should never happen again. Everyone in the planning of Violins of Hope Reading felt that this project provided a vehicle to have important discussions about hatred, prejudice, antisemitism and promote bringing people together for hope and unity.”

The Violins of Hope have toured cities throughout the United States and the world. Weinstein’s parents emigrated from Eastern Europe to the Holy Land before he was born. All 400 of his relatives who remained in Eastern Europe perished in the Holocaust.

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Violins of Hope Reading is presented by the Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Jewish Federation of Reading, in partnership with Alvernia University, GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, and Kutztown University.

The idea to bring Violins of Hope to Reading began when RSO Music Director Andrew Constantine saw the Violins on display in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He contacted Gross, who reached out to the Jewish Federation and Amnon’s son Avshi, who is the curator of the exhibit.

Violins of Hope display at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.

“I would say that we have worked well together with the RSO to bring this to Reading,” said Jewish Federation of Reading/Berks Development Director Laurie Waxler. “Our program director, who also happens to be the director of the Holocaust Library of Albright College, has done an excellent job of building a historical curriculum surrounding the Holocaust that focuses on decisions made at the time that either saved lives, or did just the opposite. Our message of hope and unity is for kids to think about the decisions they make today and the impact it might have on their schools and communities.”

The Violins of Hope themselves will be exhibited at Kutztown University’s Sharadin Arts Building, Alvernia University’s Miller Gallery and the Schmidt Gallery of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts until November 14.

Violins of Hope display at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.
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Wes Cipolla
Wes Cipolla
I cover local news, culture, and business in Berks County.
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