If the Violins of Hope project looks back to one of history’s darkest chapters, it also speaks to the resilience of the human spirit — and the need to always remember.
Drawn from a priceless collection of 86 recovered Holocaust-era stringed instruments, the touring group of 50 restored violins makes its West Coast debut this month for an eight-week Bay Area residency. With a number of events featuring the violins in performances, a full schedule of concerts, recitals, and chamber music runs Jan. 16-March 15.
Central to the residency is a new chamber work by San Francisco composer Jake Heggie. “Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope,” with a score by Heggie and libretto by Gene Scheer, makes its world premiere Jan. 19 at Kohl Mansion in Burlingame.
The performance features mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, violinist Daniel Hope, and a string quartet — Kay Stern and Dawn Harms (violins), Elizabeth Prior (viola), and Emil Miland (cello) — from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. The program also includes Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 12 in C minor, “Quartettsatz.”
The premiere launches the two-month exhibit, and Patricia Kristof Moy, Kohl Mansion’s executive director of music, says it sets the tone in all the right ways.
“I wanted a joyful, celebratory concert — one of hope, community, and justice,” said Moy, noting that Heggie, whose work has often focused on humanitarian themes, was her first choice of composers.
Heggie, along with Scheer, spent months researching stories from the Holocaust. Music, says the composer, is essential to keeping history alive. “We have to keep telling these stories,” he said. “Cultural memory is so short.”
While writing “Intonations,” Heggie and Scheer agreed that the score for strings and voice required a vocalist of expressive power and nuance.
“The name that came up again and again was Sasha Cooke,” said Heggie.
A singer of pristine tone and vivid expressiveness, Cooke — who just finished a week of San Francisco Symphony concerts featuring Michael Tilson Thomas’s “Meditations on Rilke” — said she was immediately taken with the new score. “Music for me is spiritual, and this story is just incredibly powerful,” she said, adding that the piece is at once personal and universal. “We do this to remember,” she said.
Following the world premiere, the “Violins of Hope” performances fan out across the Bay Area. Here are some of the musical highlights; For tickets, information and the complete schedule, go to www.violinsofhopesfba.org.
“Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope”: Music at Kohl Mansion presents the world premiere of Heggie’s new work, featuring Sasha Cooke, violinist Daniel Hope and a string quartet from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra; 7 p.m. Jan. 19, Kohl Mansion, Burlingame; $20-$50.
“Along the Trade Route”: Klezmer violinist Cookie Segelstein in a multi-disciplinary performance with violinists Emmanuel During (Middle Eastern), Hemmige V. Srivatsan (South Indian), and Darcy Noonan (Celtic). Performances Jan. 26 in Napa, Jan. 30 in Walnut Creek, Feb. 1 in Los Altos, Feb. 15 in San Mateo, Feb. 16 in Albany, March 1 in Berkeley; free-$72.
“Refuge in Music,” Music director Daniel Hope leads his New Century Chamber Orchestra in works by Holocaust composers Erwin Schulhoff and Hans Krása, with film clips from Hope’s documentary, “Terezin — Refuge in Music”; 3:30 p.m. Jan. 26, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, San Rafael; $30-$67.50.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Remarks by “Violins of Hope” co-founders Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein; performance by New Century Chamber Orchestra and pianist Simone Dinnerstein in works by J.S. Bach and Hans Krása; excerpts from Heggie’s “Intonations,” with mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz, violinist Hannah Tarley, and string quartet; 7 p.m. Jan. 27, Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco; free with reservation.
“Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope”: A performance of Heggie’s new work, featuring mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz; 4 p.m. Feb. 9, Congregation Sinai, San Jose; $36-$75; also 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco; $15-$60.
Ariel String Quartet: Music at Kohl Mansion presents the quartet, performing works by Schubert, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich on the Violins of Hope; 7 p.m. Feb. 16, Kohl Mansion; $20-$50.
“Melodies from the Violins of Hope”: Performance by klezmer band Veretski Pass; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, Oshman Family JCC; $25-$30.