On October 19, the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra (WSO) will partner with the national organization Violins of Hope for a powerful performance honoring victims and survivors of the Holocaust. During the concert, which features music by Jewish composers, members of the WSO will play on instruments that once belonged to Holocaust survivors. In addition to the performance, the WSO will host a multi-day Festival of Ideas leading up to the concert, featuring lectures, panel discussions, and chamber recitals over the course of several days. The WSO’s 2023-2024 Capitol Series is presented by WesBanco. Violins of Hope is presented by Art and Vicky Musicaro, with additional support from Kim and Holly McCluskey and Harold and Roanne Burech. The Festival of Ideas is sponsored by John and Gail Looney.
Violins of Hope is a national project of concerts based on a private collection of violins, violas and cellos all collected since the end of World War II. Many of the instruments belonged to Jews before and during the war. Many were donated by or bought from survivors; some arrived through family members and many simply carry Stars of David as a decoration. The collection travels to cities across the country for months at a time, allowing different communities to interact with the instruments through exhibits, concerts, and other special projects. The appearance of Violins of Hope with the Wheeling Symphony is part of a two-month program hosted by Violins of Hope Greater Pittsburgh. Over the course of two months, through educational and cultural programs, this unique project will use lessons of the Holocaust to demonstrate humanity’s amazing ability to rebound from even the darkest depravity.
“I have been looking forward to this concert for quite some time,” says WSO Music Director John Devlin. “Violins of Hope is an incredible organization, and we have worked hard to create a concert program that honors the Violins of Hope mission. In addition, this concert will feature two outstanding soloists: pianist Dominic Cheli and our very own Roi Mezare, the WSO’s principal clarinet. Roi’s family was directly impacted by the Holocaust and we have brought him into the planning of this concert to best reflect the stories related to Violins of Hope from within our orchestra.”
Dominic Cheli, Colburn School Gala (Photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging).
The evening’s selections will center on Jewish composers, beginning with Paul Ben-Haim’s Pastorale Variée. Following that, the WSO will have the unique opportunity of premiering a composition that has, until now, largely been forgotten: Walter Bricht’s Piano Concerto no. 2. Bricht, a Jew, was so popular in Germany during the first half of the 20th century that in 1938 he was offered honorary Aryan status by Hitler himself, should he pledge his allegiance to the Third Reich. Bricht declined and emigrated to the United States and settled in West Virginia in 1939, where he taught at a then-existing conservatory of music in Charleston. After learning Bricht’s story, frequent WSO collaborator Michael Ellis Ingram spent extensive time at an archive in Vienna and discovered a manuscript of a piano concerto by Bricht that has never been performed. The WSO received permission from the Bricht estate to set, publish and perform the work—with the world premiere being given during the Violins of Hope concert. Maestro Ingram will guest conduct this work, which will feature pianist Dominic Cheli as soloist.
To close the program, the WSO will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony. Mendelssohn was a Jew who faced much prejudice during his life and in his death, with the Nazi regime banning the performance of Mendelssohn’s works due to his Jewish heritage.
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Leading up to the performance is the return of the WSO’s An Evening With… series on Oct. 17. Beginning at 7 p.m. at the Stifel Fine Arts Center, concertgoers can enjoy An Evening With Dominic Cheli. This intimate recital, which will feature Cheli alone on piano, will allow patrons to experience Cheli’s musical skill in advance of his performance with the orchestra during Violins of Hope.
The WSO will also host a Concert Talk before the Violins of Hope concert on Thursday, October 19. Join panelists John Devlin, Rabbi Joshua Lief, soloists Roi Mezare and Dominic Cheli, composer Michael Ellis Ingram, Sandra Rosen of the Violins of Hope Greater Pittsburgh Committee, and WSO violinists as they discuss the evening’s performance. Concert Talk will start at 6 pm in the Capitol Theatre Ballroom.
All events during the Festival of Ideas are free to the public, with the exception of Thursday night’s Violins of Hope concert.
“I was fortunate enough to be part of Violins of Hope when they visited the Nashville Symphony in 2018, and it was unlike any other orchestral event I have ever been to,” says WSO Executive Director Sonja Thoms. “The profound experience of seeing modern musicians experience this very real, tangible connection to Holocaust survivors and victims is somber yet inspiring. It reminds us of the power music has to not only connect us to the past, but to be hopeful towards the future. I cannot wait to bring such an incredible concert and program to Wheeling.”
Tickets for Violins of Hope start at $14 and can be purchased at wheelingsymphony.com or by calling 304-232-6191.
Wheeling Symphony Orchestra Your Community in Concert
Celebrating over 90 years of serving the Ohio Valley with great live orchestral music. From subscription concerts and holiday spectacular events to chamber series and educational concerts, the Wheeling Symphony provides world-class musical entertainment throughout the Ohio Valley. Led by Music Director John Devlin, the WSO continues to be the smallest city in the US to support a symphony of this size and caliber.