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Out of the Box: Violins of Hope

Image of several violins, decorated with Stars of David
The Violins of Hope
The Violins of Hope

A powerful symphony, a heartbreaking story, and an ultimate message of hope and resilience take center stage this week.

WHAT: Nashville Symphony & Giancarlo Guerrero: Jonathan Leshnoff Symphony No. 4 “Heichalos” featuring the Violins of Hope

MUST LISTEN: Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 4, "Heichalos" with the Nashville Symphony playing the Violins of Hope.

WHY THIS MUSIC: This is one of those “just listen, you’ll get it” works. Leshnoff’s symphony is incredibly moving, evocative, and powerful, even more so since it’s played on instruments with a such heartbreaking provenance.

This week's Out of the Box segment is no longer available on-demand. 

The Violins of Hope are a collection of instruments that were played by Jewish musicians in concentration camps during the Holocaust, and which, for the last two decades, have been collected and lovingly restored by Israeli luthiers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein. The violins now travel the world on display and in performance. As the moving video below from the Nashville Symphony explains, these instruments “[tell] the stories of unimaginable suffering and injustice, but also resilience, survival, and hope.”

The Violins of Hope made their way to the Nashville Symphony in 2018 as part of a larger project aimed to facilitate dialog in the city around art, social justice, and free expression. As part of that project the Nashville Symphony commissioned a symphony from composer Jonathan Leshnoff.

The symphony he wrote is called “Heichalos” (hey-KHAH-los), after a two-thousand-year-old Jewish mystical text. This text, Leshnoff describes in the video below, is essentially a meditative guide as to how an initiate can come to communicate with the Divine, working themselves through a series of mental rooms, or “heichalos." The music Leshnoff wrote is meant to reflect the meditative process an initiate might experience, from terrifying to enlightening.

The symphony is in two parts. The first is quite jarring and powerful, as the initiate travels through the harrowing early rooms of the meditative process. The second is more ethereal and mystical, representing an arrival to communion with the Divine, and has a somber quality reminiscent of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. It is the second movement which most powerfully features the Violins of Hope.

“I see the Violins of Hope as the physical embodiment of Jewish survival,” Leshnoff writes in the liner notes to this recording, “and I see my symphony as representation of the spiritual and ethical embodiment of this Jewish survival.”

I find this symphony incredibly moving, and I hope that before the New Year, you too can take the time to really sit and listen to it, maybe more than once, and find yourself lost in its multiple messages.

For more on the Nashville Symphony's Violins of Hope album, visit their website.

Chris Voss is the Weekday Afternoon Host and a Producer for CRB.