Jake Heggie‘s work Intonations was written especially for the Violins of Hope, the instruments that were played in the concentration camps of the Holocaust, and have been lovingly restored. They’re currently on tour in the Bay Area, with many performances scheduled during their stay here. The piece, which had its world premiere in January, will have another performance at Grace Cathedral this Friday night.
You can find out more about that performance at the Violins of Hope website.
“These are instruments that were played in concentration camps during WWII. By people who perished, or people who managed to escape somehow and survive, and pass their instruments along,” Heggie explains. “I’ve done several Holocaust-themed pieces over the years, and they are all about giving voice to people who no longer have a voice, whether they survived or perished. But I had never had the opportunity to write for the actual survivors, and that’s what these instruments are.” Librettist Gene Scheer has taken the stories of the violins themselves and given them to the mezzo-soprano soloist, who will be singing with instruments from the collection. “So that the singer could tell the story from the perspective of the violin. Because these instruments, of course, have been held by many hands over the decades, as long as they have been around. But in this one particular moment, it was giving voice to that violin and the person, in that moment. who was playing them.” Among the stories is the tale of a young virtuoso, “Who, at 12 years old, had lost all of his family. He had made a big name for himself as a child prodigy. He was forced by Nazis to play in the German officers’ club. In between times, he would leave his violin in the basement, and he would take the case. And every time he came back, it was filled with gunpowder. And he did that until he had enough gunpowder to create a bomb. And then he played the concert, lit a fuse, and ran to the forest to watch the whole thing explode.” The music for that section is interspersed with quotations from the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in the accompaniment. “It was important for me to include a reference to that piece, as something that keeps him company, that supports him throughout this journey.”