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Niv Ashkenazi is the real thing / STAGEANDCINEMA

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For Moshe and Golda's son, Amnon Weinstein, that hope manifested in the thin wooden bodies of violins, violas, and cellos rescued from the Holocaust. Amnon and his son, Avshalom, created Violins of Hope to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit. Using their private collection of over 60 violins, violas, and cellos all restored since the end of World War II, the Weinsteins continue to tell the story of the instruments' previous owners, each with their own personal stories from the Holocaust.

A number of concerts were scheduled this year in my hometown, Los Angeles, but were all cancelled due to COVID-19. Then I received a CD of violin solos by rising star Niv Ashkenazi, Not only is this the first solo album to be recorded on one of these saved instruments, but many of the composers were directly affected by the Holocaust, either by fleeing or, sadly, death. Ashkenazi, who is the only violinist in the world to hold an instrument from the Violins of Hope collection on a long-term loan, plays on a violin which was built between 1900-1929 in eastern Europe or Germany.

I've seen Ashkenazi play with the LA Phil (he's the first artist-in-residence at the gorgeous Soraya in L.A.), so I can attest to his musicianship. I've cut-and-paste much of this information here because knowing this much before listening made it feel like the enterprise was gonna be gimmicky, and I had no intentions of writing about it.

But upon hearing this collection - including Williams' oft-played theme from Schindler's List - I must tell you that Niv Ashkenazi is the real thing. An emotional connection to both his instrument and the music makes the sound exquisite, earnest and fervent. Knowing the context of the recording also makes it heart-tugging. The gracious and emotive piano accompaniment is by Matthew Graybil. A winner!

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