Carol A. Beckerman | Development/Editorial Coordinator
“Awe is a way of being in rapport with the mystery of all reality. The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence.” Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in the Search of Man (as cited by Lawrence Kushner, The Way Into Jewish Mystical Tradition).
At age 2 1/2, Niv Ashkenazi was with his parents visiting Tel Aviv. It was there, when he first witnessed a street performer playing the violin. He became entranced and didn’t want to leave. From that day forward, he kept asking his parents for a violin.
At age 3, he went to see a teacher who utilized the Suzuki Method, a holistic method of instruction commonly used to teach children the violin. After his consultation, Niv declared to his parents that he wanted to start learning at age 6.
And so he did.
While the Suzuki lessons fostered his violin playing, his classroom education at Highland Hall Waldorf School in Northridge supported his creative growth with its emphasis on self-expression. Yet, even as he immersed himself in learning and practicing his instrument, he still had not given much thought to a life and career built around his musical interests, at least not until age 13, when he attended a summer music festival in Oregon. In an open dialogue between students and faculty, one professor asked if anyone wanted to have a career in music. Ninety-nine percent of the students raised their hands. But not Niv. It was in that moment, for the very first time, he actively thought about the future. And once again, he made up his mind in favor of music – dedicating his life to the violin.
After high school, Niv was accepted into Juilliard. Thus began, what Niv calls, “the long process” of his 6-year musical education, earning first a Bachelors and then a Masters degree. Even though his first loves are solo performance and chamber music, he continues to explore other aspects of a career in music and as an inspiration for others.
Being Jewish, with Israeli parents, has infused his life and career with special purpose. From the influences of musical worship to the mystical tenets of Tikkun Olam. Niv sits on the professional advisory board of Shane’s Inspiration, a global non-profit dedicated to building inclusive playgrounds, and he is a member of the L.A.-based Street Symphony, which brings music to the homeless and incarcerated.
But it is his association with the Violins of Hope that stands out among his many accomplishments – and there are many. Through his association with Itzak Perlman and as an alumnus of the Perlman Music Program, Niv was invited to join a few other musicians to perform on instruments from the Violins of Hope collection, at a program in Sarasota, Florida. It was here that Niv met Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, the father and son luthiers who have collected and restored instruments owned by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust. (See the March/April issue of Chronicle, pages 4-5.)
The Weinsteins were so impressed with Niv that they invited him to select a violin from their collection to have on long-term loan. One and a half years ago he tried 10 violins before selecting the violin he still holds in trust. This long-term relationship is in constant development.
As Niv explains, “Violins are living. They breathe. This instrument continues to open up. It has gotten richer, deeper, more expressive. You have to step aside and let the voice of the instrument speak through. These instruments are special and unique. It tells you, to some extent, how it wants to be played.”
Indeed, as Heschel says, “. . . to be in rapport with the mystery of all reality . . .”
The recently released album “Niv Ashkenazi: Violins of Hope,” is a master work (see review by Barry Cogert), that gives the listener the opportunity to experience that mystery and get to know, during those moments, the presence of another, special, human being.
While it was necessary to cancel the Violins of Hope performances in Los Angeles and Long Beach this past April, we will be able to witness this soul stirring work in-person, rescheduled with the Long Beach Symphony on February 6, 2021.
Two violins in the Violins of Hope collection are locally supported: The German Violin is generously underwritten by Drs. Matthew Davis and Mark Dressner on behalf of the Alpert JCC; the Buried Violin is sponsored by Jewish Long Beach.
Review: Niv Ashkenazi: Violins of Hope
Barry Cogert | Bassist, Founder/Director of the Jazz Angels
In “Violins of Hope,” the musical stories and history of the Holocaust are delivered with emotion through a rich tone. The fact that the instruments and music survived, that the violins were restored to concert quality and then the music is so beautifully performed by Niv Ashkenazi and Matthew Graybil is amazing and a reflection of the history of our Jewish people.
While the album is a compilation of songs, the listener will get a better idea of the violins’ past and will receive the most musical satisfaction by listening to all 14 pieces in order and at one sitting. It is a deep musical story and should be listened to as such.
I would like to draw your attention to certain pieces and sections that spoke to me:
• Chassid in its entirety,
• Bestemming Triumph-the section just before and after the dialogue
• Trois-romance-the violin harmonies
• Three Songs - Sephardic Melody - which brings you to the ending of this story.
Whether or not the history and purpose of the project is known, this album will be a welcome addition to any classical music lover’s collection. Knowledge of the back story only makes it more meaningful - connecting those in the present to those who suffered through the Holocaust. L’dor V’dor.
As a final thought, while some music is intended as background music while dining or during conversation, this is not one of those albums. “Violins of Hope” compels you to give your full attention and appreciation to each and every note of this musical story.