The Vanderveen Violin Goes to Australia

In the second of a two-part blog series, Maestra Green tells the story of the Vanderveen Violin, its involvement in the Violins of Hope collection, and its trip to Australia for the premiere of Stories from the Violins of Hope.

Notes from the Maestra

The LAJS’s rescheduled Violins of Hope concert took place on December 12, 2021. It was a huge success, with 1,500 audience members in attendance and over 5,000 viewing the live stream. It was the talk of Jewish LA and was touted as the largest Jewish event since the pandemic. The Vanderveen violin made its appearance with our orchestra and became officially part of the touring Violins of Hope collection.

LAJS member Jonathan Rubin plays the Vanderveen violin on stage at The Soraya as the violin is dedicated to the Violins of Hope collection for Rachelle Blaine (daughter of Joyce Vanderveen) and Violins of Hope co-founder Avshalom Weinstein.

It is now June 2023 and I have just returned from Australia, where the Vanderveen violin made its international debut as part of the world premiere production of the newly staged version of the Stories from the Violins of Hope play with music, presented at the Bondi Pavilion at the famed Bondi Beach just outside of Sydney.

So how did this all come about? As part of the Violins of Hope, LA original schedule, I had the distinct pleasure of working with The Braid, formerly the Jewish Women’s Theatre, to inspire, create and help produce a play with music about the Weinstein family of luthiers who founded the Violins of Hope project in Israel. At a fateful New Year’s brunch, I met Gail Solo, who was a board member of The Braid. We met a few weeks later for lunch, where the idea of a play with music about the Violins of Hope was conceived. It was then presented to Ronda Spinak, Artistic Director of The Braid. She loved the idea and engaged Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum to draft the script in their usual storytelling format.

Due to delays and safety precautions caused by the pandemic, we premiered this first production as an online Zoom event – a massive challenge for both of our organizations. I, as curator of the music, arranged to film the string quartet in my home, following all LA County safety and health protocols. We then created a live online version of the play, integrating the pre-recorded music with the assistance of the team at TEEV Events. It worked beautifully.

It was this video production that I sent to my dear friend Judy Campbell, the Director of the organization Jewish Arts in Sydney. She thought it was spectacular and, with Australia being the largest community of Holocaust survivors per capita, thought it would be well received. She sent this version to her colleague Moira Blumenthal, who runs a Jewish theatre in Sydney. Six degrees of separation, and Moira thought this would be a perfect addition to her season; however, her vision was to expand the script into a fully staged production! After a few Zoom meetings, and many emails back and forth, Lisa and Ronda went to work to create the script for this new version.

A string quartet performs as part of Stories from the Violins of Hope

(clockwise from left) LAJS Chamber players Mark Kashper, Niv Ashkenazi, Barry Gold, and Michael Larco during the virtual airing of Stories of the Violins of Hope in 2021

As the script developed and new music cues were discussed, I added my thoughts. Meanwhile, a contract was drawn up with the Weinstein family and plans were made to premiere it in Australia. As the world was coming in and out of the pandemic, many delays ensued – but finally the day arrived, and I made my plans to go to Australia to help launch the new work.

This was a project so close to my heart that I had to be a part of the rehearsal process and staged production. Having inspired the original concept and made the connection to the Jewish art world in Australia, I was going to be there for this new world premiere no matter what!  The only thing missing from the production was an actual Violin of Hope. I knew first-hand the impact having one of these violins from the collection can make on the production. In LA, Niv Ashkenazi, a colleague, friend, and member of the LAJS, had played in the original online production. He has on permanent loan a Violin of Hope. I witnessed how audience members found special meaning in hearing its story and hearing its voice, and how members of my orchestra connected on a deep emotional level to the instruments they chose to play at our concert. I knew I had to bring one of these precious violins to Australia and I knew it had to be the Vanderveen violin because of my special connection to its story.

Stories from the Violins of Hope Australia Header
Niv Ashkenazi Virtual Stories from the Violins of Hope

Niv Ashkenazi performs with one of the Violins of Hope during the virtual Stories from the Violins of Hope performance in 2021.

Aaron and Ian Drew transporting the Vanderveen violin

The Vanderveen violin arrives at Sydney airport.

I reached out to Avshi Weinstein and asked if it would be possible to borrow the violin and take it to Australia. He gave me his ok, but I had to negotiate the travel and insurance with the JCC in Chicago as that was where all the violins were on tour for six months! Once the violins are on tour, the host city then becomes responsible for them. Avshi connected me with the organizer of the Chicago event, and then the work started. I was leaving for Australia on May 12, 2023 – the violin could only be released on that date or after as it was playing in concerts prior to that. In our fast-paced world, I still don’t know how to be in two places at once, so I engaged my son, who was to join me and my husband in Australia, to make a stop in Chicago on his way from NY to LA, to pick up the violin, and then to bring it to Sydney. And so, a plan was hatched and carried through – not without a few glitches on the way, including two canceled flights and acquiring insurance for the violin to cover travel outside of the US. But with persistence – success! The violin arrived in Sydney.

Meanwhile, the marketing team in Australia and I went to work; the Vanderveen violin was expected in Sydney with great fanfare. Moira commented that she had never had so much press surrounding one of her plays – the Vanderveen violin added a layer of historic relevance and excitement to the production.  Was it worth the effort? Yes. The actors and players related to the story of the Vanderveen violin and it became a star. The play was a resounding success, both in audience appeal and in critical acclaim.

The Vanderveen violin is now back with the Violins of Hope collection. Ben Adler and Leo Novikov, the two violinists who played the violin during the show, said as it was played, the sound opened up like a fine bottle of wine. Just as wine becomes smoother, the violin’s sound kept getting richer and more full bodied – it truly loved being the star of the show!

Ben Adler Stories Violins of Hope
Leo Novikov Stories Australia Rehearsal

Violinists Ben Adler & Leo Novikov with the Vanderveen violin

Violinists Ben Adler & Leo Novikov with the Vanderveen violin.

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