Eckart Preu conducts the Portland Symphony Orchestra during Sunday’s Violins of Hope concert. Photo courtesy of the Portland Symphony Orchestra

Moments of recognition and remembrance filled the stage of Merrill Auditorium on Sunday afternoon.

The Violins of Hope, a group of string instruments once owned by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust, were employed by members of the Portland Symphony Orchestra to play music selected to commemorate a history of horror and courage.

The instruments were collected and restored by Amnon and Avshi Weinstein, father and son violinmakers from Israel, with the intention of honoring victims and survivors while also educating the world on the history of that terrible time. The younger Weinstein attended the performance in Portland on Sunday.

The concert, which will be repeated Tuesday evening and filmed for online broadcast, was the culmination of several area cultural events related to the instruments and the profoundly touching stories behind them.

The main event for Sunday was a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem,” a powerful work from 1874 that is often programmed when particularly grievous events come to mind or when courage is recalled, such as that shown when it was sung by inmates at the Terezín concentration camp. The 90-minute Verdi work is somber, even at times chilling, but not without an overall spirit of, as the instrument collection’s title implies, hopefulness.

Members of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, ChoralArt Masterworks and solo vocalists perform Sunday at Merrill.

Conductor and Music Director Eckart Preu led the PSO, dozens of masked singers from the ChoralArt Masterworks, and solo vocalists Summer Hassan, Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, Raúl Melo and Mark Walters in a deeply resonant performance of the “Requiem.” At times strikingly abrupt, moving from admonition to reassurance, from “wrath” to “rest everlasting,” the piece grew in strength through a compelling performance from all concerned.


Principal Cellist Sein Lee performs Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Portland Symphony Orchestra

The voices of the soloists, alone or combined, added grandeur as well as a carefully articulated humility. Mezzo soprano Sandel-Pantaleo was perhaps the first among equals in powerful moments, singing next to the particularly animated conducting by Preu. The visiting instruments, in the hands of PSO regulars, likewise provided many engaging moments. Trumpeters in the balcony and booming tympani added extra levels to the visual and aural impact of the production. Lyrical translations were provided through supertitles.

The afternoon began with two brief pieces that furthered the program’s theme, but with a quieter intensity.

Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei for Violincello & Orchestra” featured PSO cellist Sein Lee intoning beautiful, if mournful, folk-based melodies against the harmonious rise and fall provided by her orchestra mates.

John Williams’ “Theme from Schindler’s List,” with its cinematic sweep, gently evoked the film’s recollection of those awful times not so long ago. Concertmaster Charles Dimmick, with a Violin of Hope in his hands, gave the piece’s melody a particularly poignant performance in this very special concert by the PSO and guests.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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