Niv Ashkenazi has a special distinction.
The local musician is the only violinist in the world to hold an instrument from the Violins of Hope collection on a long-term loan.
Classical music fans can hear songs performed on it via his recently released album “Niv Ashkenazi: Violins of Hope” on Albany Records. The record features music performed on the violin, which survived the Holocaust and has been restored by Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshalom in Tel Aviv. The music is by composers affected by the Holocaust.
On the record, the Juilliard School graduate is joined by fellow alumni Matthew Graybil.
During the pandemic and quarantine, Ashkenazi showed off the violin with a Facebook Live performance in April.
“I asked if I could borrow one of their instruments for a Holocaust-related program,” he said.
“They said yes. In April, I flew to Israel, saw my family and went to the show in Tel Aviv, and they had about 10 instruments for me to try—all instruments they knew they weren’t going to need afterward.
“There were 70 instruments in the collection. They let me borrow the instrument for a May concert before I had to return it.”
Ashkenazi’s collection is the first solo record performed with a Violins of Hope instrument. He received general donor support from the Bloom Jewish Music Foundation.
Traveling project Violins of Hope is a multiformat project celebrating instruments rescued from the Holocaust. It was to visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Downtown LA this spring, and Ashkenazi’s album release would have coincided with it.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced its postponement until January and February 2021.
“It has a beautiful sound,” Ashkenazi said. “One of the main ideas of Violins of Hope is to allow voices that were silenced to be heard again, and by restoring these instruments and getting them played on, those voices will never be silenced.”
Ashkenazi became involved with Violins of Hope in 2017. As an alum of the Perlman Music Program, he was invited to join several other musicians performing on instruments from the collection in recitals and educational programs for Violins of Hope Sarasota. Shortly afterward, he received the violin used on the album on long-term loan. Since then, he has played it for Violins of Hope events and other special projects.
Amnon Weinstein has devoted the past 20 years to locating and restoring the violins of the Holocaust as a tribute to those who were lost, including 400 of his relatives. Weinstein has restored more than 60 violins as a way to reclaim his lost heritage, give a voice to the victims, and reinforce positive messages of hope and harmony.
The Violins of Hope have been played in concert halls and exhibited in museums throughout the world. They have been featured in books, print, film and television. They have been used in lectures and educational programs, and their stories and messages have impacted hundreds of thousands of individuals.
“In most Violins of Hope events, musicians have a limited time with each instrument,” he said. “I have been given a unique opportunity to develop a relationship with this special instrument and its voice.”
The violin was built between 1900 and 1929 in Eastern Europe or Germany.
“I have chosen Jewish repertoire from throughout its lifetime: The earliest piece, ‘Bloch’s Nigun,’ was written in 1923,” Ashkenazi said.
“The most recent piece is Sharon Farber’s arrangement of a movement from her cello concerto ‘Bestemming,’ commissioned especially for this recording.
“The program features composers affected by the Holocaust and prominent Jewish music that changed how we think of Jewish music,” he said. “We wanted to showcase the future of Jewish music, too. We commissioned Israeli American composer Sharon Farber.
“She wrote a piece for us based on her cello concerto with narration she made a few years back. The basis for that work was the story of Curt Lowens, the hero of the Dutch Resistance, who saved more than 150 Jewish children as well as two downed American airmen.”
For the album, Farber arranged the final movement of her concerto, “Triumph,” for violin, piano fourhands and narrator. Lowens died in 2017, so actor Tony Campisi agreed to be the narrator.
Ashkenazi has made several Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center appearances and has performed in Europe, the Middle East and across North America.
In the 2019-20 season, he was the first artist in residence at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts. He has appeared as a soloist with the likes of the Long Beach Symphony, Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra.
As a chamber musician, he has performed with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Juilliard String Quartet, Cavani Quartet and Ariel Quartet, as well as performing in Dyad, a violin and bassoon duo with his wife Leah Kohn, who served as his album’s producer.
Also active as an educator, he has been a guest artist and given master classes at La Sierra University, California State University, Northridge and Westmont College.
He is a core member of Street Symphony, an LA-based nonprofit, which places social justice at the heart of music making and serves communities disenfranchised by homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles County.
He serves on the professional advisory board of Shane’s Inspiration, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to building inclusive playgrounds, and he formerly served on the board of the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra.