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Richmond Symphony Violinist to Use Special Instrument that Survived the Holocaust

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Hearing an entire concert of works by composers suppressed by the Nazis was all the inspiration Jocelyn Vorenberg needed.

Almost immediately, the Richmond Symphony violinist, who was raised Jewish, began researching the nearly two decades of music lost to that dark period, focusing on pieces for small ensembles. She dubbed the project And Their Music Lives On.

It brought together her culture and faith, her work as a musician, her career as a concert violinist and her lifelong intellectual curiosity. "The fact that we can celebrate these composers by playing their works gives me a sense of purpose," she says.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, Vorenberg, along with Richmond Symphony executive director and pianist David Fisk, will play a selection of music by Jewish composers whose music was suppressed during the 1930s and '40s.

Vorenberg will also be playing on a period-appropriate instrument. Jewish violinist Natascha Wilczynski fled Germany for Italy in 1934 and four years later was arrested in France and sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed. Her violin was reunited with surviving family members in 1954 and has been with them ever since.

"A good friend and fellow violinist told me about a violin which had survived the Holocaust that she'd played in a concert," recalls Vorenberg, who will be playing Wilczynski's violin — nicknamed Nettie — in the performance. A member of the family who owns it will speak about the instrument's legacy beforehand. She said she can't help but feel "excitement, anticipation, respect, humility and privilege."

Fisk was surprised by the tone of music created during such a dark period.

"The pieces are remarkably cheerful," he says, giving as an example composer Richard Dauber, who was killed at Dachau and whose "Serenade" will be part of the performance. "If you were to hear it without knowing the story, you'd think it was Gershwin, looking out on Central Park on a sunny day. It's uplifting and beautiful."

Besides Dauber, the concert will also include another composer directly affected by the Holocaust: Alexander Zemlinsky was exiled — along with other composers whose only fault was that they were Jewish and struggling to reconcile their faith at a time when pursuing their artistic talents as Jews was dangerous.

"People are going to be rather surprised as well as intrigued and grateful at the quality of the music being played and the variety of the music being played," Fisk predicts.

Vorenberg hopes that after hearing these long-silenced compositions, people will be as curious as she was to learn more about the works and composers.

"He still lives on earth in the acts of goodness he performed and in the hearts of those who cherished his memory," Vorenberg says, citing a Jewish prayer for the dead. "Providing music is part of the acts of goodness he performed." And it's part of the legacy building that she sees as her role.

"This is the one thing that these composers wanted in their afterlife," she continues. "And we're privileged to be the ones to carry it on." S

The 20th anniversary concert of the Virginia Holocaust Museum will be held Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m., 2000 E. Cary St., Free, but reservations are required. vaholocaust.org.

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