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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

We need a national instrument fund

By Norman Lebrecht / January 18, 2007

One of Britain’s brightest young soloists has nothing to play on any more. Jennifer Pike, who won BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of 12 in 2002, last week delivered her violin to a London dealer for a quick sale after its owner decided he needed the cash. ‘It feels like I’ve lost a really good friend,’ says Jennifer, ‘it was a really, really sad day.’

And not just for her. The cost of good violins has risen faster than the price of houses, leaving new talent dependent on wealthy relatives or admirers to find them an instrument of equal pedigree. Not necessarily a Stradivarius, which starts at a million-plus, but the product of an 18th century Italian or French master workshop that best suits their character and capability. Jennifer, after winning the televised contest, was loaned a 1708 Gofriller by an unnamed fan and quickly grew attached to it.

She now plays 30 concerts a year, in between doing three A levels at home in Manchester and a post-graduate course two days a week at the Guildhall in London. Charles Beare, the dealers who are selling her violin for £250,000 have loaned her a cheaper Gagliano to tide her over, but the attachment is not the same and there is no telling when Beare’s will want their Gagliano back. Jennifer, when I talked to her the other day, was close to despair. She is playing at the Wigmore Hall on February 1, but does not known yet on what.

Her best hope lies in a Cambridge entrepreneur who organises syndicates of investors to buy violins for young performers, expecting a sound return on their eventual sale. Nigel Brown helped Nigel Kennedy to his first Strad 20 years ago and has since helped more than a dozen artists – Stephen Isserlis, Natalie Clein, Matthew Trusler to the instrument of their dreams.

Brown has already provided Jennifer with Yehudi Menuhin’s favourite bow – the one he used as a kid while studying with Georges Enescu – and he is confident of getting a group together to buy her Gofriller. ‘We’re just starting,’ he told me yesterday. But the legalities take time and the violin could be sold overnight. Jennifer is terrified that she will never see it again. She can hardly bring herself to face a playing life without it.

This kind of tragedy recurs year after year and requires more than the ingenuity of a Nigel Brown. It is being suggested to the other Brown, Gordon, that he should create a national instrument fund to allow our gifted youngsters their best crack at classical stardom.


CD of the week

Boris Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 1 Volgograd PO/Edward Serov (Naxos) ****

Before the BBC gets its wall-to-wall Tchaikovsky season on air this weekend, I’d recommend a listen to the more interesting and lesser known Tchaikovsky, the one called Boris. A product of Soviet stringencies, Boris (1926-1996) studied in Moscow with Shostakovich and Miaskovsky, learning to develop creative individuality behind conformist heroism. His first symphony, written in 1947 and promptly banned, waited 15 years for its premiere and 60 for this, its first recording. Declamatory at times, it is currant-cake rich in melody and invention. Like his decadent namesake, this Tchaikovsky grabs the ear from the opening chord but instead of indulging melancholy, fights off the miseries with argumentative vigour. I cannot name a stronger first symphony in recent memory, and the two radio suites that fill out the CD are balletically gorgeous. Give me Boris over Peter Ilyich, any day.

>Buy this CD at

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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