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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 9

Stradivarius on Stage

by Jean-Sébastien Gascon / June 5, 2004

Version française...

Kori Yamagami
Photo : Derek Olivier
or most string players, the only way to get one's hands on a genuine instrument from the workshops of Stradivari, Guarneri, Rogeri or Montagnana is to win the lottery or rob a museum--or perhaps to find one in a dumpster, as a Los Angeles nurse did recently. But for some privileged musicians, the Canada Council opens up the vaults of its Musical Instrument Bank and loans out some of the finest instruments the world has ever known. To be one of the lucky few, you first have to make a name for yourself. Then you have to win a contest against other, equally distinguished virtuosi. If you make it past that final stage, you have two or three years in which to play your best on the instrument--then back it goes to the bank. The total value of instruments on loan has reached $15 m, all of which is financed by grants or private donations. No government funds are involved.

The public will be able to judge for themselves the sound quality of these instruments during an exceptional event this summer: four Stradivarius masterpieces will be reunited on one stage during the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. Besides the chance to hear these great instruments live, the event will include some fine examples of modern violin making, as compiled by Tom Wilder at the invitation of Denis Brott. This will be a marvelous opportunity to compare their sound with some classic works of Italian craftsmanship.*

This year, the festival celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Musical Instrument Bank's founding. Denis Brott, the festival's creator, also played a large part in the project. As he explains it, the essential goal was to allow musicians to perform on instruments that matched their level of skill. When it comes time to record in the studio or perform in a large concert hall, exceptional players are at a real disadvantage, artistically speaking, if they cannot make use of exceptional instruments.

Denis Brott spent 11 years helping to get the Musical Instrument Bank on its feet. His dedication to this cause was partly a matter of necessity
Hermine Gagné
Photo : Stéphanie Lake
and partly a matter of inspiration. When he was first given a chance to play a period instrument, the effect was decisive. "The 1706 David Tecchler cello has made an enormous difference in my life," he says. "Having a voice that responds to every ounce of effort, that knows no limitations but my own, leaves a wider door open for future personal development and growth. It is an indescribable experience to produce a sound on this instrument."

An overview of the musicians and instruments featured at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival's "Stradivarius on stage" event

The 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius and the 1850 Shaw-Adam cello bow, on loan to Kaori Yamagami: The Bonjour Stradivarius cello, which Antonio Stradivari made sometime around 1696, is named for Abel Bonjour, an amateur Parisian musician who owned the cello until his death in 1885. The instrument then passed to Fridolin Hamma of Stuttgart, and after him to Hans Kühne of Cologne. In later years it belonged for a time to the Habisreutinger Foundation in St Gallen, Switzerland, and, more recently, to Martin Lovett, a member of the celebrated Amadeus Quartet. The current owner (an anonymous American donor) acquired the cello in the autumn of 1999. Estimated value: $6.25 m.

Andrew Shaw of Toronto donated the Shaw-Adam cello bow to the Canada Council for the Arts in 1999. The bow, a perfect example of Jean-Dominique Adam's remarkable craftsmanship, was made in 1850. Estimated value: $34,700.

The 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivarius, on loan to Hermine Gagné: This early 18th century violin belonged to a host of different collectors and accomplished violinists before it was purchased by Leon Weinstein in 1961. Twenty years later he bequeathed the instrument to the Ontario Heritage Foundation as part of the drive to establish a collection of period instruments that could be loaned to exceptionally talented Canadian musicians. In 1988, the Foundation donated the instrument to the CCA's Musical Instrument Bank. Estimated value: $4.4 m.

Alexandre Da Costa
Photo :
Stéphanie Lake
The 1689 Baumgartner Stradivarius, on loan to Alexandre Da Costa:
This violin from the master's early period belonged to Étienne Périlhon of Paris, and then in the early 1960s to Mrs. P. Nicholson of Folkestone, UK. In 1963 it was bought by Fritz Baumgartner of Basel, Switzerland. In 1986, the violin's next owner, Gordon Jeffrey (a great patron of classical music, whose family founded the London Life Insurance Company), donated the instrument to the University of Western Ontario. In 1997, an anonymous buyer acquired the Baumgartner Stradivarius and loaned it to the CCA. Estimated value: $3 m.

The 1700 Taft Stradivarius, on loan to Jasper Wood: This wonderful violin is an excellent example of the so-called Golden Age of Antonio Stradivari. It appears to have belonged to Freiher von Donop, and then to Albert Caressa of Paris, before passing to Rudolf Wurlitzer of Cincinnati. Sometime around 1915, Wurlitzer sold it to Mrs Charles Phelps Taft, a founder of the Cincinnati Symphony, whose husband was a great patron of the arts. For many years the violin was played by Emil Heermann, first violinist at the Cincinnati Symphony. After Mrs Taft died in 1940, the instrument was sold to Ernest Ruder, a private collector and amateur violinist in Cincinnati, with whom it remained until 1987. In May 2000, an anonymous buyer acquired the Taft Stradivarius and, in September 2003, loaned it to the CCA. Estimated value: $3 m.

[Translated by Tim Brierley]

"Stradivarius on stage"

June 19, 8 pm (Pre-concert at 7 pm)

Montreal Chamber Music Festival

Info: (514) 487-7444

Featuring a composition by Andrew Culver commissioned for the event.

*Recently we told you about a similar initiative by the Quebec Musicians' Guild to develop a loan program that would enable professional musicians to purchase instruments of rare quality. Denis Filiatrault informs us that this initiative is progressing well and many musicians are getting involved.

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