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Feasting my eyes, and ears, on a 1689 Stradivarius

Posted by FiddlerJones on Friday, August 21, 2009

It's not every day one finds oneself in the same room as a Stradavarius, let alone hears one played masterfully.

Two days ago I attended the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Recital at the Cultural Center in downtown Chicago, a weekly lunchtime event that I attend nearly every week.

The featured performer was Judy Kang, a young Canadian violinist who made her concert debut at the age of four, graduated from the Curtis Institute at 17, and has performed with some of North America's major symphony orchestras and at some of the premier music festivals since then.

She currently is playing a 1689 Stradivarius, dubbed the "Baumgartner," on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts. Virtually no musician, of course, can afford to buy a Strad; the Baumgartner, for example, is valued at $3 million. Most are owned by institutions that lend them out only to the most deserving. The Canada Council for the Arts holds a competition every three years, and the winner gets to use the Baumgartner for a three-year term.

What was most stunning, of course, was instrument's pedigree but the sound Ms. Kang drew from it. The fluidity of her phrasing, the boldness and confidence, the lyricism--I tried hard to find something to fault but couldn't.

I had this weird fantasy: What if I went up to her after the performance and said, "I'll give you a hundred bucks if you let me play that for 30 seconds?" Would she have dismissed me as a kook? Would she have shrugged her shoulders and said, "sure, what the hell?" You don't just hand something like that over to a stranger.

There was another part of me that said, "who am I trying to kid, attempting to play any instrument?"

Anyway, whether a musician calls the instrument a violin or a fiddle, it's worthwhile to go out of your way to hear--and just as importantly watch--a highly accomplished musician perform.

5 comments on “Feasting my eyes, and ears, on a 1689 Stradivarius”

Cyndy Says:
Friday, August 21, 2009 @4:35:57 AM

I have synthetic core strings on my fiddle for the first time and I was playing songs from Broadway musicals the other morning, experimenting with the new, mellower sound when all of a sudden my heart wrapped around the emotion of a phrase and my violin and I produced one note--one beautiful powerful amazing note--that I'm still thinking about. If I can experience that kind of joy with a cheap Chinese fiddle and twenty months of playing, what must it be like for Ms.Kang to play the Baumgartner, especially in those moments when there's no audience? When it's just her and the fiddle? And how will she ever be ready to pass it on at the end of three years? I wish I had been there to hear her play it. Or at least had the radio on.


mudbug Says:
Friday, August 21, 2009 @2:41:28 PM

Great storey! I imagine that this is not the first, nor will it be the last great instrument that she will play in her career, each with it's own personality. I wish I had been there with you to experience it. You should write a review and send it to the Chicago paper's art section. Oh, wait, I just saw your occupation, maybe you do that allready.

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Friday, August 21, 2009 @6:25:13 PM

I once played a US$31,000.00 instrument. When I put it back on its stand I asked, So how much would that one set you back? When I was told the price my knees almost buckled. I responded, I sure am glad you told me that AFTER I played on it, or I would have been afraid to play it.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, August 21, 2009 @10:35:55 PM

At one of the local bluegrass assn. campouts around here, a young (20 something) fiddler played on a violin from the 1800's, Italian make. His tone, accuracy, timing, etc.--stunning. During a break he casually said, "Here, check it out!" almost throwing the violin at me. Wow! How cool is that! Whilst chatting, he told me that he'd been playing since three or four, plays classical too, etc.

I'm really glad I didn't drop the thing.

kubasa Says:
Saturday, August 22, 2009 @8:39:05 PM

Your story reminds me of that documentary about Tommy Jarrell when he got to try a Stradivarius at the Smithsonian. I don't remember his exact words but it made me laugh because he asked for his old fiddle back. However, given the chance, I'd love to try a Stradivarius too!

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