Would you spend £10 million on a violin? And if you did would you have the nerve to play it?
As the debate rages on about whether or not the violin known as 'The Messiah' was or was not made by 18th century Italian master Antonio Stradivari - covered in our news pages last week - one cannot help asking why the issue is so important if the violin itself will never be heard. Apparently, when the instrument was donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, by a family of violin restorers in 1939, it was on the condition that it would never be played.
Of course, there are many superb instruments that are regularly played on the concert platform and heard by audiences all around the world, not least by GMN artists. Cellist Lynn Harrell, for example, owns two cellos - one of them a Stradivarius made in 1673 which he has named after its previous owner, Jacqueline Du Pre. "They are my beloved companions in my musical life," he says. He admits that he does sometimes feel guilty about exposing them to "the chance of destruction" through travelling around so much. He also likes to give each instrument a good rest from time to time. But he says in his exclusive backstage interview with GMN that he regards himself as a "custodian" of his instruments so that other people will be able to play them in the future: "If I take care of it, it could last another couple of hundred years."
When violinist Tasmin Little left the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 16, it also meant handing back the violin she had been using. Buying her first instrument was a bit like buying a house, she says: "It's a most daunting thing for a violinist to try to get on that first step of the ladder." Her first violin was made by Englishman Henry Lockey Hill in 1815 and cost her £5,000. "But after a while it was apparent it wasn't going to be good enough," she reveals. "What is very important in a violin is that you should feel you can trust the instrumentÖthe instrument should express your most subtle feelings." She now plays a violin made in Milan by Giovanni Baptista Guadagnini some 250 years ago.
Playing a wind instrument is rather different from being a string player, particularly if you like to play on instruments which are authentic for the period in which the music was written. Antony Pay has a whole room filled with different sorts of clarinet. In his interview, he discusses how even different types of wood can produce quite different sounds. He adds that when he changes instrument, he likes to give himself enough time to get to know it again: "If I have to play on a particular instrument it does take me a day or so before it is my friend."
Watch Lynn Harrell talking about his cellos in his backstage interview. Tasmin Little discusses her instruments in her video interview. See a potted history of the clarinet, as presented by Antony Pay.