Anne Akiko Meyers is bringing the world’s most expensive violin to town to play with Pacific Symphony this week. It has been loaned to her for life by the owner, who bought it in late 2012 for more than $16 million, still the highest price ever paid for a violin. The instrument, made in 1741, is known as the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri “del Gesù,” named for one of its former owners, the Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881). He loved the instrument so much that he wanted to be buried with it.
“Its health and security are always the utmost important factors when traveling,” Meyers said of the instrument recently in a phone interview. Nevertheless, she doesn’t seem particularly intimidated by the prospect. She’s had to care for expensive violins, on loan, for most of her career.
“Well, I’ve been really fortunate my whole life,” she said. “I’ve had to rely on the generosity of donors, patrons, foundations and have played on a number of Guarneri “del Jesu”’s and Stradivari violins my entire life. It is totally like you’re walking around with a Matisse or a Picasso or a Monet on your back. It’s our equipment but yet it’s an antique piece of history that can never be repeated again.”
She wants to pass it on to the next player in the same condition is it now, which she characterizes as near perfect, clean and crack-free and without so much as a sound post patch (common in most violins).
She describes its tone quality this way: “It’s like it has dark and milk chocolate and white chocolate all wrapped into one, and it has super deep resonance on the G string — it sounds like a cello — but yet it just has a brilliant E string and it projects like none other because it’s so healthy.”
In the video below, you’ll get just an inkling of what the bass drum sounded like — the fidelity isn’t great — when Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony played “Daphnis and Chloe” in Wuxi Grand Theatre in China recently.
I’ve always loved the way this piece — the “Habanera” from “Rhapsodie espagnole” — is orchestrated, the whole thing, but particularly the aromatic chord change from minor to major starting at the one minute mark in this recording and repeated at the end.
A good way to prepare for this week’s performances by Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in Ravel’s incomparable orchestration is to hear the piece in its original version, for solo piano.
Here’s a short preview of a film created by students from the USC School of Cinematic Arts that will accompany Pacific Symphony’s performances of “Pictures at an Exhibition” this month. Performances are March 15-18.
Music director Carl St.Clair and President John Forsyte unveiled plans today for Pacific Symphony’s 40th anniversary classical season in 2018-19. The schedule includes eight subscription programs (in multiple performances) conducted by St.Clair, who celebrates his 29th season as the orchestra’s leader. The Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation again sponsors the classical series, which is presented at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.
The season opens Sept. 27-29 with concerts that commemorate the 40th anniversary. The program will include a new version of Frank Ticheli’s “Shooting Stars,” written for the orchestra for its 25th anniversary and updated here; and a performance of Ravel’s “Boléro” coupled with a newly commissioned film documenting the history of Pacific Symphony. Van Cliburn competition gold medalist Olga Kern will also return to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
The orchestra marks the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth in the season’s second program (Oct. 25-27). St.Clair leads this tribute to his mentor, which includes the “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” with Symphony principal clarinetist Joseph Morris as soloist; the “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium),” with violinist Augustin Hadelich as soloist; the “Chichester Psalms”; and selections from his Broadway musicals sung by Celena Shafer.
In our ongoing efforts aimed at improving the listening skills of people new to classical music, we come to instrumentation. It is helpful in learning to understand a particular piece to be able to identify, just with your ears, which instruments are playing when and what. Putting mental labels on sounds is an aid to our brains in sorting things out.
There are two melodies in Ravel’s “Bolero,” each played twice before alternating with the other. The piece is basically one long crescendo in C, and Ravel sets the melodies in a variety of solo instruments, and then groups of instruments.
For the sound file below (which features a performance of “Bolero” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Claudio Abbado), we have added the timings for the entrance of every appearance of the melodies, and the instrument(s) that Ravel has decided will play them. (Later in the piece, when Ravel has large groups of instruments play the melodies, it is difficult to aurally distinguish every single instrument, but you can hear changes in the overall tone color.)
2’32”: E-flat clarinet
3’19”: Oboe d’amour
4’05”: Trumpet with mute, flute
4’50”: Tenor saxophone
5’36”: Sorpanino saxophone, then at 6’07” soprano saxophone