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A Violin's Odyssey

Violinist Augustin Hadelich.

German violinist Augustin Hadelich makes his BPO debut with a familiar violin

The BPO concerts this Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2:30pm under the baton of JoAnn Falletta will feature the young German violinist Augustin Hadelich. Born in Italy in 1984, the son of German parents, Hadelich holds an artist diploma from the Juilliard School, where he was a student of Joel Smirnoff. Hadelich enjoyed early success in his violin studies, but in 1999, when he was 15 years old, a tractor fuel fire on his family’s farm severely burned much of his upper body, including his face and bow arm. While initially it was thought that he would never be able to play again, he was able to resume his career in 2001.

As the gold medalist of the 2006 Indianapolis International Violin Competition, Hadelich enjoyed the use of the ex-Gingold Stradivari from 2006 through 2010. Josef Gingold, one of the most esteemed violinist-educators in America, had been the concertmaster of the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini and he later taught some of the very finest violinists, including Joshua Bell, at Indiana University. Losing the use of the ex-Gingold after four years was difficult for Hadelich, and he wrote at the time, “I have learned a lot from playing this violin, and we’ve been through so much together! It’s sad to give it back—I hope that the next violinist to play it will enjoy it as much as I did.”

Hadelich was fortunate, as he did not have to suffer from Stradivarius withdrawal for very long. He was soon loaned the exceptionally fine 1723 Stradivarius violin, from the maker’s so-called golden period, known as the “ex-Kiesewetter,” owned by the wealthy Buffalo industrialist Clement Arrison, and his wife Karen, through the Stradivari Society of Chicago. “It had been a long search, and I am incredibly grateful for the loan of this instrument,” Hadelich has noted.

Hadelich will perform a BPO favorite, Brahms’s powerful Violin Concerto in D major, op.77, a work that has been programmed in no fewer than 18 previous BPO seasons. The last performance of the Brahms concerto by the BPO took place in May 2009 when Elmar Oliveira, the only American violinist to win the Gold Medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Competition, stepped in at the last minute to replace an ailing soloist and proceeded to deliver a riveting performance that remains fresh in the minds of those lucky enough to hear it.

Prior to his BPO performance in the spring of 2009, Oliveira had been in town during the fall of 2008 to perform at a memorial event. In an informal conversation afterwards, one of the most interesting things that came up was Oliveira’s strong conviction that the very best investment you can make was to buy the finest examples of string instruments available, from the Italian master makers such as Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari. Since the available pool of these authenticated masterpieces is limited, no matter what price that you may have paid for one of these instruments, historically they have done nothing but increase astronomically in value.

The Chicago-based Stradivari Society was founded in 1976 by the premier violin dealers and restorers, Robert Bein and Geoffrey Fushi. The deep-pocketed members of the Stradivari Society purchase these rare instruments, whose prices invariably range well into the millions, and then loan them to talented up-and-coming violinists, who themselves cannot even begin to contemplate purchasing such wonderful but prohibitively expensive instruments. This arrangement is beneficial for all the parties involved: The wealthy owners of the instruments gain the public prestige of having their generosity, and their names, of course, associated with some of the most promising young violinists in the world, and these same violinists gain the enviable advantage of performing on the very finest instruments that exist. The last of the parties to benefit from this arrangement are the instruments themselves, as the best way to insure the playing longevity of a hundreds-of-years-old wooden instrument is to make certain that it is played often.

The Arrisons originally acquired the ex-Kiesewetter in 1986 for use by the phenomenal young Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, who has gone on to a spectacularly successful career. According to the British Daily Mail, Philippe Quint, another rising Russian violinist, spent 18 months persuading the couple to allow him to use the Stradivarius next, and he agreed to pay for a $4,500 insurance policy on the $4 million violin to do so. Unfortunately, he left it in a taxi in 2008, but the taxi driver, Mohammed Khalil, returned the instrument intact to Quint. While Quint gave a much-appreciated off-the-cuff concert at the taxicab holding area at Newark airport in thanks, he told the Newark Star-Ledger that Karen Arrison scolded him: “Next time, keep it on your shoulder.”

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