NAC conductor Pinchas Zukerman, counted among the world's leading violinists, recently had the honour of playing the world's most expensive musical instrument.
The violin is a 1741 instrument made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, for which Russian lawyer and businessman Maxim Viktorov paid a reported $3.9 million U.S. in a private sale brokered by Sotheby's last month. The previous most expensive instrument had been a 1708 Stradivari violin sold by Christie's for $3.54 million in 2006.
On March 21, Mr. Zukerman played the instrument in a private concert at the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow. Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, which Mr. Zukerman will offer at the NAC on Wednesday and Thursday nights, was among the music he played in Moscow.
He played the same program the next night at the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory.
"The experience was amazing," Mr. Zukerman says.
"This is one of the finest violins in the world, and the audiences were wonderful. The conservatory hall was so packed that people were hanging from the rafters."
Asked to take the measure of the instrument, Mr. Zukerman chuckles. "Well, you have to understand, all the Guarneris from this time, maybe from 1739 to 1744, are Rolls-Royces. You might prefer one over another, but they're all wonderful."
His own instrument is a Guarnerius from 1742. How do they compare?
"The one I played in Moscow is like the most fantastic Swiss chocolate -- a dark, beautiful tone that expresses things beautifully.
"Mine, frankly, is similar, but a bit darker in tone. But I couldn't tell you one was better than the other. They're both Rolls-Royces -- and your Rolls might be a Silver Shadow or a Corniche, but they're both wonderful cars."
Mr. Zukerman says the instrument he played in Moscow is in "an amazingly good state of preservation."
Certainly, its provenance is top drawer. It had once been owned by Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps.
For Mr. Viktorov, the instrument's new owner, the Zukerman concerts were special.
"The violin is an entity that retains energy, and it remembers the person who once held it," he told Bloomberg News.
Mr. Zukerman, perhaps less mystical, prefers to think of those who will hold Mr. Viktorov's prized acquisition, which had not been played in public in 70 years.
"At the prices top violins are now getting, they're simply beyond the reach of most musicians, and rich collectors and foundations are now buying them and lending them to the finer younger players -- and this is wonderful, because no great violin should be put behind glass. They need and want to be played.
"I hope this instrument is played often."
Mr. Zukerman won't venture an opinion on whether the violin is worth the $3.9 million Mr. Viktorov paid. Certainly, the prices are heading skyward, he said. A famous Stradivari violin, the "Lady Blunt," created a sensation when it was sold by Sotheby's for $200,000 back in 1971. The just-sold Guarneri went for nearly 20 times that sum.
"Paying that kind of money certainly guarantees that every effort will be made to preserve them, and that's crucial. Apart from that, the market decides and I'm not here to second-guess."
Mr. Zukerman said Mr. Viktorov, who is a fine amateur violinist and sponsors the Paganini Moscow International Violin Competition, is one of a number of newly rich Russians who are trying to bring new life to the country's rich artistic heritage that lost so much ground in the tumult following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"The country had an unrivalled artistic life -- in music alone, think of the composers: Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov.
"And Viktorov and others want to renew the old standard, and they're working hard to make things better."
Mr. Zukerman will play the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 on Wednesday and Thursday nights with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under visiting conductor Douglas Boyd. The orchestra will also offer Haydn's Symphony No. 67, plus Pelleas and Melisande and the Symphony No. 7, both by Sibelius.
Mr. Zukerman is keen to play the Bruch with his own orchestra.
"I've played it since my teens, and it's one of the peak works of the Romantic German repertoire. It has a very full sound, lies well on the instrument, and it will be fun -- especially with my own orchestra."