We have just returned from a little ‘warm up’ trip to Melbourne. Even though I arrived home beyond tired, I’m calling this a warm up trip because it is a small prelude to a longer trip in a week’s time, to New Zealand. Here is how the Melbourne trip came about…
A little over two weeks ago I saw a television interview with Satu Vänskä, Principal Violin, of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The ACO has on loan a 300 year old Stradivarius Violin and Satu is the talented musician who plays it for their performances. Her interview captivated me as she described the violin as an extension of herself, as her ‘voice’, were she a singer. She explained the ACO has a fundraising program that enables them to purchase vintage instruments which become part of their orchestra. They are not just for show, they are participants in their art. She played a couple of short examples of the music they would be performing. It went straight to my heart, the way things do when we are open to experiences.
It so happens my husband was already booked to travel to Melbourne about a week hence, for a series of meetings. He encouraged me to check the ACO performances and see if they happened to coincide. They did. And there were seats available.
I believe in synchronistic adventure.
We enjoy listening to classical music but are not cognoscenti, especially me. I just listen and enjoy. Neither of us had ever attended an ACO performance. But there was something about the sound of that Stradivarius, even heard over the inferior quality of television speakers, that filtered to my innermost being. I suppose that is what great art does. But there is more…
About forty years ago, when my Italian speaking skills were fresh enough from studies to be of some use, I organised a trip to Italy for myself and my parents. In those days I could only get two weeks off from work so it was an ambitious plan. We flew into Rome, enjoyed the delights, picked up a rental car and headed to an area about 70 miles outside of Rome to meet my father’s extended family, then south to the Amalfi Coast, then back up through Tuscany and through Cremona on our way to the Lake Como area. Like I said, ambitious. Dad and I took turns driving —oh the things a fearless father and a confident young daughter can achieve! I wonder if my Mother spent the entire trip with white knuckles?
When we neared the Cremona area, Dad sprung on me that he wanted to stop, to see if we could find anything about the Stradivarius violins that were made there in the 18th century. Himself, a musician, Dad was from a very musical family. His father played the violin and his Uncle made violins, one of which is in the possession of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Musical talent certainly skipped my generation, though perhaps there is a lingering gene or two in my other creative endeavours.
Keep in mind, this was well before GPS systems, the internet or smart phones! We had only an ‘old school’ road map and my Dad’s sketchy knowledge of the Stradivarius. I could scarcely believe we actually found a museum or school or some such place, where there was said to be a Stradivarius. But when we arrived it was ‘chiuso’—closed. The hours were posted on the door so we decided to try and return when it would be open again. As we turned to leave, an Italian gentleman came into the piazza. Dad, never one to hold back, but knowing not a word of Italian, stopped the man, then realised I would have to do the asking… thanks Dad. If you’ve ever learned a second language, you will know that often it is not the difficulty of asking the question that is the problem, it is understanding the reply that is tricky. Eventually, what I understood was that this gentleman, a ‘professore di musica’ was also the person who came once a week to play the Stradivarius that was kept on display here–to keep it in good working order. He told us when he would be playing if we wanted to wait.
Eventually the door was opened, probably after siesta, I can’t quite remember, I just know it was a warm day and we were waiting on hard stone benches in the piazza for a while… We were told where to go and il Professore, true to his word, was preparing the famed violin. He, and we, were the only people present. He played. Dad was riveted. Me? I was young and not as appreciative as I might have been. The uniqueness of the moment didn’t fully sink it at the time, but somewhere deep in the folds of my grey matter it has been waiting to come forward and be gratefully acknowledged.
Hearing that Stradivarius on television restored that memory as if it was only a few years ago. Perhaps the spirit of my Dad was urging me to go to Melbourne. It was the sort of adventure he would appreciate. The actual star of the performance was the up and coming Australian Soprano, Nicole Car, who has performed in London and Paris to acclaim and who is performing later this year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was superb.
But for me, the star was the Stradivarius.
What a voice Satu has…a three hundred year old Belgiorno Stradivarius that lives on through her artistry.
If you live in Australia, the ACO tour continues for the month of April. Also, there is a performance from this series that will be played live on April 22 with Nicole Car singing. I will be out of the country and can’t imagine that I will get to hear it, but who can say, with these synchronistic things? Link: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/live-music/classic-live/