James Ehnes, on the Myth of the Stradivarius

Photo Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

James Ehnes is a violinist of extraordinary dynamism, serene lyricism and astonishing virtuosity. He has performed in over 30 countries on five continents, a guest of many of the world’s renowned orchestras and conductors, including, amongst others, the London Symphony, New York, BBC Philharmonic, and the DS Berlin Orchestras.

An exciting and award winning discography, which includes his recording of Korngold, Barber, and Walton violin concertos directed under Bramwell Tovey and with Vancouver Symphony Orchestra won a 2008 JUNO award for Best Classical Album of the Year and a 2008 Grammy Award for best Instrumental Soloist Performance.

Beginning violin studies at the age of four, he made his orchestral debut at 13, and graduated from The Julliard School in 1997.

While visiting Calgary, performing his award winning rendition of Korngold’s Violin Concert in D Major with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Ehnes was able to give a few words on the “Ex Marsick” Stradivarius that he plays and his personal career.

For Ehnes, the Stradivarius is a special instrument that is compares to that of an artist’s palette, with the Stradivarius possessing more colours. “Marsick”, the name given to the violin, was a very prominent Belgian violinist in the early 20th century, however, sold the violin for money after just owning it for a year. However, the “Marsick” has had many unknown clouds in its history, for instance it’s time spent in the Soviet Union is quite a mystery. But being such “a high profile work of art,” Ehnes chuckles, when being asked how he cares for the Stradivarius, “there not much you could do with it if you were able to steal it… no one is going to buy it because they are all so identifiable… or turns up in a pretty quick fashion.”

Photo Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

Worldwide, the Stradivarius is renowned for its superb quality of sound and craftsmanship-priceless; however, the tremendous worth of these violins pushes many people to discredit and disprove its quality- in fact, people are just paying for the name. Are these conspiracies or rumours true? Many tests have been conducted where Stradivarius’ have been played by excellent musicians in contrast with less expensive violins, and it seems the myth of the Stradivarius shatters when it is guessed incorrectly. Ehnes claims this is ridiculous, as “an overwhelming majority of the time, people get it right, and they all are not created equal…” The Stradivarius’ we fortunately hear in concerts are very rare to find, as many have deteriorated over 300 years, or have been replaced with a new part. The difference in these instruments is how many “colours” and possibilities they provide for musical expression.

Me with James Ehnes

He also sympathetically revealed the plight of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the composer of the piece he delightfully played. Korngold was considered a genius of his time, composing a vast array of brilliant scores and a career of Hollywood. Until this concert, I personally had not heard of Korngold’s name before this concert, but his prominent influence in the movie industry may explain my unawareness of him. Once he was involved in Hollywood, and with music changing in the classical sphere, people became disinterested in his classical compositions, which were very much beautiful harmonized pieces.

Always awed by these great performers, I preserved my memories of these great highlights in a picture.

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