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With our noses to the grind this tour, flitting from city to city, I’ve not really had a chance to fully experience the amazing cities we’ve been playing in, but in DC, my free day gave us a chance to visit the National Gallery and the Library of Congress. Any day that I might be lucky enough to see a real Van Gogh up close and personal is a good day, but I had little idea of just how fulfilling my day would get…
The ever industrious Guido Lamell heard about a Stradivari exhibition in town, and we hauled tail across town to find ourselves at the Whithall pavilion at the Library of Congress, where, enshrined in glass cases…a 1699 Castelbarco Strad violin, the 1704 “Betts” Strad, Fritz Kreisler’s 1730 Guarneri del Gesu, a Golden period Strad viola, a Castelbarco Strad cello…absolutely precious, priceless, timeless works of physical and musical art. Retained in impeccable condition for the free concerts given next door at the Library’s Coolidge Theater by ensembles like the Juilliard String Quartet, the true glory of these old Italian instruments is in playing and hearing them, and Guido, Danny Rothmuller and I were all thrilled just to be in the same room. The famous violinist Ivry Gitlis says that it’s “not that the fiddle belongs to me, or exists in my lifetime, but that I am passing through the violin’s life, and she will have a much longer life than mine”. We feel the same way about our own instruments, and to behold an instrument that has survived Mozart, Paganini, Vieuxtemps, Ysaye, Kreisler, Heifetz, and that will survive my generation, is exhilarating.
We waited as our tour guide finished her presentation in the Coolidge Theater, and Guido introduced us as members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Stunned silence in the hall, as our guide broke into applause, and a few bemoaned not being able to get tickets to our concert the previous evening at the Kennedy Center. We even had a patron in the audience who regularly comes to listen to us at Segerstrom Hall on our runouts to Orange County. After a few phone calls, the instrument curator opened the vault, and we were able to hold (and “accidentally” pluck a few strings – we couldn’t use the precious bows in the collection because they were too fragile…a perfect condition Tourte cello bow!) a few of the instruments. If we were carrying our own bows, we would have been able to play on them – Guido briefly suggested that we rush back to the hotel and grab our bows…(needless to say, I won’t go to DC without a spare bow ever again!)