Corey Cervosek and one bad Strad! (Photo: MLMF PR)
Chamber Music Festival will feature a hint of Charlie Daniels
Even if you’re a novice when it comes to classical music, most folks have at least heard of Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737). Perhaps the single most significant craftsman in his field, “Stradivarius” stringed instruments included guitars, harps, cellos, violas, and (of course) violins.
From his workshop in Cremona, Italy, Stradivari, who began his apprenticeship at age 12 under another master, Nicolo Amati, is estimated to have created more than 1,000 instruments in his 70-year career. Of those, 650 are thought to survive to this day (including more than 400 violins). Not only known for their exquisite sound, but also for their intricate inlaid artwork carvings, they have become some of the world’s most sought after and valuable art pieces to collectors.
Often valued in the millions of dollars (and the target of numerous counterfeiters), some are still in use by professional musicians to this day. And one is coming to the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival this summer.
According to the Felici Trio’s Brian Schuldt and Rebecca Hang, veteran Festival violinist Corey Cerovsek will play his 1728 Strad in a competition that will pit the great master’s piece against a newer instrument that uses a varnish and crafting technique derived from extensive forensic analysis of an original Stradivarius violin.
On Saturday, July 23, in addition to the Sierra Academy of Music Student Recital, also on that evening’s program will be “Dueling Fiddles.” Cerovsek’s Strad — which goes by the nickname Milanollo — will go head to head, or neck and neck, with a violin made and donated to the Felici Trio by Joseph Nagyvary, Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University.
Cellist Schuldt and violinist Hang, along with Trio pianist Steven Vanhauwaert, met Nagyvary backstage during a Trio performance this past January. Nagyvary was in Mammoth supporting a family member who had been injured in a ski accident, and was very taken by the town and the Trio’s performance that night. Turns out that Nagyvary had always wanted to be a violinist, but it didn’t work out. Nonetheless, he never lost his admiration for the instrument.
Later, he would turn that love into a sort of personal quest: an intensive study of Stradivari’s work to see if it can be recreated.
“I remember seeing him as part of a PBS TV special a few years ago,” Schuldt recalled. “And when I met him, we talked about what he was doing and that led to the sort of ‘dueling fiddles’ or ‘sound test.’ Each violin will be played, but the judges won’t be able to see which one’s being played.”
Rather fitting … no verifiable paintings or images of Stradivari are known to exist, but it’s not important to see him as much as hear him. The problem, as Nagyvary sees it, is that the vintage originals, like so many other great works of art, have become unattainable and well out of reach of most musicians.
“He wants to make very high quality instruments — violins, cellos, violas — that approximate the sound quality of a Stradivarius, but at an affordable price,” Hang explained. Nagyvary’s got his work cut out for him, but Hang credits him with a noble undertaking. “Stradivari made instruments his whole life, well into his 80s. He saw trends coming on the horizon, such as more and bigger public performances, and tailored instruments for more power, as well as playing.”
Will Nagyvary’s work endure? Hang thinks only time will tell. “The vintage instruments have been played numerous times over the centuries. The wood is alive, evolving. And you have to take into account all the trial and error and experimenting that went into making them. All the best instrument makers lived within a few blocks of each other and it was that sense of community that led to making them such great pieces.”
But has he got a chance against a Stradivarius? “Oh, yeah. It’s a great violin. He’s ready, he’s confident,” Schuldt said.
One great thing about the MLMF is its connection to the best of the best in Chamber music musicians. Augmenting the Felici Trio, which call Mammoth home, is a star-studded lineup of guest players, including a couple of new arrivals. Making her debut this year is harpist Marina Roznitovsky, who’s featured in the Aug. 1 program in several works for harp and violin. And also making his first appearance is violist Theordore Kuchar, conductor and soloist with the Reno Chamber Orchestra.
Returning this year are Avery Fisher Award-winning violist Thula Ngwenyama, whose kids are enrolled in the Festival’s Sierra Academy of Music, violinist Lina Bahn, cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh, cellist Emilio Colon, violinist Emma Noel Votapek and cellist Mark Votapek, pianist Sarkis Baltaian and Oscar Hidalgo on bass.
Interesting musical highlights include African-American composer William Grant Still, whose inventive “Danzas de Panama” is based on Central American folk tunes, and Arthur Foote, whose music Hang opined is very “juicy and romantic!”
Schuldt’s favorite show, naturally, is “Cellisimo,” which features a mix of cello trios and quartets. “He doesn’t have to deal with all those violins,” Hang ribbed him good-naturedly. Along with works by Popper and Bartok, listen for a cool arrangement of the Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
“Each program is like a journey into the universe, and creates its own solar system,” Hang said. “Every show has music that is interesting and fun, and blends well with the expertise of our many great guest musicians.”
And not to brag, but Schuldt is the first to point out that MLMF is a great opportunity to see some of the superstars of chamber music in an intimate setting. “People come here from all over and tell us they have paid big bucks in New York and Cleveland to see some of the same musicians. We want people to come out and experience these shows, and the best part is you won’t have to spend a fortune.”
It ain’t kids’ stuff …
The Sierra Academy of Music camps for string and piano players kick off this Monday, with 22 students in the 14-24 year old bracket, and another 30 in the Junior bracket. The Academy boasts several local musicians, who will play alongside classmates from Los Angeles, Alabama and as far away as Spain. Juniors are coached by the older students as well, acting as “practice pals,” which Hang and Schuldt say fosters not only better academic performance, but often establishes musical friendships that can last a lifetime.
Spots are filled months in advance, so sign up early for next year’s Academy.
Get Festival tickets (which runs from July 20-August 5) and more information for this year’s lineup at www.chambermusicunbound.org. Tickets are $25 per show, $17 for Seniors and $10/students. Various package prices are also available.