Triennial auditions for the right to play Stradivarius or Guarneri instruments for three years.

There were two articles in today’s Toronto Star that I wanted to pass on. One is about the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank and the upcoming auditions that happen every three years. The instrument bank is a way to get some incredibly rare instruments in the hands of some musicians who need them/are worthy of having an outstanding instrument for a time. Previous recipients include James Ehnes, now considered a world-class player.

The article doesn’t go into great detail about it, but one of the things that intrigued me was that the collection doesn’t consist solely of instruments, but also bows, which can make a tremendous difference as well.

It’s an interesting change from, for example, the Metropolitan Museum, where the instruments are kept locked up, and spend the last of their days behind glass - admired, yet unloved.

I remember this as one of the themes of the Vikram Seth novel “An Equal Music” - the narrator has a violin on semi-permanent loan from a wealthy lady, and has no idea what might happen if it is ever taken back. In a later passage, the first violinist in the string quartet attends an auction for a first class instrument. I won’t spoil it; but the scene is wrenching.
The other article is from the same reporter - in the course of researching the first article, he was allowed to play a 4 million dollar violin!!! The experience is too intimidating for an adult beginner, and he (sadly) doesn’t have his music with hem - I’m not sure he took anything inspiring from the experience, just a sense of being overwhelmed.

Speaking as someone who is unworthy of his instruments, I can sympathize - it’s tough to get past the mystical aura of “I’m holding something truly unique - in the right hands, this inanimate object can project the player’s soul to the heavens, it’s worth more than I will ever accumulate in my lifetime, it is truly irreplaceable, and I’m frankly scared because all I can think of right now is how many ways I could unintentionally damage it.” But I think it’s fantastic that these instruments are being played instead of being locked away.

I know how you feel. There’s a place in Bethesda, MD - Potter’s Violins - that had a whole selection of instruments for sale. I was up there getting my great-granddad’s violin into playable shape and had a look around; I happened across a Viennese job from 1759 worth maybe $10-15K. That baby sang, even in my somewhat moderately capable hands.

It may be that some instruments on display aren’t in playable condition but still look good, and perhaps getting them back into playable condition is too risky, which is why they’re on display rather than being circulated like the Canada bank. Seems to me the Smithsonian could run a similar program with playable instruments, though.