Violin Treasures from Cremona at the Musica Viva Festival

A man and his 300-year-old violin will meet again for a brief interlude
March 30, 2013
Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald

Carl Pini

Carl Pini

Carl Pini will be reunited with an old friend next week when 25 rare violins go on display as part of the biennial Musica Viva Festival at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

The former artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra bought the 1732 Carlo Bergonzi violin for £4500 in 1960, when he was 25. Shortly after acquiring the instrument, he was invited to lead the London String Quartet.

“I’m sure it was the sound that got me the job as much as anything,” Pini says. “Either the sound or the fact that it made playing that much easier and gave me confidence.”

He and the Bergonzi went on to lead the English Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia in London and the Carl Pini Quartet. Together they toured Australia, Europe and the US, and performed many concertos as soloist. “It gave you a thrill to play. Practising for seven hours was just an ecstatic experience,” Pini says.

The Bergonzi was Pini’s musical partner for 30 years, until 1989, when family circumstances forced him to sell the violin. A syndicate bought the instrument for $500,000, but it changed hands again soon afterwards and Pini lost track of it.

The Bergonzi is now part of the Chi Mei Museum collection in Taiwan.

Lilly Camden, curator of the Musica Viva exhibition, Violin Treasures from Cremona, describes Pini’s violin as one of the finest examples of Bergonzi’s work, with a sound quality and craftsmanship equal to a Stradivarius. Indeed, Carlo Bergonzi learned his trade from Stradivarius, worked on many of his violins and took over his workshop when Stradivarius died. The violin is insured for $US2.5 million but, according to Camden, would fetch a much higher price on the open market.

Pini will have the opportunity to play some of the violins on display on Friday, and he insists he will have no problems in recognising his old instrument.

“The back of this fiddle has two tiny little oblong inserts covered with original varnish. [The wood] must have had some worm or something, and Bergonzi just cut the worm out and patched it up. You hardly notice them, but if I see them I’ll know it’s my violin.

“I say my violin. But of course it wasn’t mine. I just had it for 30 years. It’s 300 years old.”

Violin Treasures from Cremona runs from April 2-7, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Carl Pini plays “his” Bergonzi at a public demonstration at 3pm, April 5.

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