On Spring's Strad Concerts and the 'Ex Kreisler' del Gesù

Back in November, we introduced you to master violin-maker Antonio Stradivari and took a closer look at the 'Gariel' Stradivarius played by Nicola Benedetti. Now we turn our attention to some of the violins (and violinists) that will be gracing the Barbican stage with the LSO in Spring. 

1709 Stradivarius
played by Roman Simovic, courtesy of Jonathan Moulds

Roman Simovic plays a 1709 Stradivarius, made in the luthier's golden period, and generously on loan from Chair of the LSO Advisory Council, Jonathan Moulds. It previously belonged to Hungarian violinist (and composer) Tivadar Nachéz. Speaking to Rhys Watkins about his violin, the LSO Leader said 'it has so many colours, all you have to do is find them and just enjoy'. 

Watch the whole interview, where Simovic talks about about Shostakovich and Stradivarius, over on the LSO's YouTube channel. Skip to 11:20 to jump straight into his thoughts on Stradivarius and hear him testing out the violin.


Gil ShahamThe 'Countess Polignac' Stradivarius, 1699
played by Gil Shaham

The violin's namesake, Countess Polignac, was a member of the court of Louis XIV. Heavily involved in the Venetian music scene, she frequently commissioned Vivaldi to write concertos, and was even responsible for bringing The Four Seasons out of Italy for it to be performed in France for the first time.

Not much is known about the early days of the instrument itself, other than that for 150 years it was part of a collection in a Paris museum. It passed through various owners' hands, travelling across the world from England to Australia. More recently, it belonged to a Chicago-based businessman and patron of the arts, who in the 1980s, offered it to a then 18-year-old Gil Shaham. With the help of a loan, the Countess Polignac is now his!

The Countess Polignac is notably different from Stradivari's other violins, in that it has a longer, narrower body, a pattern seen in 17th-century luthier Giovanni Paolo Maggini's instruments. Stradivari experimented with this style for a short while, but abandoned it in 1700, making this violin an even rarer example of the luthier's work. 


Isabelle FaustThe 'Sleeping Beauty' Stradivarius. 1704
played by Isabelle Faust, purchased with sponsorship from L-Bank Baden Württemberg

For a long time, it was assumed that the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Stradivarius was one of the violin-maker's later instruments, owing to its label from 1720. The quality of the instrument, however – particularly of the perfectly cut f-holes and the scroll – points to an earlier construction date of 1704.

The violin takes its intriguing name from its mysterious fairy-tale history. The story goes that in 1886 two brothers found the violin in a castle which had been in their family for over 100 years. The violin had lain, seemingly forgotten, in the castle for many years. Possibly since the Boeselagar family, who owned the violin, used Höllinghofen Castle as a hide-out from Napoleonic troops and left the violin behind when they were forced to flee Germany in 1810. It remained undetected (even during a fire and subsequent restoration of the castle in 1854) and it wasn't until one of the brothers dropped his ring and accidentally found the violin in his search!

It was played for many years by their sister Wilma, until she passed away and it was returned to the head of the family Maximilian von Boeselager II. The ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was hidden again in the 1900s – stored secretly in a bank vault for fear that the Swiss government would expropriate it after the Second World War – though it did make a couple of public appearances.

Some 25 years ago, Maximilian II’s granddaughter decided to sell the violin, bringing to an end its three centuries of association with the Boeselager family. Since then, Isabelle Faust has been fortunate enough to play it, explaining in an interview with The Strad ‘I think we fit well together and I certainly feel privileged to be the one to have woken it up from its long ‘Sleeping Beauty’ sleep.’


Nikolaj Szeps-ZnaiderBonus extra: The 'Ex Kreisler' Violin, 1741
played by Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, on loan to through the efforts of the Velux Foundations, the Knud Højgaard Foundation and the Royal Danish Theater/Royal Danish Academy of Music

Not a Strad, but a violin worth mentioning nevertheless, the Kreisler was made by Giuseppe Guarneri 'del Gesù' in 1741. Giuesppe was the last in a long line of luthiers from the Guarneri family, and is considered to be Stradivari's only rival, equal, and perhaps even superior. Compared to the approximately 650 Stradivarius violins that survive to this day, there are less than 200 Guarneris or del Gesùs.

Completed just three years before Guarneri's untimely death at the age of 46, this violin was most famously played by Austrian-born violinist Fritz Kreisler, and used in all his concerts and recordings from 1904 to 1919. That means it was used to premiere the Elgar Violin Concerto in 1910 (conducted by the composer himself). Over a century later, in 2020, audiences will be able Elgar's concerto played on the very same violin at the hands of Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider.

Click below for more information or to book tickets to hear these violinists and their violins at the Barbican throughout February and March.

Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 1
Sunday 9 February 7pm

Prokofiev Symphony No 1, ‘Classical’
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 1
Mussorgsky Prelude to ‘Khovanshchina’
Shostakovich Symphony No 9

Gianandrea Noseda conductor
Roman Simovic violin



Dvořák Violin Concerto
Thursday 12 March 7.30pm

Dvořák Violin Concerto
Kaija Saariaho Laterna Magica
Debussy La mer

Susanna Mälkki conductor
Gil Shaham violin



Stravinsky Violin Concerto
Thursday 19 March 7.30pm

Bartók Dance Suite
Stravinsky Violin Concerto in D major
Bartók The Wooden Prince

François-Xavier Roth conductor
Isabelle Faust violin



Elgar Violin Concerto
Sunday 29 March 7pm

Elgar Violin Concerto
Sibelius Symphony No 4

Sir Mark Elder conductor
Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider violin


Related Reading

> On master violin maker Antonio Stradivari