Arizona Artbeat: Stradivarius Violin at the MIM

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We’ll take you to a violin exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix that features a Stradivarius and has violins by other famous makers on display as well.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Art Beat focuses on the Stradivarius violin, a name synonymous with excellence for 300 years. Experts say the sound is unlike any other and is as close to perfection as possible. Shana Fischer and photographer Langston Fields take us to the musical instrument museum. [playing the violin]

Video: The sound is literally music to your ears. in the hands of the celebrated virtuoso Yitzhak Pearlman it's a revelation. The Stradivarius has been called the finest instrument ever made. Antonio Stradivari lived in the 1600. During his lifetime, an astonishing 93 years, he created 1100 instruments, a little more than half were violins.

Richard Walter: He is recognized for a whole variety of skills he brought to the violin. He didn't invent the violin but he did create them at a very, very high level. That ranges from application to the varnish to the surface to the proportions and design of the violin we recognize as the quintessential violin now. Details of carving. He was excellent with a hand tool and was always exploring different ways to make it sound better.

Video: Experts say in addition to his incomparable skill the exquisite sound comes from simple beginnings.

Richard Walter: we celebrate here the fact that Cremona, Italy, was close to a forest, a location of wood that grew with very particular climate ands conditions and altitudes and all these things that made it perfect for making acoustic musical instruments.

Video: The exhibit showcases work from other great violin makers including Guarneri. Del Gesu was a contemporary of Stradiveri and the most expensive violin ever auctioned off was one he created, it went for $18 million. That's what makes it so extraordinary. You have the chance to view instruments carved hundreds of years ago by the masters and connect with that history.

Richard Walter: The target gallery here at mim like all our galleries is filled with audio visual monitors. People come in with their head sets and not only see the instruments in beautiful 360 degree view so you get this great, intimate look at the instruments themselves, we also have portrayals of luthiers, instrument makers. We have fine professional performers so they can help people understand from so many perspectives what makes a great violin so great. Is it the way it's built? The way it sounds? Is it the way it looks?

Video: Walter says to fully enjoy the exhibition pay attention to details. He says every luthier, that's someone who makes a stringed instrument Harks a unique signature, almost like a fingerprint.

Richard Walter: you look at the scroll, which is one of those signature areas where people say Stradivari crafted a scroll in this fashion and others had sharper edges, softer edges, all these things. In those regards you can really see those identifying features.

Video: you can witness the physical changes in violins throughout the years. When you look at this AMADI from the side you can see the middle curves out, almost swollen. This produced a very intimate sound, one that didn't carry far and didn't need to. It was only played for a small group. Look at the Stradivarius, crafted about 100 years later. The middle has just a slight swell to it. Just that small change in the curve allowed the violin to project the sound that could reach a large crowd.

Richard Walter: that's really one of the signatures of his violin legacy is that the sound is preferred by fine concert violinists knowing they will have a very expressive instrument that can project into a large audience.

Video: one of the more interesting displays are the tools used to make the instruments. This is the first time they have been on display in the United States. There's also an opportunity to learn about violin making today as well as hear violinsist Rachel Barton pine play her beloved del Gesu. In all the exhibition is an opportunity to step back in time and appreciate craftsmanship that continues today.

Richard Walter: we hear people all the time comparing the different woods. This one is beautiful. This is darker. This looks bigger. So we're giving people that opportunity not just to see beautiful violins but to learn something about how to appreciate them as individual works of art, individual musical tools, and the products of a lot of people who are still aspiring to build things at the level Stradivari did in his time.

Ted Simons: The Stradivarius exist Biggs is at the museum until June 5th. That weekend the mim will also put on their celebrate Italy event where you can sample traditional food. For more information visit

Ted Simons: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon" Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton will join us. We'll hear from a local journalist about her new book onto raising a child with down syndrome. That's on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Video: Funding for the Arizona arts and culture fund is made possible by signal society members, Eleanor light and Judith Hart and by -- you can become a curator of the arts on Arizona PBS. For more information call --

Richard Walter: Curator, US & Canada, Musical Instrument Museum

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