There's an aura surrounding a Stradivarius violin, a special
magic beyond a mesmerizing sound and the glow from its golden-brown
veneer. Call it spirit, or vibes - whatever it is, when people are
in the presence of a "Strad," they feel it.
Take the "Falmouth" Stradivarius violin currently played by
Dallas Symphony Concertmaster Alexander
Kerr. The instrument was built in 1692 in Cremona. At just over
36 centimeters, its body is a bit longer than many Strads, and the
sound it creates when a bow slides across its strings is a unique
combination of airy warmth and earthy graininess.
Dallas Symphony patrons can hear Kerr play his "Falmouth" Strad
at the Meyerson Symphony Center May 23-25, when he performs
Barber's Violin Concerto with Music Director Jaap van Zweden
conducting. "I just love the piece and I thought it would be
perfect for my debut with the orchestra," Kerr said.
The "Falmouth" Stradivarius, too, has its special aura, which
asserted itself recently while Kerr was talking about his new
instrument. In tracing his brief history with the instrument, he
suddenly hit on a coincidence that took his breath away.
How Kerr (pronounced "Car") came to play the "Falmouth" is not
so remarkable of itself. The instrument was previously owned by the
Greek virtuoso violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Prior to Kavakos,
previous owners included the famed London violin and bow maker W.E.
Hill & Sons; the early 20th century "Copper King"
Senator from Montana, William Andrews Clark; and the instrument's
namesake, the British Earl of Falmouth, who sold the instrument in
1853. Kavakos placed it for sale with the fine instrument dealer
Bein & Fushi in Chicago, where in 2012 the instrument came to
"I tried it against a few other instruments of the same price
range and quality, and I thought it was phenomenal," Kerr says.
"There is something about it."
"The sound you really want in an orchestra is something with a
little bit more warmth and a little bit more depth. A Strad
sometimes can be quite cutting, and lack the depth and warmth. But
this Strad gives you a depth while maintaining an edge to it that
does cut, while lending itself to sweetness as well. So the tonal
palette of the instrument runs that gamut of what you can do. This
Stradivarius lends itself to being able not only to float above the
string, but also to really dig into the string. That's what
attracted me to it. This Strad fits me really really well."
As he was trying out the violin in Chicago, Kerr suddenly
understood he had played the instrument before. He just had a
feeling, and then he discovered its previous owner was Kavakos, a
colleague and friend. "I had in fact played it once before," Kerr
said. "Leonidas had let me try his instrument a long time ago."
But though Kerr loved the instrument, and had discovered a
personal connection to it, he could not afford to purchase it
Violins made by Antonio Stradivarius and his family are highly
valued, and regarded as among the finest ever made. Stradivarius
instruments, chiefly violins but also violas and cellos, can be
worth millions of dollars each. Around 650 exist today. The Italian
instrument maker worked in Cremona during the late 17th and early
But Maestro van Zweden launched a plan to bring the "Falmouth"
Stradivarius to Kerr and the Dallas Symphony. Van Zweden talked to
his friend Gert-Jan Kramer, a Dutch businessman who serves on the
Dallas Symphony's Board of Governors. Kramer had purchased fine
violins in the past for use by musicians in Amsterdam's Royal
Concertgebouw and other Dutch orchestras. Was he willing to do the
same to unite Kerr with the "Falmouth"?
"It was described properly by Jaap that if you have a very good
instrument you get a very good concertmaster," Kramer said. "Alex
was the Concertgebouw concertmaster for 11 years. That's a great
So Kramer purchased the "Falmouth" for Alex's use while he is
Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony. (Later, Kramer also purchased
a fine violin made in 1718 by Giuseppe Guarneri for use by DSO
Co-Concertmaster Nathan Olson. Olson will perform Mozart's Violin
Concerto No. 3 May 23-25 along with Orff's Carmina Burana.)
Kramer does not consider these gifts an investment. "People need to
play an instrument," Kramer said. "Whether it grows in value or
reduces in value, I don't care."
By way of thanks, Kerr and a chamber orchestra of Dallas
Symphony musicians performed Vivaldi's The Four Seasons at
a special concert for Kramer, his wife, Maestro van Zweden and
several guests (including Dallas Symphony patrons) at Kramer's home
in the Netherlands in March at the start of the Dallas Symphony's
Now the "Falmouth" Strad has a new trustee in Kerr and a new
home in Dallas, where at the head of the violin section it will add
depth and dexterity to the Dallas Symphony's string sound.
"With every instrument of this quality that enters this
orchestra, it just makes the sound better - and better, and
better," Kerr explains. "It is just much easier to perform on an
instrument like this. It is easier to play my solos. It lends a
body to the sound that can only make the orchestra have a warmer
sound. And the fact that it is physically easier to play makes it
much easier for me not to make mistakes, and the less my attention
is focused on my own playing, the more I can lead efficiently."
And the more the instrument's special magic can permeate Dallas
Symphony performances at the Meyerson. And what was the coincidence
that brought Kerr into a sudden, almost sacrosanct silence as he
was recounting his history with the instrument? The first day Kerr
opened his violin case backstage at the Meyerson, pulled out the
"Falmouth" Stradivarius and played it for the first time with the
Dallas Symphony? That day was October 30, 2012 - the birthday of
Leonidas Kavakos, Kerr's friend who let him play the instrument so
many years ago, and the "Falmouth"'s previous owner.