The Phil’s concertmaster on playing a priceless, nearly 300-year-old violin

What it’s like to play an instrument that old?

Not only is the Las Vegas Philharmonic opening Saturday’s concert with Philip Glass’ “Company”—its first performance of a piece by the contemporary American composer—but concertmaster De Ann Letourneau will be performing Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major on a 1726 Stradivarius. With Mozart’s Prague symphony also on the program, it’s a classical concert you don’t want to miss. We spoke with Letourneau about what it’s like to play the nearly 300-year-old Chanot-Chardon, on loan from Bein & Fushi Rare Violins of Chicago and once owned by Joshua Bell.

You must be pretty excited. I can’t wait for the audience to hear this. It’s almost like it comes out of the orchestra and rises above their heads. I’m in awe that I get to play this piece of history, and I’m in awe of who’s played it.

Describe the sound. The voice is deep, rich, powerful and sweet. And smooth. It’s like the smoothest chocolate. It’s like dark chocolate or the finest wine. It’s aged for hundreds of years. It’s smooth, powerful, clean and clear.

How does it feel to play? It’s so sensitive. It amplifies everything you do. Like a Formula 1 car, you have to learn to drive it. It has so much age and wisdom. It’s like it knows the Concerto better than me. And this is no easy concerto. It’s one of the biggest and most difficult concertos in the violin repertoire. It’s like a gymnastics routine on steroids. For a player to have a tool like this, it’s perfect.

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Kristen Peterson

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