Even for one of the most revered violinists, it is a daunting task to get to know twelve of the world’s finest Stradivaris, many with jaw-dropping pasts, within only a few weeks. Janine Jansen talks to Pauline Harding about how she did just that for a new recording and documentary
Standing on a boat racing across the water, hair blowing in the wind, with an electric twinkle in her eye, Dutch violinist Janine Jansen is captured by the camera crew for her new documentary, Janine Jansen: Falling for Stradivari. She is on her way to Stockholm, from her Swedish island home, to rehearse with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and afterwards to begin an adventure that she may be the only person ever to undertake: to play and record an album on twelve of the most celebrated Antonio Stradivari violins in the world. ‘It was Beare’s that came up with the idea,’ she tells me several months later, in a phone call between rehearsals. ‘They proposed it to me and they picked the instruments.’ The first two – the c.1699 ‘Haendel’ and the 1717 ‘Tyrrell’ – she was able to try that day in Stockholm, alongside two bright-eyed students who, sharing this start to her adventure, were also permitted to play on them. A few weeks later, she flew to the UK to meet the remaining violins – the c.1680 ‘Captain Savile’; 1710 ‘Vieuxtemps, Camposelice’; 1715 ‘Alard, Baron Knoop’; 1715 ‘Titian’; 1716 ‘Milstein’; 1718 ‘San Lorenzo’; 1722 ‘de Chaponay’; 1733 ‘Kreisler, Huberman’; and 1734 ‘Lord Amherst of Hackney, Kreisler’ (see pages 30–32) – at the J.&A. Beare workshop in London.
Jansen, a Decca artist with numerous accolades to her name, including the 2020 Herbert von Karajan Prize, the Netherlands’ state arts prize the Johannes Vermeer Award in 2018 and five Edison Klassiek Awards, is undoubtedly one of this century’s most exciting, revered violinists. The 43-year-old is no stranger to Stradivari: since 2020 she has played the 1715 ‘Shumsky, Rode’ violin, on loan from a European benefactor, and before that the 1707 ‘Rivaz, Baron Gutmann’, on loan from Dextra Musica, the 1727 ‘Baron Deurbroucq’, from Beare’s, and the 1727 ‘Barrere’, from the Stradivari Society of Chicago. Nevertheless, even for her this project was a daunting one. The twelve violins – which included ‘my “Shumsky”’, as she affectionately calls it – were selected by Steven Smith, managing director of Beare’s, as the best of the best. Several were once played by violinistic giants such as Fritz Kreisler, Nathan Milstein, Arthur Grumiaux, Henry Vieuxtemps and Pierre Rode, to audiences that have included Napoleon, Beethoven and Brahms. ‘It was just completely nuts to have twelve of the greatest instruments all together in a room!’ she laughs. ‘When I was playing them, I felt like I was connected to those legends from the past in some strange way. I was bringing alive the same voice. It was overwhelming, but I tried to be inspired rather than intimidated by the amazing history that I was holding in my hands.’…
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