Leonidas Kavakos to play the 1734 ‘Willemotte’ Stradivarius

June 19, 2017 3:09 pm

Leonidas Kavakos Florian Leonhard

Leonidas Kavakos’ new violin will be the 1734 ‘Willemotte’ Antonio Stradivari violin. It replaces the ‘Abergavenny’ Stradivari of 1724 which he has played for the past eight years.

The Willemotte is named after 19th century collector Charles Willemotte of Antwerp, who owned 20 instruments made by Stradivari during his lifetime.

Last month (May), Leonidas completed his final concerts as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s Artist-in-Residence at David Geffen Hall where he played the Willemotte, in the city where his love affair with the instrument first began 23 years ago.

“My very first acquaintance with the Willemotte took place back in 1994 in NYC,” said Leonidas, “during the wonderful exhibit of Guarneri del Gesù violins at the Metropolitan museum… I held it in awe.

“I asked whether I could play a few notes on it. That was it! I will never forget that impression I had. All the sweetness of Stradivari sound was there of course, but what amazed me was the combination of that with an impressive volume and even more, the colour of depth and darkness, which one doesn’t always associate with Stradivari sound. ‘I really hope I can have a violin like this one day,’ I thought, and gave it back to the owner.”

More than two decades later and Leonidas’ dream has become a reality thanks to a visit to Florian Leonhard Fine Violins in Hampstead, North London.

“When I am in London, I always pay a visit to Florian Leonhard, with whom I have developed a wonderful friendship over quite a few years,” said Leonidas.

“Florian is one of the most impressive ateliers in the world. There is always an amazing quantity and quality of instruments available there and therefore, talking about violins and their great mystery, is combined with the physical presence of instruments of almost any maker one might think of. What more can someone who loves violins wish for?”

“Hours go by and they feel like seconds! In one of these visits, Florian brought the Willemotte and asked me whether I knew it! I told him the story of course, and immediately started playing on it. This time, coming from the Abergavenny Stradivari of 1724, which, by the way, I also got from Florian and have played on for the last 8 years, my impression was similar to the one 23 years ago. But due to the difference of sound colour and production, I needed time to adjust.”

“While the Abergavenny has a very smooth big round tone, I was struck by the Willemotte’s electricity and intensity that crowns the underlying darkness. It is so fast and responsive, one almost has to hold back! And yet, all the colours and elegance are there, waiting to be explored!”

“This is a sound that combines the best of Stradivari and Guarneri and I feel privileged to be able to make music and discover new paths of sound with this great instrument.”

“I want to express my gratitude to Florian and everyone who has contributed to this dream come true story.” said Leonidas Kavakos.