300 and still in tune: what's so special about a Strad?

Lord Menuhin seeks benefactor to buy violin for young virtuoso, but it won't come cheap ...
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The Independent Online
A brilliant Taiwanese violinist

has so impressed Yehudi Menuhin that he has written an open letter asking for a benefactor to donate a violin worthy of the virtuoso.

Lord Menuhin has discovered that the perfect instrument does not come cheap. Leland Chen, 31, believes his perfect musical match is a 1694 Stradivarius, to be auctioned at Phil-lips on Tuesday next week. It is expected to fetch up to pounds 700,000 - 70 times the value of his present instrument - and the only way he can play it is if a benefactor buys it for him.

The instrument, known as the Baillot-Pommerau violin after two of its earliest owners, has an unusual depth and tonal richness, even compared with the five other Stradivarius violins he has played. "It is the marriage of the player and the instrument that makes a difference, and for some unknown reason this one seems to really work for me," Mr Chen said yesterday.

Maureen Phillips, Mr Chen's manager, has approached British Petroleum and BT - due to merge with MCI to create Concert - with the suggestion that they might buy the violin and lend it to Mr Chen because their names have the appropriate initials or associations.

Although neither has yet made a commitment to sponsor Mr Chen, an unnamed woman yesterday expressed interest in helping him financially after hearing of his plight on a radio programme.

"The only hope I have of getting it is if a group of people or a company will buy it and I could have it on loan," he said. "But we have had very little time since we discovered the violin."

Antonio Stradivari, who died 259 years ago, would not be surprised to learn that he is still considered the maker of the world's finest violins, with followers including Anne-Sophie Mutter and Nigel Kennedy.

The plaque on his house in the Piazza Roma, in Cremona, Lombardy, notes that Stradivari "brought the violin to perfection and left to Cremona an imperishable name as master of his craft".

He learnt his trade in Nicolo Amati's workshop, and began putting his own name to violins in the 1660s. But it was only after 1684, when Stradivari turned to larger-built instruments, that his genius blossomed. He made the Baillot-Pommerau in 1694, but his finest violins are believed to date from 1700.

Elvis, Lenin and the Stradivarius

t The 'Mendelssohn' Stradivarius violin was the most expensive musical instrument, sold for pounds 902,000 at Christie's in 1990

t Stradivarius violins were covered in propolis - the same substance used to embalm Lenin's body

t Elvis played the violin and is rumoured to have owned a Strad.

Nigel Kennedy's Strad was sold to an American collector for $1.5m

t Julian Lloyd Webber's Strad cello is so precious to him that he sleeps with it every night by his bed.