Falling for Stradivari

We had the privilege of going to a screening of this little masterpiece followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Gerald Fox,  and the wonderful Antonio Pappano (music director of the ROH) who was Dutch virtuoso violinist’s Janine Jansen’s accompanist and moral support.

Janine’s  musical odyssey is to record pieces on 12 of the world’s most famous Stradivari (only 500 or so remain of  maestro Antonio Stradivari’s (1644-1737) instruments), most of which are kept under lock and key and some have not been played for over 200 years.

It is a quest in two parts – pre-Covid (she was struck down mid-way and had to take a break) where she tries out some of the fiddles with her students and rehearses joyously with Tony P in his London studio. A few weeks later, against her family’s wishes, she remains determined to finish the job and is back in London, rehearsing and recording, with social distancing. Challenging for all concerned and time is running out for some of the violins which are on a limited loan.

She admits to being utterly drained, weakened by the virus, yet her vivacity and joy in making searing music is electrifying. As she strives for perfection, Tony is finding it hard to keep up with her pace but there is a unique tenderness and rapport between them. As he says in the Q&A, normally he’s the boss and doesn’t like being told what to do, but in this case she is calling the shots: Janine is so engaging you can see why he submits to her drive.   And it is fascinating to see what depths of sound she can coax from these ancient instruments as she wakens them from their slumbers.

Made on a shoestring budget by dedicated music lovers, the energy and passion shines through this powerful film. My only quibble is that I would have liked to know a bit more about the Strads themselves – information was fleeting – but then I’m no musician, and those who are said they would have liked more continuous music and less interruption. Chacon a son gout!

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