'Lincoln Strad' safe in Hallé leader Lyn's hands
The Hallé Orchestra came to town on September 7 with its eminent music director Sir Mark Elder for the annual visit to Lincoln Cathedral.
The sold-out concert was received with rapturous applause, although the orchestra left the stage without playing an encore as it is well-known the musicians are entitled to overtime pay if the coaches have not returned to Bridgewater Hall, Manchester by midnight! I wonder if the same applies to Manchester United?
The leader of the Hallé Orchestra, Lyn Fletcher, played the Lincoln Stradivarius violin, a priceless violin made in 1695 by Antonio Stradivari, an Italian craftsman regarded as the world's greatest string instrument maker.
The Lincoln Strad was bequeathed to the people of Lincoln in 1970 by the Honourable Mrs Dudley Pelham, née Sibthorp, on the condition it was loaned to the Hallé Orchestra for the exclusive use of their leader.
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She had purchased the instrument in 1960 when she was a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. One of the many treasures in the Garton Archive is a booklet on the Lincoln Stradivarius violin written by Richard Lucas.
Richard and his wife Mary have long associations with Lincoln Christ's Hospital School.
Mary was a pupil at the Lincoln Girls' High School (LHS) in the 1940s, and has taught at LHS, Lincoln School and LCHS. Richard attended Lincoln School also in the 1940s, and has a lifelong interest in classical music, largely stimulated by attending Hallé concerts while he was a student in Manchester.
Both have been involved in the old students' associations, with the governing bodies, and with the committee that oversees the Garton Archive and its mission.
As local historians their contribution to the work of the archive has also been of inestimable value. This article is based largely on passages reproduced or paraphrased from Richard's booklet Lincoln's Stradivarius.
The booklet Lincoln's Stradivarius by Richard M Lucas provides the background to the City of Lincoln's own violin and marks the event described above when the violin was presented to the Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Lincoln by Mrs Pelham.
One condition was that, while the precious instrument was on loan to the Hallé Concert Society, it should be played in Lincoln for the enjoyment of is citizens on a regular basis.
The celebrated leader of the Hallé at the time, Martin Milner, returned to Lincoln to play the Strad for Mrs Pelham at a commemorative concert in the Bishop Greaves Hall at Bishop Grosseteste College.
He also played a Bach Sonata at her funeral in Canwick Church in 1973. Since then the violin has been played by all the leaders of the Hallé, including Michael Davis, Pan Hon Lee, Kees Hulsmann, Lyn Fletcher and Paul Barritt.
When asked by Richard Lucas what it was like to play the Lincoln Strad, Paul Barritt admitted living with it as a constant partner for five years had transformed his professional life.
He also confessed he had to adapt his playing to suit the violin's strong character.
Technically speaking it had to be played with lots of bow as if it were saying 'I have such a lovely big sound, but you must set it free all the time – don't pen me in!'
Having such a wonderfully rich and broad sound, Paul told Richard that he would certainly be heard in a concert hall, whether playing a solo over the orchestra, a concerto or in partnership with a Steinway grand in a recital.
The well-known concert violinist Steven Isserlis, who has played in the Performing Arts Centre at the University of Lincoln, has some further interesting comments to make on playing a Strad, as Richard Lucas has also recorded in his excellent booklet.
String players love their instruments, according to Isserlis, but also worry about them, quarrel with them, and are sometimes afraid of them, being unsure how they'll react to any given situation.
A Stradivarius, the most highly prized of all string instruments, can also be the most temperamental because they have more character than any others. They may be great works of art but they are not always player-friendly.
That reminds me of an occasion when Yehudi Menuhin's pianist son, Jeremy, was asked at a pre-recital talk at the Usher Art Gallery in Lincoln about the problems faced by pianists when encountering unfamiliar instruments. He replied, 'Yes, we do come across some strange piano-shaped objects'!
During the period when Paul Barritt had the keeping of the violin, it accompanied him to performances other than with the Hallé Ochestra.
He held a number of workshops in Newark, and with youth groups in Lincolnshire, including the County Youth Orchestra, as well as performances with local symphony orchestras and chamber groups.
We fervently hope this type of local involvement may continue.
Richard Lucas's booklet concludes by describing the loan agreement with the Hallé Concert Society.
This included looking after it, keeping it in good condition, having it properly repaired if necessary, and being expected to replace it with a new violin of commensurate quality and value if stolen or destroyed.
My guess is that, if the latter were the case, the Society would be declared bankrupt overnight!
The most recent valuation was apparently £2 million.
We are indebted of course to Mrs Pelham not only for the gift of the violin, but also for ensuring the Hallé Orchestra continues to visit Lincoln regularly, to perform in one of the world's most beautiful buildings.
The concerts in Lincoln Cathedral are one of the highlights of the cultural calendar.
Richard Lucas's booklet may be purchased for £3.50 by e-mailing email@example.com I'm grateful to Richard for letting me quote from his book.