Artful donation with strings attached
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
The generosity of a music lover has touched the lives of two Canadian musicians whose exceptional talent has allowed them the opportunity of a lifetime and instruments of their dreams.
For 11 years, Jeff Stokes, dean of the faculty of music at Western, has been working towards finding a good home for two Stradivarius violins and a Guarneri del Gesu violin, generously donated by American music lover Gordon Jeffrey.
A buyer recently purchased the three violins and anonymously donated them on-loan to the Canada Council of the Arts, one of which was awarded to violinist Lara St. John of London in a reception held Sept. 10 in Toronto.
St. John was one of 20 applicants chosen and judged by the likes of Jacques Israelievitch, concert master for the Toronto Symphony. The second winner was Judy Tang of Edmonton who also received a Stradivarius on loan, Stokes said.
These awards are all part of the sale conditions which included keeping the violins in Canada and under the care of the Canada Council of the Arts to be awarded to musicians for a minimum of two years, Stokes said, adding the musicians must also play at least six concerts per year in Canada.
"We sacrificed money and the violins to ensure that real Canadian performers could have them to use," he said. He added the money from the donor will go into an endowment fund and interest will be used for scholarships and guest performers.
The value to performers is clearly noted by Stokes who said, "Using one of these instruments is like having a basic box of eight crayons and then suddenly getting a box of 60 it gives you new ideas and capabilities you never imagined."
Carol Bream, director of endowments and prizes at the Canada Council for the Arts said a Musical Instrument Bank was established in the 1980s where world heritage string instruments would rest until awarded on loan to deserving individuals.
"We wanted to get exceptional string instruments that would have a strategic boost to a musicians career," she said.
The anonymous donor has made the instrument bank truly exceptional by contributing violins which have each been insured for over $1 million, Bream said.
Ralph Aldrich, a viola professor at Western and a close friend to Gordon Jeffrey, said he would often donate instruments and bows on loan to students who could not afford to buy such things themselves.
Aldrich explained Jeffrey did not specify in his will where he wanted the three violins to go, but thought students should have the opportunity to experience such fine instruments and would be pleased with the outcome of his generosity.