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Strad Fest LA brings eight Stradivari violins together

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The violins of Antonio Stradivari are revered for being not only superb instruments but works of art. "They combine this magical quality of sound with spectacular craftsmanship," says Margaret Batjer, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Each of these wooden wonders also possesses an individual, inner beauty, what she calls "their own magnificent souls."

LACO hopes to help audiences experience the soul of Stradivari by providing the rare chance to hear eight of the Italian master's creations in a variety of settings. "We want people to think of them as living, breathing voices speaking to us from the past," Batjer explains.

Strad Fest LA, which runs March 26 to 29, will feature events such as a "fiddle face-off" in which five virtuosos will showcase five violins in an evening ranging from bonbons to Brahms. "Being a performing organization," says Batjer, "we believe the real magic comes when you put a bow to the string."

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Over seven decades in Cremona, Stradivari produced meticulously made pieces distinctive in tone and design. For its fest, the orchestra has gathered examples including the 1666 "Serdet," the earliest-known violin among about 650 surviving Stradivari stringed instruments. Representing his early 18th century "golden period" will be the 1708 "Ruby," the 1711 "Kreisler," the 1714 "Leonora Jackson," the 1715 "Titian," the 1716 "Milstein," the c. 1720 "Beechback" and the 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" (which is said to have inspired the movie "The Red Violin").

"It's an amazing group," says Batjer. "It's impossible to put a price tag on such instruments.... Their value, the history they contain, is intangible, but it's safe to say they are collectively worth millions."

Festival artists — some playing their own Strads and some playing ones on loan from philanthropists and other sources — will include Batjer, Los Angeles Philharmonic principal concertmaster Martin Chalifour, Chee-Yun, Cho-Liang Lin, Elizabeth Pitcairn, Philippe Quint, Xiang Yu and 12-year-old Ray Ushikubo.

Among the program highlights: Telemann's Concerto in D major for Four Violins on March 27 at Zipper Concert Hall downtown, the face-off March 28 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica and an eight-violin gala benefit March 29 at the California Club downtown. For information, go to http://www.laco.org.

calendar@latimes.com

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