The Valley Line: Orchestra supporters have the world on a string

Whew! Tax time is over. Certainly not my favorite time of the year. Actually, I get quite cranky. Of course there is not a darn thing to be done about it. Ben Franklin once wrote in a letter, "Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Amen, Ben.

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The best part of the last two weeks is that I learned a new word, luthier. A luthier is one who makes stringed instruments such as violin, viola, cello, guitar, harp and lute. Not only did I learn about the new word, but I sat next to two of these individuals at the most amazingly divine concert I have ever been to.

The two specialized people who enchanted me are Brenda and Mario Miralles, a married couple who live nearby. Brenda studied the craft of violin-making for more than 12 years in Cremona, Italy, the hometown of one of the most famous luthiers of all time, Antonio Stradivari.

The divine gala event I attended was called "Stradosphere: a Strad-studded evening benefiting Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra." It was a black-tie evening held at the beautiful California Club that honored the legend and mystique of eight rare and extraordinary violins handcrafted by the Italian master violin-maker.

Can you even imagine (I couldn't) the magnificent sound of eight Stradivariuses played by master violinists at one time? It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and it will resonate within me forever. Also experiencing this exquisite evening were locals Ann and Tony Cannon, Sara and Ed Nowak, Rudi and Ann Otter, Philip White and Maia Jasper.

Pat and Sandy Gage, concert gala co-chairs, wanted to transcend space and time to allow guests to experience the sounds of the 17th-century age of Antonio Stradivari. They were incredibly successful in their quest.

It was an evening that just kept unfolding with beauty, every step of the way. The best part was that this event raised $535,000 to benefit the Chamber Orchestra's concert series, radio broadcasts and community engagement programs.

When attendees first arrived at the California Club they sampled appetizers and sipped Prosecco. They were then ushered into a "drawing room" that was aglow with soft pink lighting and shimmering gold chairs. The scene was set for the violin magic that certainly put goose bumps on my arms. We listened to Bach, Vivaldi, Mauer and Piazzolla.

The brightest star of the evening was the violin known as the "Red Mendelssohn" that was made by Stradivari in 1720. This violin vanished shortly after it was made and its whereabouts remained a mystery for nearly 200 years. It was the inspiration for the movie, "The Red Violin." Today's owner of the violin is Elizabeth Pitcairn, who received the instrument as a 16th-birthday gift from her grandfather. Besides her concertizing all over the world, Pitcairn teaches at Colburn School of Music here in Los Angeles.

The other "Strads" making their appearance that night were the "Serdet" made in 1666, the "Ruby" made in 1708, the "Kreisler" made in 1711, the "Leonora Jackson" made in 1714, the "Titian" made in 1715, the "Milstein" made in 1716, the "Beechback" made in 1720. This was the first time these violins had all been brought together. With only 650 or so surviving Stradivarius violins, violas, cellos, harps and guitars in the world, this feat was akin to assembling a musical instrument dream team.

The violinists for the evening included LACO Concertmaster Margaret Batjer and violinists Martin Chalifour, Chee-Yun, Cho-Liang Lin, Philippe Quint, Xiang Yu and 12-year-old prodigy Ray Ushikubo.

Before the concert began, Jeffrey Kahane, one of the world's foremost conductors and pianists, who marks his 17th season as LACO's music director, introduced the violinists and the Strads they were playing.

LACO musicians joining in the music making were Tereza Stanizlav, Josefina Vergara, Roland Kato, Andrew Shulman and Nico Abondolo.

Following a sumptuous dinner, guests retired to the California Club's French Lounge to sip coffee and cordials, including a beloved Italian after-dinner drink, limoncello, provided by Ventura Limencello. After tasting the sweets, guests enjoyed a very special musical coda by Elizabeth Pitcairn, who gave a performance on her "Red Mendelssohn."

Guests also had the opportunity to meet all of the celebrated violinists and visit with several knowledgeable luthiers, violin owners and experts, including Peter Beare from London and Bill Sloan, who owns the "Leonara Jackson" Strad.

Other gala highlights included a violin craftsmanship display; silent and live auctions conducted by Joe Baratta of Abel Auction Co., featuring such one-of-a-kind items as tickets to the 2015 Grammy Awards; private dinners at the L.A.-area homes of the Consuls General of Austria, Australia, Germany and the Czech Republic; and "Breakfast with Bach and Beethoven," a breakfast and private performance for 40 people at the stunning Pasadena home of LACO supporters Jerry and Terri Kohl, owners of the 1716 "Milstein" Strad.

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JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. Email her at jnvalleysun@yahoo.com with news of your special event.

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