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10/18-19 Philippe Quint at Symphony Hall

Next up in the Phoenix Symphony’s lineup of world-class guest soloists is Philippe Quint, who will be at Symphony Hall on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18-19, to perform Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. But he’ll be sharing the spotlight with a far more famous name: Antonio Stradivari.

Quint plays the “Ruby” violin crafted by the Italian master in 1708, and which is now owned and loaned by the Stradivari Society. It is named for its distinctive red varnish, much faded but still visible.

A Russian-born American, Quint also performs the “nuevo tango” compositions of Astor Piazzolla with the Quint Quintet. In November he will release a CD with pianist Lily Maisky called “Opera Breve,” featuring famous arias arranged as instrumental duets. He spoke with The Republic by phone about his debut with the Phoenix Symphony.

Question: What is it like to play on a historic violin?

Answer: I’ve invented a little bit of a story that an instrument is a little bit like a time machine. You can feel the soul and the energy of the instrument and feel the generations of the past passing through the instrument. So it becomes a very inspiring moment every time I open my case.

Q: Is a Strad really better than the best violins being made today?

A: This has been a very strong debate, what is exactly the difference in sound. It really depends on the individual. For someone like me who has played a number of contemporary instruments and a number of old instruments, I can easily pick up the difference in sound. Old instruments have incredible overtone series, which you can hear very clearly if you’re standing very close to the instrument or in a recording. That being said, I have tried great contemporary instruments. But it’s my personal preference to be able to play on an instrument like a Stradivari because I feel it expresses my feelings the best.

Q: What is unique about the Sibelius Violin Concerto?

A: When it was written in 1904, the music world was going through certain revolutions with Glazunov in Russia and Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. Sibelius really found his own language, and his Violin Concerto is one of my favorites. It is easy to make it fresh and new and feel like this score is being reinvented right in front of your eyes. It’s an incredible opportunity to say something personal.

It is, of course, one of the more challenging concertos, technically speaking. In fact, the first version was virtually unplayable, so Sibelius went through revisions to make it more violinist-friendly, but it remained fiendishly difficult. So this is where one has to get away from the technical challenges and concentrate on the musical idea.

Q: How did you select the pieces to play on “Opera Breve”?

A: It started out with just a few pieces I wanted to put on the CD, but as we added repertoire it turned into an autobiographic musical journey. Most pieces are associated with someone who was important to the development of my musical life. The Gluck (“Melodie” from “Orfeo ed Euridice”) was my grandparents’ favorite piece, and “Eugene Onegin” was the first opera I saw growing up in the Soviet Union. Then we have Gershwin (“Porgy and Bess”), which reminded me of moving to the States, seeing the skyscrapers and adjusting to life in America. Each piece is a reflection or a memory or an association, so it became a very special project.


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