Red Violin coming to Downey

DOWNEY - What's the best present you ever received? When she was a budding musician at 16, Elizabeth Pitcairn's grandfather gave her a violin. But not just any violin. This one was crafted by the greatest violin-maker who ever lived, Antonio Stradivari.

After he made it in 1720, it mysteriously disappeared. After it resurfaced in the 1930s, Pitcairn's grandfather bought it at auction at Christie's for $1.7 million and presented it to her.

With this added inspiration, she went on to earn a degree at USC, where she studied with the pre-eminent violin professor Robert Lipsett, and launched a concert career. After teaching at USC's Thornton School of Music, she joined the faculty of the Colburn School of Music in downtown LA. Pitcairn's highly successful career has taken her around the world, and her instrument is so valuable, she travels with a bodyguard.

Pitcairn will be playing this celebrated instrument, known as the "Red Mendelssohn," at the Feb. 1 concert of the Downey Symphony Orchestra. She will play Vivaldi's Four Seasons, composed just three years after the violin was crafted.

Between the four movements of this brilliant and popular piece, Pitcairn will step backstage to change into season-appropriate costume while an actor reads from the poetry that inspired Vivaldi's work. An exhibit of red-themed art in the Theatre lobby and a pre-concert talk by Music Director Sharon Lavery at 7:15 p.m. will further enhance the evening.

In addition at 2:30 pm, there will be a free showing in the Civic Theatre of an award-winning feature film inspired by the mysterious history of the Red Mendelssohn violin (for more information visit

Born into a highly musical family, Pitcairn has been a passionate supporter of young musicians and music education. She is president, CEO, and artistic director of the Luzerne Music Center, a summer music camp for students ages 11-19, in New York state. She commissioned the Swedish composer Tommie Haglund's violin concerto Hymns to the Night.

The mysterious history of the Red Mendelssohn inspired many speculations and stories, including a feature film, "The Red Violin" (1998), directed by François Girard and starring Samuel L. Jackson. The film's score by John Corigliano won the Academy Award.

Pitcairn's repertoire includes Corigliano's Red Violin Suite and many well-known violin concertos. She has recorded concerti by Haglund, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Bruch.

Also on the program for Feb. 1 are Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite and the American composer Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Tickets are $30 and $35, $10 for students, and can be purchased at the box office, open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., or online at Free parking is adjacent to the theatre.

The Downey Symphony Orchestra is a fully professional orchestra now in its 56th season. Music Director Sharon Lavery is on the faculty at USC's Thornton School of Music.

********** Published: Jan. 9, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 39