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Stradivarius Violins in Concert

World-renowned violinmaker Antonio Stradivari produced more than 1,000 handcrafted musical instruments. But it is the violins the Italian craftsman made between 1700 and 1720 – his so-called "Golden Period" – for which he is best remembered. Those instruments – now known around the world as "Stradivarius" violins – are among the most famous and valuable artifacts in the history of music. VOA's Siri Nyrop recently attended a private concert where 12 Stradivariuses were on hand - and in the hands of some of the finest musicians in the world.

What you are hearing is the piece "Navarra for Two Violins," composed by Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate and performed by Sayaka Shoji of Japan and Arabella Steinbacher of Germany.

What you are also hearing is the sound produced by two of the most valuable violins ever made – known to the world as Stradivarius, after the man who made them. Only a few hundred exist, and they now sell for up to three and a half million dollars apiece.

"So we have, together with my violin, we have $65 million worth of violins on stage today," says Maestro Lorin Maazel, the music director of the New York Philharmonic. The stage he is speaking of is his own stage, located in a private theater on his rural estate outside Washington, D.C.

In October 2007, Maestro Maazel staged a benefit concert featuring 12 Stradivarius violins, played by 12 master violinists. Among them, the Tokyo String Quartet playing a piece by composer Nicolo Paganini.

Maestro Maazel says what makes a Stradivarius so prized is the strength and purity of its tone. And he arranged to present the violins, one by one, so the audience could experience the "star-quality" of each instrument.

"We are presenting them in chronological order with the players who will play the instruments,” he explains. “They will come out on stage one at a time, play the instrument for a moment, allow the instrument to make its statement; and then the members of our audience will actually walk past each one of the violins and will not be allowed to touch them but will be allowed to look at them closely front and back."

The violins, which are on loan from Japan, will return there to be used by other violin masters. And the proceeds from this very special concert will go to support a youth scholarship program run by the Maazel family.