“The wand chooses the wizard,” Mr. Ollivander told Harry Potter.
While the instruments that classical musicians play might not embody quite the same kind of magic, they have their histories (some date back to the 17th century), famous makers and special powers.
The Post and Courier talked to three musicians in this year’s Spoleto Festival USA about their instruments, what they’ve learned from them and what they’re like to play.
While some might think of an instrument as an inanimate object, violist Masumi Per Rostad said his 1690 viola made by the Brothers Amati in Cremona, Italy, has taught him a lesson.
“This instrument has kind of nudged me in this direction where I can explore these kinds of fingerings, I can create this kind of a sound, these different layers of gradation of nuance and colors,” he said.
Rostad said older instruments can take a while to get used to.
“I felt that there was so much in there for me to discover and experiment with,” he said.
The father of the man who built his viola, Andrea Amati, is credited with inventing the violin as we know it.
Rostad’s viola hadn’t been played very much before he got it.
“It’s opened up tremendously,” he said. “It feels like it’s a different instrument. It’s teaching me how to use my bow arm, how to explore sound.”
Owen Dalby’s violin suggests how it should be played.
“There’s so much music that has already been played on it that it’s a question of kind of activating what’s already there,” he said of the 1694 instrument made by the famed Antonio Stradivari.
Dalby referred to the claim that one can’t force a Stradivarius to do what you want.
“I like to think of it as a dance, in a way: If you tell it what to do, it will kick you out of its ring,” he said. “It’s not the easiest violin to play, but when you get it right, it’s just magic.”
Dalby said his violin, which is on loan to him, has more of a mezzo-soprano voice and a “creamy, coppery tone.” He also said he has learned a lot from it, and called it a “powerhouse.”
“It’s taught me that there’s a whole spectrum of sounds available, especially on the softer side,” he said.
After playing his 1899 cello for nearly 10 years, cellist Joshua Roman feels a closeness to it.
“There are deeper layers that I am discovering that I think, ‘Oh, wow, I really didn’t feel this close to the cello three years ago,’ ” he said.
Roman said he also likes the flexibility of the instrument, which was made by Giulio Degani in Venice. “It’s not stuck to one kind of sound or one tone quality,” he said.
Roman sees it as the musician’s job to be a steward of older instruments.
“There are very few things outside of nature, in my mind, that have that quality,” he said.
Jonathan Williams is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.