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Classical 101

Columbus orchestra purchases rare $1 million violin

Katherine McLin playing the 1709-10 Gobetti violin at the Chicago rare instrument dealer Bein & Fushi
Janet Chen
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus
Katherine McLin, the concertmaster of the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, plays the 1709-10 Gobetti violin at the Chicago rare instrument dealer Bein & Fushi.

A rare, 300-year-old violin recently purchased by the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and said to “elevate” the orchestra’s sound will make its first Columbus appearances in two Neighborhood Concerts this weekend.

Made in 1709-1710 by the Venetian luthier Francesco Gobetti, the violin was purchased by ProMusica from the Chicago-based rare instrument dealer and restorer Bein & Fushi for use by ProMusica’s current and future concertmasters. A portion of a $1 million transformational gift to ProMusica from an anonymous donor funded the acquisition.

“How this all came about was an incredible surprise,” said Janet Chen, ProMusica’s CEO. “This was unsolicited and just took my breath away. And the donor’s intent was that a significant portion of the gift go towards acquiring an instrument.”

One of fewer than 25 known instruments by its maker, ProMusica’s Gobetti violin is currently on loan to the orchestra’s concertmaster, Katherine McLin. For 22 years, McLin had played on a violin made by the 18th-century Venetian luthier Sanctus (Santo) Serafin. That violin had been on loan to her from an anonymous foundation through Arizona State University, where McLin serves on the faculty. But in 2019, McLin learned that she would need to return the violin to the foundation by the end of 2023.

During an engagement event with ProMusica donors and supporters, McLin talked about the Sanctus Seraphin violin and mentioned that her time with the instrument would soon be coming to an end.

“One thing led to another, and the anonymous donor reached out about the transformational gift, which then led to this journey,” Chen said.

A search was launched. ProMusica's creative partner, the noted concert violinist Vadim Gluzman, guided the search for the right violin.

"He has the expertise and all the connections that are really essential for a search for a violin of this magnitude,' McLin said.

Chen likens the search for the right instrument for ProMusica’s concertmaster to finding a partner or spouse. Along with Chen, Gluzman and David Danzmayr, the orchestra’s music director, McLin looked for an instrument that would ultimately blend with and enrich the orchestra’s string sound.

“We wanted it to be comfortable in the hands of Katie (McLin), physically, and to be able to anchor and unite and elevate the sound of the string section and really to help David (Danzmayr), our music director, achieve his vision of the sound of ProMuscia,” Chen said. “We really did not want a violin that would overpower the entire section.”

ProMusica's Gobetti violin lying on its back on a table covered in a red cloth
Janet Chen
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus
ProMusica's 1709-10 Gobetti violin

McLin auditioned 28 different violins over the course of the year-long search. She says the first time she played the Gobetti she knew almost immediately it was the one.

"With the Gobetti, once I played it, I felt like my heart kind of expanded, and suddenly here was another voice that I had, that I hadn’t felt that way with the 28 or so violins we tried prior to the Gobetti," McLin said. "So it was pretty much love at first sight when I started playing it.

McLin describes the sound of the Gobetti as someplace you might want to inhabit for a while.

"The Gobetti has a sweetness to it that is very warm and supple and lovely," McLin said, "it’s like being bathed in warmth. It’s lovely. And I want to live in and exist in that sound and color that it creates."

ProMusica’s Neighborhood Concerts will take place Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at Worthington United Methodist Church and Sunday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at St. Mary Catholic Church in German Village. The program will feature McLin playing the Gobetti violin as soloist in a Concerto for Four Violins by Vivaldi. Also on the program are The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, with violinist and ProMusica’s creative partner Vadim Gluzman as soloist, and Musica Serena by contemporary Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks.

McLin and the Gobetti violin will also have their own special moment in the spotlight during the concerts.

“We have a little surprise that will feature Katie and the Gobetti,” Chen said. “It will be a delight for those who are in attendance.”

And as delightful as McLin says it is to play the Gobetti, the most important thing is that its sweet, warm sound will guide the sound of the whole orchestra now and for generations to come.

"I have the immense privilege to play this violin for as long as I sit in that concertmaster chair. But this (violin) is going to anchor the sound of ProMusica’s string section for as long as this violin exists and for as long as there’s a ProMusica," McLin said. "It is going to be creating the sound of ProMusica."

ProMusica’s Neighborhood Concerts take place Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at Worthington United Methodist Church and Sunday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at St. Mary Catholic Church.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.