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Freshman violinist takes part in Red Violin's Arizona debut

(Photo Courtesy of Azy Scotten)
(Photo Courtesy of Azy Scotten)

(Photo Courtesy of Azy Scotten) (Photo Courtesy of Azy Scotten)

The famous red varnish and robust sound of Antonio Stradivari's most legendary instrument is coming to Arizona for the first time, and violin performance freshman Emilio Vazquez will get to be part of the debut. International soloist Elizabeth Pitcairn, who began playing when she was 3 years old, has owned the Red Violin since its record-breaking Christie's of London auction in 1990. Pitcairn attended the auction with her family when she was 16, and then continued her studies afterward until she began performing with her violin at venues around the world. As concertmaster of the ProMusica Arizona Chorale and Orchestra, Vazquez leads the 50-member community ensemble's violin section in developing bowings, fingerings, technique and tone.

"It was really cool collaborating with a professional musician at this level," Vazquez said. "It's been fun getting people up to the level we needed in order to bring (Pitcairn) in."

Vazquez is an Arizona native who started playing in his school's orchestra and taking private lessons in fifth grade. The Herberger school's Jonathan Swartz was a main factor in his decision to attend ASU rather than an out-of-state school.

"I've developed my career so far here, and being known in Arizona gives me a heads up on being able to get opportunities," he said. Artistic Director Adam Stich heard Vazquez play for the first time when he was conducting a Scottsdale Musical Theater Company production of Fiddler on the Roof. He was impressed with Vazquez's talent, and asked him to join the orchestra as concertmaster.

The nonprofit community orchestra has members who pay dues to participate, but also provides young students like Vazquez with stipends to elevate the sound.

"It's one of the biggest challenges of my role as artistic director, is finding players like Emilio who are highly talented and then also bring other musicians up to their level," Stich said. "He's very good at teaching how to play certain passages or get a certain sound of of the instrument, which is a big part of the concertmaster role." Stich wanted to celebrate ProMusica's tenth season with a concert at a special venue, and chose the Orpheum Theater to showcase "A Night With Stradivarius."

Stradivari made the Red Violin in 1720, but it disappeared shortly after and wasn't found for 200 years. The violin finally surfaced in 1930, owned by relatives of composer Felix Mendelssohn, and would change hands just once before coming to Pitcairn. It took almost two decades for another Stradivarius, called The Hammer, to break the million-dollar auction record that the Red Violin set in 1990.

The 200-year blank period in the instrument's history prompted speculation that would inspire an Academy Award-winning film by director Francois Girard in the late '90s. It would also inspire composer John Corigliano to write The Red Violin Suite, which Pitcairn will perform Saturday along with pieces by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. Vazquez said The Red Violin Suite incorporates new, contemporary techniques that require an open mind.

"It's not your typical Mozart or Beethoven symphony," he said.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. performance start at $30 through Ticketmaster. Student tickets are $10 at the box office with school ID.

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