October 30, 2009 / 7:57 PM / in 8 years

Russian elite hear $4 million violin fit for a tsar

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian high society got an earful of what their riches can obtain this week when a Japanese violinist serenaded them on one of the most expensive violins ever sold at auction.

To celebrate the 227th anniversary of the birth of Italian violin wizard Nicolo Paganini, Japanese violinist Kyoko Yonemoto on Tuesday played a 1741 Guarneri del Gesu that reportedly fetched $3.9 million when Sotheby’s sold it last year to Russian lawyer-cum-millionaire and music enthusiast Maxim Viktorov. “I will probably only have one such chance to play such a violin,” Yonemoto, 26, wearing a black-and-gold strapless dress, told Reuters TV before performing in the pastel yellow grand hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where the 19th-century Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky was once a professor.

“To me, it (the violin) is like some old man who passes history on to me,” she added, having put together a program that very much reflected the violin’s illustrious past.

Accompanied by the Moscow State Academic Symphony, Yonemoto played an overture to Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Nabucco,” followed by parts of Paganini’s Concerto No. 1 and the Concerto No. 4 in D Minor by Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps.

The violin she played was once known as the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu when the composer owned it.

Referring to Guarneri’s violins, Viktorov said they were “priceless” -- even though he managed to buy one.

“During the last period of the great master’s work, he reached the pinnacle of perfection,” he said of Guarneri, who died in 1744, three years after Viktorov’s violin was made.

Though it would not disclose the price, London-based Sotheby’s said it was the most expensive instrument ever sold at an auction worldwide.

Russia’s super-rich have spent vast fortunes to bring native art and the best of the rest of the world to the mother country for ownership or display.

Though the economic crisis abruptly ended Russia’s decade-long boom, the Moscow elite say the city is getting its groove back as international fashion designers return and work resumes on glitzy, expensive nightclubs.

Additional reporting by Ilya Kachaev; editing by Michael Roddy

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