Fred Spector with his 1733 Bergonzi violin (J.B. Spector photo)

For more than fifty years, Fred Spector—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1956 until 2003—was the proud owner of a Carlo Bergonzi violin that dates from 1733. Bergonzi, of course, is widely considered to be the greatest pupil of the most significant maker of string instruments, Antonio Stradivari. Spector passed away earlier this year at the age of 92, and this past weekend’s concerts were dedicated to his memory.

Those concerts featured John Storgårds in his Chicago Symphony debut, leading the Orchestra in the Suite no. 1 from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Sibelius’s Symphony no. 1, and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, a longtime friend of Fred Spector.

Gil Shaham plays Spector’s Bergonzi on November 29 (Ari Spector photo)

A few weeks ago, the Spector family offered Shaham the opportunity to play the Bergonzi while he was in town. He arrived in Chicago early on Wednesday, November 29, in time for his first run-through of Mendelssohn’s concerto with Storgårds and the Orchestra, and just as the rehearsal ended, Fred’s widow Estelle and their son Ari arrived at Symphony Center with the violin in tow. We met Shaham backstage and introduced him to the Bergonzi.

“It’s wonderful, marvelous,” remarked Shaham after playing a little of the Mendelssohn followed by a taste of Korngold’s concerto. “It’s a privilege and so very special to play on this beautiful instrument.” He then switched to his Stradivarius, the Countess Polignac from 1699 (that he’s been playing since he was eighteen), and then went back to the Bergonzi for a section of one of Bach’s partitas. Needless to say, it was remarkable to hear the two instruments—played by a musician of Shaham’s caliber—back-to-back and up close.

Estelle Spector and Shaham during intermission on Sunday, December 3 (Frank Villella photo)

For the Sunday December 3 matinee, several of Spector’s family members were in attendance, including Estelle, their children—Lea, Mia, J.B., Julie, and Ari—grandchildren, former CSO members, and several friends. Following a spectacular performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Shaham returned to the stage but holding a different violin. After thanking the audience, he said, “Today is a very special day. This is a beautiful Bergonzi violin, that belonged to Fred Spector, a member of this Orchestra for nearly fifty years. And on it I would like to play for you a brief encore in his memory.” Shaham then performed the Gavotte en rondeau from Bach’s Violin Partita no. 3 in E major, BWV 1006.

During the intermission, Estelle graciously thanked Shaham for his generosity and kindness. “What a wonderful tribute to Fred, the Bergonzi, and the Orchestra. Thank you so much.”

A beautiful gesture from one extraordinary musician—and instrument—to another.

Advertisements