The Miracle Makers Debuts at Steinway Hall

Rare violin dealer Geoffrey Fushi has devoted many of the past several years and a substantial portion of his liquid assets to producing The Miracle Makers, a reference book-and-recording project honoring the works of Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, late 17th- and early 18th-century makers of the world's most sought-after violins. Fushi is also the founder of the Stradivari Society, a philanthropical organization of violin fanciers who loan their invaluable instruments to gifted students. Members believe that their treasures were intended to make music, not merely to gather dust in heavily guarded vaults.

Fushi's twin visions enjoyed a glorious convergence Thursday, February 11. That night, the official debut of the book and the recording took place at Manhattan's Steinway Hall on West 57th Street, the piano maker's original building---in every way a church of music. The invitation-only event was attended by perhaps 300 musical and philanthropical luminaries, assorted glitterati, and television crews from Holland, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Apparently, media executives in those countries have different concepts from their American counterparts regarding what is newsworthy.

One of the evening's attractions was a display, in glass cases, of a couple dozen rare violins, around which milled world-class violinists, nudging each other and making jokes about which instrument they wanted. Transporting the instruments was an insurance nightmare, Fushi remarked.

Mark Levinson and his Red Rose Music crew were on hand to record the highlight of the evening: a performance by concert violinist Elmar Oliveira on several of the instruments. Fushi and Levinson, the recording engineer for The Miracle Makers, both spoke briefly before Oliveira performed, thanking all the tireless souls who labored so long and hard to bring the project to life. Levinson provoked a spontaneous round of applause when he remarked that the "project was about something much bigger than money---the love of music."

Most tireless of all was Oliveira, who had played 30 different violins for up to 10 hours per day during a three-day recording marathon. For the debut celebration, he performed Respighi's Sonata for Violin and Piano in b, Ernest Bloch's "Nigun" from Baal Shem, and Jascha Heifetz's arrangement of George Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now," from Porgy and Bess. Robert Koenig, a staff pianist at the Juilliard School, masterfully accompanied Oliveira.

A powerful and charismatic fiddler, Oliveira matched the character of each instrument to the mood of the piece he was to play. The opening movement of the Respighi, for example, was played on a 1726 Guarneri, the "Lady Stretton," a violin with a brighter tone than the 1721 "Jackson" Stradivari he chose for "Nigun," a deep and hugely emotional work.

The man seems to glow as he plays, and he infected everyone present with his feeling for the music. Fushi mentioned that most violinists need to live with a new instrument for two or three weeks before they feel really comfortable with it, but Oliveira has the unusual ability to find the soul of an instrument in a few moments---the reason he was recruited for the project.

He certainly found the soul in everything he played Thursday night. There wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end of his recital. Except for a circuit breaker that popped when a TV crew overloaded an outlet, the elegant affair went off without a hitch, superbly managed by music producer Laura Heath.

Marvelous as it was, Thursday evening's gala was in some ways merely the precursor to another glamorous and enlightening event the next day at the home of songwriter Denise Rich. Rich's daughter passed away after a bout with cancer not long ago, and in her honor she established the G&P Foundation for Cancer Research. Stradivari Society and G&P Foundation members jointly enjoyed a sumptuous luncheon---served by caterers in 18th-century costume---in Rich's art-filled residence overlooking Central Park. The four-course repast was followed by performances on rare instruments by several awesomely talented young musicians, some of whom were beneficiaries of the "Strad" Society.

Among the many wonderful performances given on Friday were a blazing duet by 14-year-old Shunsuke Sato and 16-year-old Chuan Yun Lee, and a heartrending Piazzolla Tango by 17-year-old Karen Gomyo. Cellist Wendy Warner astounded the approximately 50 guests with her virtuosity on what Geoff Fushi believes is the world's only Guarneri cello. The sonorous warmth and huge range of expression she easily coaxed from the beautiful old instrument dazzled the entire audience.

Levinson and company caught it all for posterity on a 24-bit Nagra-D, and a handful of us were able to listen to the playback later that day in Rich's library over a modified pair of NHT 3.3 loudspeakers driven by Classé amplifiers.

With The Miracle Makers now under his belt, Geoff Fushi has plans to do similar book-and-recording projects for the viola and the cello. "These aren't going to take nearly as long," he promised. He is also actively recruiting new members for the Stradivari Society. The group does a wonderful job of ensuring that not only will music lovers be able to enjoy the works of master craftsmen like Stradivari and Guarneri well into the future, but also that there will be musicians equal to the task.

Inquiries about the book and/or the CD should be directed to Bein & Fushi in Chicago at (312) 663-0150. Both are highly recommended. The Stradivari Society's Executive Director, Jane Kang, can be reached by e-mail, or by phone at (312) 663-1214.