A Guadagnini Mystery: South Australia’s is in the good hands of Sophie Rowell. But who is to manage the asset?

Strads are in the news again.
Testing shows modern violins are better. Or does it? Luthiers get excited. Isserlis gets hot under the collar. Goetz Richter writes to the Sydney Morning Herald. The Economist runs the story. Limelight Newsletter runs the story, and will have a Stradivarius History in its February edition. This is Silly Season stuff, of course. Truth is, the market is always right (well, nearly always). And anyway you’ll never get to play on a Strad, unless you find yourself an extremely wealthy patron.

In the midst of all this chatter, a quiet development has happened in the Australian world of fine string instruments, without, it seems, anyone having picked up the story. This time it is a Guadagnini, not a Stradivarius, story.

Astute students of the fine violin world in Australia will be aware that, back in 1955 the people of South Australia bought a 1751 Guadagnini violin for South Australian violinist Carmel Hakendorf, who, along with Beryl Kimber, had been selected by Sir John Barbirolli for special attention. Why Hakendorf was bought a violin but not Ms Kimber is not known, at least to this correspondent. Perhaps Beryl Kimber already had the Stradivarius she played in Europe a few years later. (What, it is reasonable to ask, happened to that Strad? If you know, please tell.) Whatever the reason, Carmel Hakendorf was the first to receive, on loan, the South Australian Guadagnini. Later, violinists to enjoy the privilege included William Hennessy, Jane Peters and finally Sophie Rowell when she returned to Adelaide in the role of first violinist of the Australian String Quartet.

Sophie Rowell played the Guadagnini until a fairy godmother appeared for the Australian String Quartet in the person of Ms Ulrike Klein, founder of the Jurlique skin care products company. Ms Klein had a dream of the Australian String Quartet playing on a quartet of Guadagnini instruments and set about finding investors to join her in a trust to fulfil her dream. Two violins and a viola have now been with the ASQ for some time, and it seems a cello will join the quartet shortly. When Sophie Rowell was offered the “Jurlique” Guadagnini made in 1784 in Turin, she gave up her previous violin, which then went into storage.

To leave a fine violin in storage seems odd. The S A Guadagnini Trust, set up by the South Australian Government to own the Hakendorf instrument has, apparently, a very rigid trust deed. Its trustees are whoever hold the positions of Elder Professor of Music at the Elder Conservatorium, head of the ABC office in South Australia and the regional boss of the ANZ Bank in Adelaide. It also appears that the bureaucrats who set up the trust made a fundamental error: all the money was spent on the violin and nothing was left for care and insurance. This was fine in days of easy money, ArtsSA having funded the insurance over the years, but clearly the lack of a maintenance fund was a problem, meaning the 1751 Guadagnini lay in the ANZ’s vaults for some time.

Then two things happened. First, Sophie Rowell decided to leave the Australian String Quartet, with the consequence that, from end 2011, she would have to give up the fine Guadagnini she had been playing in the quartet. Also, some time during 2011, Ms Rowell paid for essential maintenance work on the South Australian Guadagnini Trust instrument. Nothing was announced to the ultimate owners, the people of South Australia. The trustees, it seems were in lock down. Something was, however, afoot. It is not clear whether Ms Rowel approached the trustees to seek a new long-term loan, or whether the trustees approached her with a proposition. Whatever the case, it is clear that transparency was not high on the trustees’ agenda. What does the trust deed say? Is who gets the violin at the total discretion of the trustees? Is there a requirement for an association with South Australia to be considered? Perhaps the trustees considered other worthy recipients. Perhaps they sought applications. Who could know. Whatever the process, the decision was clear by November last: Ms Rowell would, once again, receive the Guadagnini on loan.

Now it is important your correspondent affirms his belief that Sophie Rowell is a worthy recipient of this instrument. She is undoubtedly one of the finest violinists in Australia. It will be a pleasure to hear her play the instrument, even if it is not as good as the Guadagnini purchased by Ms Ulrike Klein’s trust.

But the strange secrecy of the S A Guadagnini Trust is odd. The South Australian people paid for the violin. Surely they have a right to know what is going on.

What is going on seems to be a merger. Whether a take over (friendly or unfriendly) or a merger is not clear. But it seems moves are in place to subsume the S A Guadagnini Trust into the more flexible trust that holds the “Jurlique” instruments. Such a move apparently will require an approach to the South Australian Supreme Court. Trust deeds are not easy to amend. What prompted this development? Is this a positive move? What are the pros and cons? Will the South Australians who paid for the instrument be asked their views? Should a publicly held instrument be passed into the hands of a privately held trust? And why would a trust established to provide four instruments to a string quartet wish to control a fifth? Do they plan to become an instrument bank?

Someone should be asking these questions. ArtsSA and the trustees of both trusts should be giving the answers. Australia is blessed with very few old instruments. The management and control of those we have will mostly lie in the hands of private, wealthy individuals or corporations. Where the public has some ownership we should guard it well. Otherwise there may be a repeat of the Australia Council debacle with their Guarneri cello, sold in the 1990s.

Perhaps no one cares. If so that would be sad. A new, future generation of South Australian violinists deserves the opportunity to play the state’s Guadagnini. How is it planned to manage this peoples’ asset in the future?


About johnofoz

An occasional correspondent, with particular interest in music.
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5 Responses to A Guadagnini Mystery: South Australia’s is in the good hands of Sophie Rowell. But who is to manage the asset?

  1. My goodness, J of O, you prove not only to be an accomplished scribe /man of letters, a delightful cello “amateur” in the truest sense ( and also in the sense of Valentine’s Day shenanigans) , raconteur and bon vivant but also a super sleuth. do I hear a new mystery series in the offing, that would add ” novelist” or “thriller genre” to your CV … Who is misappropriating the great baroque instruments of the world, and why ?

    This is what happens when you put forward Mrs Bach as the putative ghost writer for JSB suites to a gullible fan…flights of fancy. I look forward to your next revelation,
    M delle Violette

  2. Gordon says:

    Hi John,

    It’s worth mentioning in your doubt of the management of the SA Guadagnini that in the fifty or so years it has been in use it has been in the hands of a violinist for around 99% of that time. Notable guardians have included Jane Peters, one of only a handful of Aussie violinists to win a major prize at one of the top international competitions (the tchaikovsky), a brilliant player, and I am assuming Bill Hennessy and Natsuko Yoshimoto also used it during their time as arguably SA’s most important violinists. You have noted already but it’s worth reiterating that Sophie Rowell is not only a worthy recipient as a top notch player and musician but as a violinist with strong ties to Adelaide. She continues to perform here as a solo recitalist, and also as part of the Elder Trio, and most spectacularly as a concerto soloist, memorably at the end of last year performing the SA premiere of Brett Dean’s mammoth violin concerto. Almost over qualified!

    I’d be interested to know how you come to make the inference that the so called Jurlique trust is merging with a South Australian government trust. Where do these facts come from? Also upon closer inspection it appears now that the then-newly acquired Guadagnini for Sophie Rowell that is now in the hands of new ASQ first violinist is not owned by Ms Klein but by another quartet supporter with no ties to the entirely seperate SA trust. It is not your so-named Jurlique Guadagnini; that, I believe, is played by the ASQ’s second violinist. Please get your facts right…

    It’s true that SA’s Guadagnini is a valuable asset. It appears to have been less than a year that it was not played on. Many, many of the world’s greatest violins go for a lot longer without a bow being drawn over the strings. And some government owned instruments are loaned to their players for decades…
    So don’t accuse them of poor handling of a million dollar asset. Besides, in 1954 taxpayers probably payed less than one twentieth of its current price…

  3. johnofoz says:

    Thank you, Gordon for your response. My references to the ownership of the Guadagnini’s were loose, I agree. An Australian String Quartet program from 2011 states: “The Guadagninis are on loan through the Ngeringa Farm Arts Foundation, founded in 2007. The instruments have been purchased through the generosity of music lovers who have the vision to enrich Australian chamber music through the purchase of these remarkable instruments. It is the goal of NFAF to complete the acquisition of the quartet of Guadagnini instruments.” It has, indeed, been reported in the press that one of the violins was bought by an anonymous patron. The purchase was, however, clearly undertaken in collaboration with the Foundation and publicity material for NFAF also sees the instrument as integral to their Guadagnini Project. So to refer to it as the “Jurlique” Guadagnini is not so wide of the mark. And my facts are quite correct that the two Guadagnini violins lent via the NFAF to the ASQ are in the hands of the two violinists. Which of the two is the instrument purchased by the “anonymous patron” is not important. (The ownership issue could, of course, provide another possible key to why there may be some sort of merger in the future. If the ultimate owner, for any reason, wished to sell his asset, then what better way to recreate the quartet of Guadagninis than by bringing the S A Guadagnini Trust’s instrument into the fold. This, however, is pure speculation.)

    A more egregious fault on my part was to refer to a trust owning (or managing, if you will) the instruments. NFAF is a foundation and is understood to be set up as a company limited by guarantee. Whether the Foundation’s instruments are held by the company or in its associated Public Fund I do not know. Whatever the case, it would explain the complexities in bringing the NFAF and S A Guadagnini Trust together. There may be issues of disposal of a publically owned asset and so on. And an excellent asset it is, having been purchased for £1750.00 in 1955. No doubt ArtsSA know what is going on, but they are not good at returning phone calls. That said, my other sources were reliable but it would not be appropriate to name them.

    Incidentally, there have only been four loan recipients of the South Australian Guadagnini: Carmel Hackenorf, Bill Hennessy, Jane Peters and Sophie Rowell. There is no inherent criticism in clarifying this. It is entirely appropriate that high quality instruments remain in the hands of top performing artists for long periods. My beef with the management of the S A Guadagnini Trust lies mostly in its lack of transparency and clear processes. These issues are referred to in the second and third last paragraphs of the original post.

  4. For Fox Sake says:

    It was in May 1952 that Carmel Hakendorf had her debut performance with the Halle Orchestra at Manchester. I think the G.B. Guadagnini instrument had been purchased for Carmel by then and travelled with her on board the “Oronsay”. Also travelling to the UK was the 200-strong contingent of lads selected for the Sun Youth Tour. My uncle was one of those boys. At the age of 15, he was a giant among the others: 6’2 in height, 220lbs and deadly handsome. He stood out.

    It is a pity Carmel’s performance was well-buried by the Adelaide Advertiser underneath the asinine impressions of pimply-youths.

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