David Aaron Carpenter
(c) Akos Simon

On a special performance at Sotheby’s New York, yesterday evening, David Aaron Carpenter became, effectively and for some moments, the most valuable musician in the world. He gave a performance on what he describes as “the most truly perfect viola ever made” and is about to become the world’s most expensive-ever musical instrument. The $45 million starting price for the Stradivarius, owned by the UK’s Baron MacDonald in the 19th century, is so far past the previous world record (recently set at something over $16 million by the ‘Vieuxtemps’ Giuseppe Guarneri “’Del Gesù’ violin) that it is likely to shift the entire global market for musical instruments.

And David Aaron Carpenter is on a mission, to keep the MacDonald – one of only 10 violas Stradivarius made – available to musicians. “It has always been played,” he explains, “the most recent musician to own it was Peter Schidlof, violist of the Amadeus Quartet and that’s exactly as it should be. Stradivarius created instruments to be played and heard, but with prices going this high the danger is that new investors will swoop in and hide them away as commodities. That would be a great shame. But when institutions buy them for or with musicians for performance, even if they are only played every so often, that is a huge service to society.”

Carpenter has played on the MacDonald before, in private. He describes the experience as, “Perfect. It’s a perfect viola. From both a musician’s and a collector’s perspective, the MacDonald Stradivari is a legendary instrument and it embodies true perfection in terms of how a viola should both look and sound. It is in almost perfect condition and the experience of playing it takes your breath away.”

The sale itself will be completed in June this year. Says Carpenter, “I am honored to have been invited by Sothebys to play this instrument for the purposes of this historic sale. I hope that in the future I can continue to be involved in some shape or form with what is without a doubt my dream instrument. Now I’ve played it I’m not sure I can ever give it up!” He will do so soon, playing it at a repeat performance at Sotheby’s Paris on April 15th.

As a final thought, Carpenter cannot resist good-humouredly pointing out an irony that will not be lost on musicians. “I have always been on a crusade for violas,” he says, “They are gorgeous, exciting, beautiful instruments and I have always been bemused by the fact that other musicians habitually make jokes about them. Well, guys, guess what’s the most valuable instrument of all time? And guess who’s smiling now? That’s one back for the violists!”

Watch David Aaron Carpenter playing and discussing the MacDonald Stradivarius in Sotheby’s official documentary video.

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