Phoenix is currently playing host to a legendary guest. A 1728 Stradivarius violin, the star of the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)’s newest exhibit, can’t be seen anywhere else: After its display, it will be whisked from the spotlight back to its private owner. The instruments are prized for meticulous craftsmanship and valued to the tune of millions—this particular violin’s kin recently fetched $15 million in the collector’s market. But what makes a Stradivarius, a Stradivarius? I paid a visit to experience the masterpiece and learn the history of Antonio Stradivari, the famed Italian creator.
The MIM provides guests a headset that seamlessly integrates sound throughout the galleries. Approach a sign designated with a musical note, and you’ll hear the instruments you see around you: no fussing with syncing or tracks necessary. The technology allows Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker to accompany the collection of ten historic and modern violins with beautiful instrumentation.
I learned quickly that Stradivari’s art was one of perfection, from the wood sourced from the Fiemme Valley forest to his Cremona workshop. Displayed near his arsenal of tools and patterns scrawled with Italian is the 288-year-old violin, bearing his famous label. The Stradivarius greets you with a love song—the moving theme from Cinema Paradiso—and the sweet sound carries with you while browsing information nearby. Stradivari worked diligently throughout most of his life to experiment and perfect his craft; the creator’s age when he designed the violin on exhibit may surprise you. Even cherished instruments as old as the Stradivarius and the exhibit’s Amati violin, a gift for King Charles IX of France, are still played. A video on the back wall shows just how beautiful something from 1742 sounds, especially in the hands of celebrated violinist Rachel Barton Pine.
Regardless of your familiarity with the famed string instrument, the Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy exhibit offers a fascinating look into artistry and history, crafted in Cremona and now unique to Phoenix. And as for the rest of the museum? The world is a big place, and so is its diversity of instruments. MIM organizes its massive collection of music-makers, accoutrement and artifacts by regions on the globe. As I traversed between continents and through the Artist Gallery, I was serenaded by lutes, zithers, drums, mandolins, bells, flutes and the voice of Johnny Cash. Set aside several hours for a complete world tour. Don’t miss the Recycled Orchestra exhibit, drawn from an inspiring relationship with a Paraguayan youth orchestra.