When Clara Saitkoulov played her first notes on a rare Stradivarius violin, she said something special happened.
“I just put my bow on the violin, you know, and tried it for 15 seconds. And I just thought, Wow, this is something amazing,” she said in a video. “As I was playing, you know, my heart started to speed up. It’s like when you fall in love.”
Saitkoulov, a graduate student, will be the first student at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music to use the 1687 Kubelik Stradivarius violin, newly on loan to the school by its owner Peter Naimoli.
Naimoli, a Texas-based collector and an amateur musician, was interested in lending the violin to a music school, so that the instrument would not just sit on a shelf but could be used for music-making to the benefit of students.
He chose Rice, following encouragement from his friend, Shepherd School alumnus Geoffrey Herd, which led to further talks with violin professor Paul Kantor and former dean Robert Yekovich.
Prized for their quality of sound, physical beauty, and construction, violins by the legendary 17th and 18th century craftsman Antonio Stradivari are considered some of the finest string instruments ever created.
It is estimated that Stradivari produced around 1,100 instruments, including violins, violas, cellos, guitars, and harps. Only around 650 instruments survive today.
Though Rice University is not publicly sharing the value of the 1687 Kubelik, Stradivarius violins range in value from hundreds of thousands to several million.
“The pinnacle of incredible, old instruments – Italian instruments – is of course Stradivari,” said Matthew Loden, Dean of the Shepherd School, in a video.
“The fact that we actually have the opportunity for our students to get their hands on one of these instruments, and to perform, live with it, practice on it, concertize on it, that’s just extraordinary. Those kinds of opportunities are incredibly rare,” said Loden.
The Stradivarius will be on loan indefinitely to the Shepherd School, where violin faculty will choose a different student each year to use the instrument.
Saitkoulov was selected “because her truly remarkable talent, skill, and dedication to her craft stand out even among the brightest talent,” said Rice University in an email.
A winner of the 2021 Shepherd School Concerto Competition, Saitkoulov will perform Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 on the instrument with the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra on April 1, 2022 in Stude Concert Hall.
Saitkoulov is a student of violin professor, Cho-Liang Lin, who performs on the 1715 “Titian” Stradivarius and who remarked that a special instrument empowers a performer onstage not just artistically but also mentally.
“When you have a great Stradivarius violin in your hand, it’s an instant boost of confidence, that extra something that no studio lessons or practicing can ever deliver,” said Lin in a press release.
“And when you hold it and you start to make a sound with it, it’s different,” he said. “And it’s magic. I don’t know how else to describe it, except it’s like the biggest boost of confidence any performer can have.”