December 18 is a special day in the yearly calendar of the Library of Congress – it’s the day when several of the rare stringed instruments in the Library’s collection are taken from their display cases and handed to the members of a talented string quartet. The collection was assembled with the intention that it be used – and these incomparable Strads couldn’t find a better place to strut their stuff than the Coolidge Auditorium stage, built for chamber music.
The instruments are played yearly in honor of their creator, Antonio Stradivari, who died on Dec. 18, 1737.
This year, the musicians on stage will be the Parker Quartet (external link), which originated in Boston – a youthful group with classical chops and a fresh attitude. They offer a broad classical repertoire, but they’re equally at home with jazz and folk; the Dec. 18 program includes pieces by Beethoven, Haydn and Dutilleux (a piece commissioned by the Library’s Koussevitsky program). Before the concert, at 6:15 p.m. in the adjacent Whittall Pavilion, expert bowmaker Yung Chin will talk about the endangered Pernambuco tree, which provides wood for the finest string bows.
Considering that access to this 8 p.m. concert is free (tickets must be obtained through Ticketmaster, (301) 808-6900, where there’s a $2.75 per ticket charge to use the service), what’s not to like? You’ll get a chance to see some of the world’s rarest instruments in actual use, hear sublime music and enjoy the acoustics of a world-famous auditorium designed to deliver this exact experience. What’s more, there’s a whole season of these free concerts to enjoy.
Here’s a tip – sometimes there are unoccupied seats at concert time. If you come to the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St., S.E. shortly before showtime, there are often standby seats at the will-call desk starting at 6:30 p.m.
For a sneak preview of the Parker Quartet, click here (external link).
For a video of Bach’s Chaconne being played by virtuoso Nicholas Kitchen on one of the Library’s Strads – the “Castelbarco” – click here and then click “play RealMedia.”