The Score

Golden Strings

How might a string section outfitted with rare 17th- and 18th-century instruments affect the sound of an orchestra? New Jersey Symphony Orchestra patrons will have a chance to judge for themselves in the coming year, when the orchestra begins regular performances with its Golden Age Collection of string instruments. The collection--24 violins, two violas, and four cellos --includes instruments bearing the names of Stradivari (twelve of the violins and one cello), Guarneri del Gesù, Amati, and other Italian masters.

The rare opportunity came to the NJSO through philanthropists and longtime orchestra supporters Dr. Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod, who offered to sell the bulk of instruments from their collection to the NJSO at less than half the estimated value of $50 million. After several months of negotiation, the purchase was finalized in February at $18 million, with financing made available through Commerce Bank and The Prudential Foundation, as well as several longtime institutional and individual orchestra supporters and a donation from the Axelrods.

The collection places the NJSO on a playing field all its own, as no other orchestra is believed to have had the opportunity to perform regularly with such a massed collection of rare instruments. Concertmaster Eric Wyrick has said he is "almost euphoric" at the idea of how the collection might enhance the orchestra's sound, and Principal Cellist Jonathan Spitz calls the acquisition "nothing short of a miracle." Instruments from the Golden Age Collection will be played during the NJSO's Bach Festival June 1 - 8. The NJSO 2003-03 season opener on September 10 will mark the new instruments' orchestral debut.