Salon Concerts

The tale of two instruments

Salon Concerts

Few things are more joyful than a reunion. Long lost friends who happen to run into one another on a city street. Long lost brothers embracing in an airport terminal. But what about long lost stringed instruments? If you have ever wondered what a stringed instrument reunion would look like – or sound like, for that matter – the wait is over. Just such a reunion will take place at this month's Salon Concert, featuring guest artist Brian Lewis.

Allow me to explain: In 1863, Napoleon III commissioned a set of stringed instruments from Gand Frères, two brothers who were renowned luthiers in Paris. The set was cut from the same piece of wood, and the instruments were given the same serial number. One hundred forty-five years later, Lewis and Douglas Harvey, both international concert artists based in Austin, discovered that they each owned a Gand instrument with that exact serial number. Lewis' violin and Harvey's cello were brother instruments, born in Paris and miraculously winding up in Texas a century and a half later. Clearly, a duet was in order. Lewis asked Kathryn Mishell, artistic director of Salon Concerts and a renowned composer, to write a piece for the two instruments.

Mishell had several ideas about how to approach such an interesting story. "I could have used musical quotes from composers writing at the time of the instruments' creation," she says. "Or if I had known where they have been in the last 145 years, I could have used that and infused parts of the piece with, say, Spanish music if one of them had spent any time in Spain." In the end, Mishell decided to take what she describes as the more "universal" approach. This gets us back to those airport terminals and chance encounters. The duet is titled "Reunion" and is about the experience of togetherness, separation, and, if we are so lucky, togetherness again.

Though there are many fine modern instruments, Mishell describes an older instrument as having a "mellowness, a richness of sound, a depth of resonance that can be a joy to play." She goes on to describe the particular excitement of hearing a duet played by two instruments cut from the same wood. "Matched instruments such as these Gands should have the special quality of blending wonderfully. I've heard them individually, and they are beautiful instruments. I can't wait to hear them together!"

People like to anthropomorphize objects, imagining their desk chairs are mad at them or their cars possess a certain temperament. But in this case, the story is so lovely and the serendipity so potent, it is hard not to imagine the Gand violin and the Gand cello joyfully crooning together after years of separation anxiety. When Lewis asked Mishell to compose the duet, he told her: "They are true brothers. ... They will be united publicly in the 21st century after having been apart since the 19th century. Ah, the tales they could tell if notes were words."

"Reunion" will be performed as part of Salon Concerts' Instrumental Magnetism, Nov. 23-25, Sunday, 4:30pm, and Monday, 7:30pm, in a private home; Tuesday, 6pm, at the Armstrong Community Music School, 901 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, call 989-0539 or visit

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Salon Concerts, Kathryn Mishell, Douglas Harvey, Brian Lewis

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