The World's Most Famous Violin Comes To Columbus This Weekend

May 6, 2019

The world’s most famous violin is coming to town this weekend, and all Columbus gets to see and hear it.

That violin is the priceless 18th-century Guarnerius del Gesù violin nicknamed “Il Cannone” – The Canon – by its former owner, the legendary violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini. He called the violin his “cannon” because of its larger-than-life sound, in particular its booming lower range.

Il Cannone will be displayed in the Columbus Museum of Art from May 11 through 19. Columbus Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Joanna Frankel will perform on the instrument as soloist with the orchestra, Wednesday, May 15 at 8 p.m. in the Ohio Theatre, with music director Rossen Milanov conducting.

The concert’s program will feature violin showpieces by Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Tchaikovsky and Paganini selected to spotlight Il Cannone’s expressive and sonic range.

Performing on Il Cannone is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has left Frankel all but speechless.

“It’s absolutely stunning,” Frankel said in a recent interview. “I don’t think that I’m still really comprehending it fully. When it was disclosed to me that I would be playing it and that I would be the only person playing it, it was breathtaking. I didn’t really know how to feel. I feel mostly very humbled, and very excited.”

Frankel will have only one hour to practice with Il Cannone before her May 15 performance on the instrument.

She took some time recently to speak with me about what she’s doing differently to prepare for her performance on this famous yet unfamiliar instrument, and what we might expect to hear when Il Cannone starts singing from the Ohio Theatre stage. Listen to our conversation above.

Il Cannone’s upcoming visit to Columbus marks the violin’s first trip to the United States since 2003. The instrument belongs to the city of Genoa, Italy, Paganini’s birthplace, to which Paganini bequeathed the violin.

Genoa is one of Columbus’ sister cities, and Il Cannone’s Columbus visit has been arranged by Greater Columbus Sister Cities International, in partnership with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and the city of Columbus.

Two copies of Il Cannone exist. The earlier copy was made in the 19th century by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, the luthier who adjusted and maintained the instrument during Paganini’s lifetime.

The creation of the more recent copy of Il Cannone by Ohio violinmaker Daniel Houck for the Romanian violinist Razvan Stoica was chronicled in the award-winning documentary Strad Style, which will be screened Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Gateway Film Center. A Q&A with Houck and Strad Style writer, director and cinematographer Stefan Avalos will take place in conjunction with the screening.