- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

“I think that music once again is the best universal message,” Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento told guests at dinner Friday following an unusual musical treat in the Villa Firenze, his residence on Albemarle Street in Northwest.

“It is a uniter, not a divider,” he added, unable to resist a few timely references to the week’s election tremors.

The evening, he had said earlier, was “to forget or to celebrate, according to your political taste.”

A small number — no more than 70 people, intimate by Washington standards — had been invited to don black tie for the privilege of hearing the La Scala String Quartet from Milan play on some of Italy’s oldest and most treasured musical instruments: two violins and a viola, famous for the august names of their makers (Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati respectively) plus a modern prize-winning cello.

These are among the so-called jewels of Cremona, the fabled northern Italian town where some of the world’s best stringed instruments still are being crafted to produce magic out of what Mr. Vento slyly called “some wooden boxes and strings.” Some 150 liuteria, or violin makers as they are known, create some 1,500 violins there a year, 80 percent of which are sold abroad for an average $7,000 each. The four “priceless” jewels making a rare trip away from their home are valued between $15 million and $16 million.

The occasion was part of a four-city American tour organized by Friends of FAI, a nonprofit organization begun four years ago to build support for the 30-year-old Milan-based Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano foundation, or FAI, which protects Italy’s many artistic and historical treasures. According to Luigi Moscheri, board president of Friends of FAI, the cultural heritage preservation group “is a second largest land owner in Italy, after the Vatican.”

“Maybe we can include music among moral values, who knows,” quipped Italian journalist and author Beppe Severgnini in introductory remarks boosting Cremona’s reputation — and Italy’s vast number of treasures — even further.

Then the quartet entered, the room grew silent, and Brahms, Puccini, and Verdi took over.

No ringing cell phones, no coughs or sneezes interrupting the performance: amazing how civilized an evening can be.

— Ann Geracimos

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