In the late 1600s and early 1700s, Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari created instruments that are considered the finest ever made.
Of the 1,100 violins that Stradivari is believed to have crafted during his lifetime, only 650 are known to remain.
One of these extraordinary instruments will be heard on Maui when Elizabeth Pitcairn debuts the world famous Red Violin at a special event at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea on Dec. 7.
Elizabeth Pitcairn will share her famed “Red Mendelssohn” Stradivarius with Maui audiences
So what's it like playing one of the greatest instruments in the world?
"It's like if God gave you the voice of Pavarotti," says the celebrated violin virtuoso. "It's a great privilege and joy to bring this to people. They're revered because they have complete personalities that encompass the whole range of what you would want and need in a violin to be a solo artist. They have an extreme beauty of sound that is quite extraordinary."
The inspiration for the Academy Award-winning movie "The Red Violin," Pitcairn's instrument was made in 1720.
Shortly after, the Stradivarius disappeared for 200 years. Its path is shrouded in mystery, but it eventually surfaced in 1930s Berlin, where it was purchased by an heir to the great composer, Felix Mendelssohn. In 1990, it was auctioned and anonymously purchased for $1.7 million.
Though only revealed years later, it had been bought by Pitcairn's grandfather and given on Thanksgiving Day to the then 16-year old high school student.
A week before the auction, Pitcairn was taken out of school and flown to London to check out the violin.
"I was given special permission and got to play it for about 20 minutes," she recalls. "I didn't care that many people were milling about and I just started playing it and went into my own world."
She remained silent about owning the violin until her burgeoning solo career brought her into the public eye.
"I wasn't allowed to have the violin for a year, because I went off to USC and my mother didn't think a freshman dorm was a safe place for it," Pitcairn continues. "My career continued to blossom and develop, but it was top secret where the violin had gone. It was only through playing the music for the ("Red Violin") film score that anyone made the connection. Pandemonium broke lose. I was playing a concert in Florida at the time and it spread across the whole state. People drove for hours and it was standing room only. It was just amazing when people found out."
Since she obtained the Red Violin, the price of Stradivari has skyrocketed. In June 2011, the "Lady Blunt Stradivarius" violin made in 1721 sold for a record $15.9 million.
A renowned soloist who has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York String Orchestra, Pitcairn was recently named the artistic director of the Luzerne Chamber Music Festival.
For her recital at the Four Seasons, Pitcairn will perform one of the most challenging violin works ever composed - Paganini's "Perpetual Motion."
"I'm playing some really cool pieces," she explains. "Paganini's 'Perpetual Motion' is rarely played. It took me three years to learn it. It has three thousand notes over four minutes without stopping, at an incredibly high rate of speed. Many people don't even go there. I will also play the famous 'Hungarian Dance' by Brahms, and the 'Theme from Schindler's List' and a couple of other surprises."
Playing such an extraordinary instrument that was crafted almost 300 years ago, Pitcairn sometimes muses, "I wonder who has had it, where it's been, what it has seen, what it knows. It feels magical. In the moment I go to another place. You almost have an out of body experience, you let go and become a conduit."
* Pitcairn will perform at the "Red Violin Opus One Wine Event" on Dec. 7 at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. Cost is $795 per person, which includes an oceanview room, the concert and a paired wine dinner created by the resort's Master Executive Chef Roger Stettler.
Ozomatli recently released a new album brimming with their typical intoxicating mash-up of hip hop, salsa, funk and rock. But this time around, their subject matter is a little different. Instead of rallying calls against oppression and injustice, they've turned their rhyming skills to topics like germs and spelling and the importance of exercise.
"Ozomatli Presents Ozokidz" is their first recording aimed at children and it's probably the most funky, exciting kids' music ever created, which will likely have parents unable to resist joining in on the chorus to "Moose on the Loose."
"Everyone loves that song," enthuses Ozomatli's sax player Ulises Bella. "We've always had a good history of playing for kids. They have always reacted really positively to our music. We were playing in Chicago one night and we noticed ticket sales were down, so we sent a message out to our fans and a lot of them were like, 'we can't get a sitter,' and our drummer said, 'we've got to do a kids' record.' So we ended up sitting down and thinking of concepts."
Long known for their exuberant fusion of styles, the band's irrepressible rhythms are applied here to an even wider context. The "Sun and Moon" slips into almost Depeche Mode territory, while if The Clash had ever sung about the joys of skateboarding it might have sounded like the jubilant rocker "Skateboard."
"That was a cool thing about the kids' record, we didn't have to stay in any kind of stylistic thing as far as what Ozo usually sounds like," says Bella.
Adopting their name from the Aztec god of dance, Ozomatli were formed in Los Angeles in 1995. An electrifying live act, in the last few years this Grammy-winning band has won over audiences across the globe as cultural ambassadors, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. These government-sponsored tours have taken them to Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East.
In Nepal in 2007, the band's trip was part of a celebration of the country's newly ratified peace accord. Their historic, free concert in Katmandu, which was broadcast live on national television, drew around 15,000 people. Then in 2010, they traveled to China and Mongolia.
"We went to the earthquake region (in Dujiangyan, China) to play at schools and interact with the people," he explains. "And in Mongolia, we were only the second band to play where we played (in Ulaanbaatar). We played in this huge square and it was amazing. It's a trip because people probably have their own idea what an American band looks like and I don't think we're it."
All the musicians have been profoundly impacted by their travels. "Music and culture brings us together," he continues. "There's no talk about what's up with your government or religion. All that b.s. is out the door. We end up jamming with local musicians and that's where the aspect of music as a universal language really resonates. It's really inspiring."
In concert this multi-cultural band creates such a spirit of joyous celebration that their shows often evoke ecstatic reviews. "If you've ever attended an Ozomatli concert, you know it's sort of like being swept up in a Disneyland parade for adults," noted a recent Los Angeles Times review. And a B.B.C. review concluded, "there's no other group that can mix lyrical defiance, global dance beats, hip-hop attitude and pop hooks so convincingly and explosively."
"When we're playing we get an immediate emotional response," says Bella. "I enjoy seeing how what we do on stage immediately makes people react. Obviously some shows are better than others, but it's like the saying 'Even a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.' "
* Ozomatli perform at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Pavillion/Courtyard. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 on show day, and $55 for VIP on the Morgado Lanai (plus applicable fees). Call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
The Maui Pops Orchestra kicks off the Christmas season with a "Holiday Pops" concert at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the MACC's Castle Theater.
This annual festive event will feature Iggy Jang, concertmaster of the Hawaii Symphony, performing movements from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." Local vocalists joining the orchestra on holiday favorites will include Erin Smith, Lily Meola, Felicity Raugust, Jimmy Mac, Jerry Eiting, Jamie Lawrence and Alexis and Steven Dascoulias.
Tickets are $10, $25, $35 and $45 (plus applicable fees). A portion of ticket sales will buy gifts for clients of the Friends of the Children's Justice Center.
Finally, Krishna Das will present an evening of sacred kirtan chant at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Makawao Union Church. He will be joined by Nina Rao on vocals and cymbals, Arjun Bruggeman on tabla and Genevieve Walker on violin.
Nina Rao has just released a new double CD "Antarayaami: Knower of All Hearts," which includes Krishna Das on backing vocals.
One of the foremost devotional singers in the world, he will also present his first public workshop, "Heart of Devotion," on Maui at 7 p.m. on Monday at Makawao Union Church.
* Tickets for the concert and workshop are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Tickets may be purchased at Monsoon India restaurant in Kihei and Maui Kombucha in Haiku.