University of Wisconsin-Madison (opens in new window)

The Green Room

Instrument Treasures of Upcoming Performances

Posted: 11/04/21

The Vijay Iyer Trio
Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m. | Wisconsin Union Theater’s Play Circle

Daryl Johns, the bassist and heartbeat of The Vijay Iyer Trio, will play on a borrowed lion head bass during the ensemble’s Dec. 3 performance in the Play Circle at Memorial Union. So what is a lion head bass? It is a string bass with a scroll masterfully carved into the shape of a lion. Although it does not affect the sound, it exemplifies the ornate craft of instrument-making and the artists who own them. 

What makes this instrument truly special beyond the aesthetics is its owner, legendary bassist Richard Davis. Davis, now retired, was a bass professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music from 1977-2016 and has been a prominent artist for more than 60 years. 

Davis’s importance to this community and the arts world was memorialized in 2019 when Madison named a street after him: Richard Davis Lane. Hannah Mohelnitzky, spokeswoman for the City of Madison’s Engineering Division, spoke about the push for placing Davis’s legacy in the city’s streets. 

“He gave so much not only to music, but he gave so much from a societal standpoint...He worked to combat racism [and] founded the Madison Institute for the Healing of Racism in 2000. I think that it speaks a lot to who Richard is,” Mohelnitzky said to the Wisconsin State Journal. 

The School of Music is in the process of purchasing Davis’s stunning instrument for use in the bass studio, now headed by Professor Peter Dominguez. The Davis/Dominguez connection runs deep: Davis mentored Dominguez while he was completing his master’s degree at UW-Madison in the early 1980s and Dominguez currently serves as the artistic director of the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc. 

Enjoy contemporary jazz on this historic double bass with The Vijay Iyer Trio on Dec. 3. Purchase tickets here.

Gil Shaham
Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. | Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall

We are thrilled to welcome Gil Shaham as part of our 102nd Concert Series on Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at Memorial Union. 

Besides Shaham’s warm, harmonious personality, he is also known for playing a world-renowned violin, the 1699 Countess Polignac Stradivarius. Fewer than 650 Stradivari violins reside in the world, and even fewer are being heard by audiences. 

“The violin started out in France. Countess Polignac was in the court of Louis XIV, but she was also very influential in Venetian musical life. She commissioned a lot of concertos by Vivaldi, and she was the one who brought The Four Seasons to Paris,” Shaham said to Primephonic. “Then, the violin stayed in France for many years, maybe for a couple of centuries, and then it went through England and Australia, and I eventually found it in Chicago. I knew the previous owner, a businessman and a patron of the arts, so one day he called me up – I was 18 years old – and said, ‘Gil, I want to sell the violin, and I will give you the first option to buy.’ I felt this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I started calling banks and took out a big loan, and now the violin is mine.” 

The Countess Polignac is sought out for its elongated shape. This unique structure gives the violin a belly that favors rich harmonics. Paired with Shaham’s extensive talent, the violin gives an unparalleled, pleasant sound. 

Be one of the few in the world to hear a live performance on this stunning Stradivarius violin on Dec. 11. Purchase tickets here.

Go to top of page