Going, going, gone

by Keith Clarke

London’s auction rooms have been hitting the headlines this week. Hot on the pricey heels of the Lady Blunt Strad that raised a cool $15.9 million for the Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, a more modest record was broken on Tuesday when an 17th-century fiddle by Giacinto Ruggieri of Cremona sold at Brompton’s for $201,400 to a California-based musician.

As it happened, I was sitting in the saleroom myself, partly for business and partly because there was a family viola in the catalog. Trying hard not to scratch my cheek or raise an eyebrow, I sat in the hopes that great fortunes would fall upon us. Truth to tell, our instrument was not at the stratospheric end of the scale, and we won’t be booking the world cruise just yet. We might dine out on the experience, but it’s more likely to be Big Mac than Lobster Thermidor at the Ritz.

It is certainly interesting to sit in an auction of fine instruments. While our stockbrokers and bankers have long since given up any pretense of being gentlemen, auctioneers still retain the old-world charm, the Savile Row suits and Oxbridge accents. It would be unfair to suggest that when it comes down to it, they are glorified pawnbrokers, one remove from costermongers.

Which prompts the old gag about the difference between a street trader and a daschund: the former bawls his wares on the pavement, while the latter…………


The Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, wants people whose cell phones go off during concerts to face stiff fines. Naturally enough, the suggestion has played well in those sections of the press that align themselves with the ‘”Hanging’s not good enough for them” lobby.

There is little doubt that I get as irritated by Mad Max when audiences don’t play the game and sit still and shut up, but let’s face it, the game is lost. Go to a movie now and kids not only keep their cell phones switched on but use them enthusiastically throughout the show. West End theatre performances are frequently a battle between the long-suffering cast and some ignorant clods in the stalls. Why would music escape this sorry decline in manners and basic courtesy?

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