When Timo-Veikko "Tipi" Valve takes the stage in Wollongong on Friday night, he will do so holding a cello made 400 years ago by one of Italy's greatest luthiers.
The latest acquisition by the Australian Chamber Orchestra Instrument Fund, the Amati cello was bought last year for $US1 million ($1.4 million) from J&A Beare, a London-based fine instrument dealer. Valve, the ACO's principal cellist, said the new instrument would add a powerful voice to the orchestra when it begins its national tour at Wollongong Town Hall with Claude Debussy's Cello Sonata in arrangement by Jack Symonds. "The instruments we purchase are like the highest-paid opera singers of the world," said Valve. "The Amati has an amazing power to it."
Valve said he "met" the cello late last year. "In a way, it found us. We weren't actively looking and we were stunned by its beauty, power and capabilities." The Amati cello will be shared among the orchestra cellists, and Valve will also continue to play a Guarneri cello on permanent loan and donated to the orchestra by arts philanthropist Peter Weiss AO. The Amati is the third acquisition for the ACO Instrument Fund, a $5.5 million (US) managed investment fund with 33 wholesale clients. The fund acquired a Stradivarius violin in 2011 and a Guarneri violin in 2014. It invests in instruments from the "golden age" of instrument making – crafted in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. The fund's unit price has risen from $1 to $1.40 (Australian) since it its inception in 2011.
Key supporters of the orchestra include high-profile Australian arts patrons and business figures including Peter Weiss and Sussan chief executive Naomi Milgrom. Initial investors of the instrument fund include Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, joint managing director of Transfield Holdings and chairman of the ACO. ACO Instrument Fund chairman Bill Best said since 2011 the fund had delivered a return of 5-6 per cent a year and he expected it to deliver returns in the longer term. "We rely on the collective wisdom of the musicians, and when we have capacity to acquire it, we will. We were keen to have a cello because it was an appropriate diversification of our portfolio," he said.
The fund is intended to deliver long-term capital gains and its unitholders have only limited opportunities to withdraw their investment every three years. The fund is due to be terminated after 10 years, in 2021, unless more than 50 per cent of the unitholders vote to continue it. Mr Best said the fund did not have immediate plans to acquire another instrument, but a viola could be next on the agenda. "It's a case-by-case exercise, which is financially responsible. There is a quite strong argument to look at a viola at some stage, but we felt we haven't found the right instrument at the right time," he said.