In November 2002, Jonathan Cooper, a well-respected violin maker from Maine, had a wonderful idea for honoring Daniel Pearl, the violinist, fiddler and Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan earlier that year. To continue Daniel’s legacy through a musical mission of peace, Jon crafted a work of art, the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin, and presented it to composer and violinist Mark O'Connor at a Boston concert in honor of Daniel. Cooper’s intention was to have it presented to a talented violinist attending O'Connor's String Camp and, in an annual ritual, hand the instrument to another young musician at the end of the next camp.
In 2005, a second violin was anonymously commissioned so Daniel Pearl's memory and mission of peace could be spread twofold.
Now, each summer at the Mark O’Connor Strings Conference, exceptional violists are awarded the honor to play these violins for a year. "By passing the instrument through so many hands and playing past musical borders, we hope that the beautiful sound of these violins will help inspire listeners to live in harmony, on a peaceful planet,” Cooper said.
From that initial inspiration, the array of Daniel Pearl Memorial Instruments grew, eventually becoming a quartet of uniquely beautiful stringed instruments dedicated to Danny’s memory. Two violins crafted by Cooper, as well as a cello and a viola, are now presented each year to promising young musicians. Cooper debuted The Daniel Pearl Memorial Cello in 2010 and the Daniel Pearl Memorial Viola in 2012.
“There is so much ugly stuff out of control in the world,” O’Connor said in a 2008 interview posted on Daily Kos. “To see an expression of beauty is much needed, especially by young people. It invites them to be part of something more personal and political about music.”
Alex Hargreaves, 2005 recipient of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin, said in the same interview that he saw special significance in the idea of the violin changing hands from player to player each year. “It’s like a musical tune, a couple hundred years old, passed on, and each musician adds a different twist,” Hargreaves said. “This violin will be part of that tradition, so people won’t forget what Daniel Pearl stood for.”
The 2011 recipient of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Cello, Keizo Yoshioka, told the Pearl family he was “honored and privileged” to play the cello over the course of his freshman year at Berklee College of Music. “This past year, I have learned so much about Mr. Pearl, and I often reflect on his ideas about life when I am playing the Memorial Cello,” Yoshioka said.
Now that there are enough Daniel Pearl Memorial Instruments to form a quartet, Cooper and O’Connor are exploring the possibility of creating new compositions for the group of instruments. “To be with these talented and directed young musicians is always quite an experience,” Cooper said. “We have never set any parameters or expectations for them over the years, and yet without exception they have always intuitively understood what this is about and then gone on to create something uniquely their own.”