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1969: Amati Quartet Makes its Debut

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In 1959 Saskatchewan farmer Steve Kolbinson sold a set of rare 17th century Amati instruments to the University of Saskatchewan for a nominal fee, with the understanding that they would be used for the benefit of the people of the province.

At the time Murray Adaskin, a world-renowned composer and violinist, was composer-in-residence at the University, and “had hoped from the beginning that acquisition of these fine instruments would lead to the establishment of a resident string quartet.”1  Finding the right musicians proved difficult; but with Adaskin, Norma Lee Bisha, Michael Bowie and Edward Bisha, the Amati Quartet was able to make its first public appearance on 2 February 1969.

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Steve Kolbinson was himself an excellent musician and clearly, an exceptional collector.   As an editorial noted, he wanted the people of Saskatchewan  “have the pleasure of enjoying [these] rare instruments and the satisfaction of knowing [the province] is home to such exquisite pieces.”

It was, then under some controversy that the University loaned the instruments to the Lafayette String Quartet in 1992.   Although the Quartet–an acclaimed ensemble–toured Europe with the instruments and used them in recordings, the very fact they had been allowed to leave the province provoked fears that the instruments might be sold.   At the end of the loan agreement in 1998 a special concert was arranged to celebrate the instruments’ return.  Ticket prices were kept intentionally low.  As his granddaughter said, that’s what Steve Kolbinson wanted: “to strive for the best” but keep the best accessible.2

The four instruments, built by members of the Amati family between 1607 and 1690, are the only Amati quartet in Canada and one of the few in the world.

Related Collections

Department of Music fonds, RG 2047.


1969a: Amati Quartet. Photograph Collection, A-4659.
1969b: Murray Adaskin and Steve Kolbinson. Photograph Collection, A-2669.


1. University News, vol. 1 no. 4, February 1969.
2. Subject Files, Amati Instruments

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