March 22, 2009 at 11:39 PM
I'm sitting at my desk with my daughter watching videos of her earlier days. Pretty cute.
Got a note from a new member of the Violin Mastery clan asking about my violins. Funny thing is, I was going to write about the the acquisition of my first 'concert' instrument today anyway.
For the first two years of my 'concert' career I was very fortunate to have the use of some wonderful violins. The first was a 'golden period' Strad belonging to the great American patron of the arts, Richard Colburn.
This was a short loan, specifically to solo with Neville Marriner and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Afterwards I was given the use of a beautiful Carlo Bergonzi. I played it for 2 years, during the time the Los Angeles Piano Quartet came into being.
After that period of time, however, the foundation through which Colburn lent out fine instruments to young players asked for the instrument back. Once your career was launched, or you were out of school for a year or so, the instrument had to be returned.
So the hunt for a violin and financing began.
After a search for several months, the violin I set my sights on was a Josef Guarnerius 'filius Andre' - he was the uncle and teacher of 'Del Gesu,' the greatest of the Guarneri family.
The violin, and this is in 1982, was priced at $90,000. Fortunately I had the full support of my parents in this, and between them, an aunt, and her little investment group, financing was arranged.
This violin was smooth as silk and even as could be from top to bottom. And it projected very well, even over a full orchestra, due to the remarkable richness of
Yet, just over a year later, I fell in love with another violin - a Carlo Tononi from 1736. It had a wonderful richness to its G string, something lacking in the Guarneri.
And so the buying and selling began. Until I came upon my present beaut, made by Lorenzo Storioni in 1782. This violin, though not quite a 'golden period' Strad, is about as close as you can get to one, without spending 3 plus million dollars.
I've played on it for 12 years now, so I'd say we've come to be pretty good friends.
In fact, if you tuned into the Oscars recently, you would have heard my fiddle quite nicely during the medley of 'Best Musical Score' nominations. I performed the haunting violin solo from James Newton-Howard's score to the movie "Defiance." Funny thing was, whilst playing I could barely hear myself there was so much of the 'band' coming through the headset I was wearing. Had to play mostly by feel.
I'm sure you have your own 'violin swapping' story to tell. Drop me a note if you have any questions or observations, and I may address them in a future article.
All the best,
I was very fortunate that Local 47, the LA branch of the American Federation of Musicians, offers instrument loans. That's how I purchased my Gagliano. I've never looked back, I love it!
I borrowed a Fernando Galiano over the weekend that was gorgeous. I took it to the large beautiful hall our St. Louis Civic orchestra plays in and played pp and ff. Whether loud or soft it carried to the last seat beautifully. Several superb professionals in this area said they also thought it was gorgeous. Because it has a repaired soundpost crack and another perfectly repaired small crack in the back it is only selling for $125,000. The quality of the sound wasn't affected by the beautiful repairs. I couldn't even find the crack in the back when it was pointed out to me. Without the repairs the cost would be around $300,000 to $350,000. It is rumored by those who allegedly know that the owner needs the money and would take less. Sounds like the perfect violin for a young professional who can't cough up a few million. No, I don't have a stake in the violin nor would I benefit at all if it were sold. Just reporting what I found.
It is stunning how similar your story is to Arnold Steinhardts. However, only the best violins for the greatest musicians!
My first full size violin was a German shop instrument imported in the white by Pearce Music Company in SLC and finished by Peter Prier who was relatively newly arrived in the US from Germany. It was stolen when I was in the ninth grade. Fortunately it had been insured and it was replaced a year later by Pearce Music Company with the same provenance. I played it for over 30 years. My teachers and others thought it had a good sound but I became unsatisfied with it and thought that a new instrument would have a miraculous effect on my playing. I started with a new bow then bought a 1916 Scarampella and finally added a Charles Pecatte bow -- all very nice tools but surprise! -- no miracle. I had to recognize the inevitable--90% of one's sound is one's technique not one's instrument.
This realization forced me on to my current journey.
I started taking lessons again shortly after buying the new violin and radical surgery was performed. The shoulder rest was removed permanently. The left and right hands were forced into strict disciplines. Yost was acquired and studied. I doubt the casual observer would notice a huge difference between then and now but it has been very rewarding and was largely motivated by the trade up.
Ok. Here is a story.
In 1966 I went to Juiliard with a violin labeled Rinaldi. (Actually a German copy from Metropolitan Music). I convinced my musician parents to get something better which was a Johannes Cuypers (about $1600 at t time.) This was a huge sacrifice for them. Later, I sold this for $3500, but before that found a violin labeled Rocca. There was a huge amount of confusion about this instrument because Jacques Francaise had tried to buy the instrument from the owner, but the owner had balked, saying he wanted to sell it to a player. To make a long story short, I got there first from a NY times for sale notice and bought it out from under a couple of dealers. I had been vacillating as I tried the violin, but noticed that one of the dealers was writing a check out for the instrument as I tried it. The seller said wait a minute, and I to took out my check book and bought it for $1600. I later sold the instrument for $7000 because Francaise with a red face, said he did not know what it was when I asked for certification. Other dealers would not certifiy it in NY because of their connections. Vidoudez in Geneva said it was definitely Joseph Rocca, copy of a Balistrieri, but similarly would not write papers.
Later I did a deal with a friend Paul Childs who is a bow expert in buying a Vuillame. At this point he was just a novice in dealing. i provided funds for him to buy 2/3 of the instrument and we would split the profit. The price was right at $12, 000. I played on the instrument and liked the possibilities, so bought his share out, paying him 20%. Going price at this point was around 18k. I had some work done on the violin and it turned out to be a great sounding instrument. (later went to concermaster of Houston Symphony.)
At this point I was married and actually had a job as first violin of a string quartet in residence at Duke University. I was getting frustrated with the Vuillame because of size and limited color.
Unfortunately, but fortunately our house was burgrlarized and we ended up with a good insurance settlement. My wife's violin was stolen and a couple of bows. They left the Vuillame. To make a long story short, there was enough capital to get yet a better violin, a Brothers Amati 1626, which showed up after about a year's search (through John Montgomery, Inc. in NC. Check him out if you are looking for something, by the way.)
By the way, we found a good replacement for my wife's violin, a Cappa, 1685. Much better than her Bernadel.
I have now played on the Amati for a number of years, and never expect to get anything better. End of story.
I'm borrowing my teacher's old violin. I really don't have money to upgrade.
Mr. Berg, how long ago did you pay $12,000 for a Villaume?!?!?!?!
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