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Laurie Niles

Violin Community News 2010, Op. 11

March 24, 2010 at 6:04 PM

Violinist Ray Chen, who took home the gold in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2009 and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in 2008, has signed an exclusive multi-year recording contract with Sony Classical.

An album featuring Bach, Sarasate and other solo works is scheduled for release at the end of this year, with another recording featuring late 19th century virtuoso repertoire planned for 2011. Chen plays the "Huggins" Stradivarius, on loan from The Nippon Music Foundation, and the 1721 Stradivarius known as "The Macmillan," the use of which he won in the 2008-09 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York.

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Pinchas Zukerman will serve as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa for another four years after his contract was extended through August 2015, according to an announcement last week from National Arts Centre. The violinist, who also continues to perform as a soloist, has served as director for 11 years.

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Last week the Musicians' Association of Hawaii Local 677 filed a formal complaint against the Honolulu Symphony, saying the orchestra's management is incapable of reorganizing. In his blog, Rick Daysog of the Honolulu Advertiser quotes David Farmer, attorney for the union: "Their decision first to cease fundraising, then operations and then to announce (and subsequently proceed with) a bankruptcy defies all logic, in light of the fact that no creditor was forcing the issue. (Based) on its history of gross mismanagement and incompetence ... management is incapable of the task of reorganization and a Chapter 11 trustee should be appointed, or, in the alternative, the case should be converted to Chapter 7 or dismissed." The symphony filed for Chapter 11 in December and layed off its 89 full- and part-time musicians. 

Here is an article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin about the complaint. (BTW, observe the headline, "Musicians union slams the symphony's 'brass'" and the lede, "The musicians union contends that Honolulu Symphony management is off key when it comes to running the beleaguered group's bankruptcy case." Cute and clever? I'd say NOT. Attention, purveyors of local news: These are real people, losing real jobs, in your community.)

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The Vienna Philharmonic announced Saturday that violinist Albena Danailova has now been permanently appointed as concertmaster, according to ABC News. It's a major step for the historically male-dominated group, which only began admitting women in the 1980s. Danailova had been serving as acting concertmaster since Sept. 2008.  Naturally, V.commies used the occasion to start a contentious discussion. Frankly, it sounds like progress to me. Congratulations to Danailova and to the Vienna Phil.

UPDATE: Looks like we'll have to temper our celebrations: Susan Elliott of Musical America reported in her blog Wednesday that Albena Danailova was appointed permanent concertmaster of the Vienna Opera Orchestra, comprised mostly of Vienna Philharmonic musicians, not of the Vienna Philharmonic itself, as reported by AP, ABC and other news organizations. Maybe not the huge step for womankind we were thinking, but congratulations are still in order!

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Italian musicologist and member Paolo Petrocelli has published a book with the Cambridge Scholar Publishing, The Resonance of a Small Voice. William Walton and the Violin Concerto in England, between 1900 and 1940. The book is a study not only of Sir William Walton's Violin Concerto but also of  the violin concerto in general in England, as it developed between 1900 and 1940. It considers the works of Charles Villiers Stanford, Edward Elgar, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthur Somervell, Arnold Bax and Benjamin Britten and includes unpublished documents -- letters and essays written by both the composers themselves and by those to whom the concertos were dedicated -- related to the works. Paolo Petrocelli has a violin degree from the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia and musicology degree from the Università Sapienza. He also is the media and marketing manager of the Orchestra Symphonica d'Italia and is the violinist of the indie-folk band, Vinegar Socks.

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Luthiers Joseph Curtin of Ann Arbor, MI, and Terry Borman of Fayetteville, Ark., gave a Guarneri a CT scan last week at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The fiddle – the 1741"Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu – wasn't fatally ill, thank heavens. They just wanted to learn its secrets, and Geoffrey Fushi of Bein & Fushi Rare Violins lent the violin, as well as three others, for that purpose. (The Chicago Tribune article mentioned that the "Vieuxtemps" was in town because its Austrian owner is looking to find "another loving owner" for it. Anyone? I'm pretty loving...)

The three other fiddles that were scanned were:  a 1742 Guarneri valued at $6 million; an $8 million 1707 Stradivarius; and a 1752 J.B. Guadagnini, valued at $1.25 million. Apparently the two-hour test will reveal every possible measurement, including the density of the wood.  Curtin already reported to the Chicago Tribune that the scans proved the woods to be "slightly less dense and lighter" than the norm. Interesting, I always thought the theory was that the wood in the fine fiddles was more dense – not less. Am I wrong?

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How did the London Philharmonic Orchestra get swindled out of so much money – £666,000 embezzled, for an accumulated loss of £2.3 million? This story in the Times Online of London this week goes into some depth about the tenure of general manager and financial director, Cameron Poole, and poses the question, "How on earth was so much siphoned off, over such a long period, without detection? " Criminal proceedings against Poole are still pending, according to the article.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on March 24, 2010 at 8:19 PM

 All the smart musicians in Honolulu should be able to pick up and move on and create a new orchestra. What did the management have that these guys don't? It clearly wasn't money. 


From Robert Spear
Posted on March 25, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Greetin's, Laurie-- Less dense, within certain parameters. Wood that is dense is heavier and has more mass, so when you bow your instrument, it takes more power from your hand and the instrument speaks a bit slower. An instrument with lighter (but stiffer) wood responds better under the bow, which many musicians like.

That said, when a heavy-bodied instrument gets going, it can pack considerable punch, which many musicians like. :-) There's a Guarneri violin (the "cannon") that is well-known in the luthier's world because it has an unusually thick top. It's considered one of the world's greatest violins. We would all probably kill to consistently make one like it.

So the top's balance between stiff and light vs. dense and heavy is like the fable of the three bears; not too light, not too heavy, but juu-uust right!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 25, 2010 at 4:45 PM

Thanks for that explanation, Robert!

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 1:28 AM

I'm a bit confused.   Is there more than one Guarneri del Gesu violin called the "Vieuxtemps"?    I remember reading that an instrument with this name had been sold to a  Russian chap called Maxim Viktorov for a world record sum.

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