Playing Stradivari, Amati and Vuillaume Violins from Florian Leonhard

November 19, 2017, 10:02 PM · Last week I went to a reception with some seriously classy guests - I'll drop a few of their names: Stradivari, Amati, Guadagnini, Vuillaume, Antoniazzi...

You guessed it - the celebrity attractions were six violins and a viola, ranging from five to 400 years old. The youngster was the viola, a Panormo copy made in 2012 by Florian Leonhard Fine Violins, the violin dealership which was the host of this event in South Pasadena, California. The rest were antique violins spanning centuries, including:

Though Florian Leonhard himself was not there, NY-based Managing Director Jonathan Solars and London-based violin restorer Adam Pelzer served as hosts at the event, showing the violins to about 30 Los Angeles-area violinists, teachers, collectors and violin makers. Based in London, Florian Leonhard Fine Violins also has an office (and soon an expanded workshop) in New York.

I tested most of the violins and found the Amati to have a real ease and beauty of sound. Here I am, testing out the Strad formerly played by Leonidas Kavakos: (!)

Laurie with Strad

I also ran into LA Phil Associate Concertmaster Nathan Cole and Assistant CM Akiko Tarumoto, and when Nathan started testing the violins I started filming both his playing and his reactions, which you can see in the above video. He focused on four of the violins: the Amati, two Strads and Vuillaume.

Nathan Cole, Bill Sloan, Laurie Niles
LA Phil violinist Nathan Cole, collector Dr. William Sloan and editor Laurie Niles.

If you are curious, the asking prices for these violins ranged in U.S. dollars from a little more than one to several hundred thousand for the Antoniazzi and Vuillaume to $4.5 to $8 million for the Strads. Solars said that Leonhard makes about six violins a year, all of them copies of the fine violins that they are selling, each copy made in the presence of the violin itself.

Here are the violins that Cole tested:

violins from Florian Leonhard Fine Violins

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November 20, 2017 at 01:54 PM · A couple of the violins choked a little when Nate went high on the fingerboard, e.g., at 1:30, and another one later when he went for a B up on the G-string. Is that normal for these kinds of violins?

November 20, 2017 at 10:38 PM · That B was a wolf tone, and you might have heard in the background, those were some violin makers saying that "C is for the del Gesus," as in that's where the usual wolf tone is on those. Not sure exactly what the issue was at 1:30, it seemed almost wolfy as well but that tends to be more of a G string thing, as I understand. Wolf tones certainly aren't unique to old fiddles, though...

November 21, 2017 at 10:09 PM · Very frustrating to witness a sound test where for every instrument he played a different piece, and he so strongly favoured the E string. I'm much more interested in how the bass end speaks. Maybe next time he could play the opening of the Tchaikovsky or the Bruch each time?

November 22, 2017 at 02:19 PM · Bill Sloan also makes his own violins which I think sound pretty good. Did he have any of his there too?

November 22, 2017 at 08:12 PM · No, these were all violins from Florian Leonhard's shop. Bill Sloan's violins have turned out so well - he is a urologist who also makes violins! His last one, which I think was his third? was really quite nice, beautiful tone.

November 22, 2017 at 08:14 PM · Hi Robyn, this was just a private showing of fine instruments and it was very kind of Nathan Cole to agree to allow me to video his spontaneous playing and responses. He was playing whatever came to mind for each instrument, and it was wonderful to be able to see the reactions of someone who understands these instruments and who regularly plays on a Strad.

November 23, 2017 at 06:15 AM · What was the Bach piece played around 4:30?

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