What happens when you put two talented violinists in the same room with a 1742 Guarneri del Gesù violin and a 1714 Stradivari violin?
I found out last week, at the Los Angeles home of Dr. William Sloan, who invited violinists Hao Zhou and Lucy Wang over one evening to try out his beloved Italian fiddles, as well as several violins that he made himself.
Not surprisingly, it was a joy to hear this combination of beautiful playing on beautiful violins.
Zhou and Wang are both members of the Viano String Quartet, which made headlines earlier this month when it won first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition 2019. The quartet also is currently the string quartet-in-residence at the Colburn School.
Currently, Zhou plays on a Becker violin, and Wang plays on a 1715 Montagnana violin on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank.
Playing some Bach on the del Gesù, Zhou observed that "it's really comforting to play - it produces a really gorgeous, round sound." Wang played some excerpts from Chausson's "Poeme" on the Strad, and then things got really fun because they started playing together, Wang on the Strad and Zhou on the del Gesù. Fortunately I have some nice video, enjoy!
Sloan is a remarkable collector because he does more than collect; he actually has taken up the art of making violins himself, going every year to the Oberlin Violin Makers Workshop to work on his latest violin. He told us that making a violin is actually difficult and more scary than doing surgery!
Sloan has completed four violins -- all patterned after a Guarneri del Gesù violin -- and is about to start on a fifth. Wang took a particular liking to the third violin he made, which he calls the "Sloaneri 3." That violin "was made with wood selected by Bernard Millant in 1960, when he was a student in Mittenwald," Sloan said. "Since then, he went on to become a famous bow-maker and appraiser, and apparently did not make that violin. He gave the bag of wood to me as a house present in 2013, when he visited California for the first time."
Millant died in 2017, at age 87. "Interestingly, this del Gesù model is constructed on the same internal mold used for my previous violins," Sloan said, "but the completed instrument has the mellow vibrant tone of an old 18th-century violin."
Below, Wang plays some Sibelius Violin Concerto on "Sloaneri 3," while Zhou plucks harmony on the 1742 del Gesù. .
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