One of the most valuable and unexpected experiences in my life was playing the Duke of Alcantara Stradivarius violin. This violin was a charitable donation to UCLA's music department by Genevieve Vedder as an opportunity for students to play on this instrument. The violin's existence has been quite extraordinary, with it being lost (and found) on the street, and often being considered for sale by UCLA to fund scholarships, despite the efforts of the Music Department.
I happened to have been chosen to play on this fantastic violin in January 2009, soon after I entered UCLA for the master’s program. I still remember when I first heard this unbelievable news--I was so surprised, and at the same time so overwhelmed with happiness that my eyes were covered with tears. It was as unexpected as hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas. I cannot express with words the feeling that I had when I walked out of the UCLA Fawler Museum with the violin under my responsibility. I've yet to have a baby, but I am certain that a new mother would feel the same way I felt that day.
Since then, I began a journey of discovering a new world of sound in violin playing. When I first played the Stradivarius, unlike any of the other very fine violins that I have tried before, this instrument didn't seem to want to make a sound for me. I almost heard it crying "You are not my master." It was quite embarrassing, because I didn't have much time before my first concert with the instrument. However, my teacher, Guillaume Sutre, helped me find its best sound. I had to treat this violin differently. I was thinking of it as a very precious but capricious and sensitive girl who wouldn't offer her heart easily to anyone. One needs to be very patient and smart to get to know it better. Mr. Sutre was comparing the Strad with a Porsche. If you make the smallest driving mistake, if everything is not perfectly balanced, the result is unforgiving. Amazingly, after spending some time looking for this Stradivarius' real sound, the violin seemed to start to open itself to me. Then, sometimes, I could get a huge and beautiful sound out of this instrument.
I kept my relationship with this precious instrument very tight during the entire time I was allowed to play on it. It was like a treasure to me, and it made me grow as a performer in such a short time, during which I had a few important solo performances. And of course, I learned much from each concert while preparing for them just by playing on the Stradivarius.
My biggest issue was with the sound--at least to my ears. I first learned how to make the sound big, but still beautiful. I always wanted it to be a warm and colorful sound but also big--not loud, just huge. The Strad made me realize that I should never press the sound with strength. Instead, just use its body weight, and make the strings vibrate. I also learned how to make a deep and sensitive contact with the fingers of my right hand and the bow, to be able to drive the sound more delicately. The Stradivarius was all about delicacy and sensitivity. I had to approach this amazing violin with a heightened sense of physical feeling. Then I started to make a beautiful sound--not always and far from it. But sometimes, it really sounded good. And that made me happy.
Now, I am back to playing on my own violin, a Vincenzo Jorio--a fine Italian violin from the 19th century. But my way of playing the violin has changed since my Stradivarius experience. As I apply everything that I learned from the Strad to my own violin, I now have a better control of its sound and I keep discovering the value and color of my own violin which I never experienced before.
I sincerely thank the UCLA Music Department for letting me play on this extraordinary Stradivarius for my master's study. This great opportunity and my teacher's patient advice have really improved my own sound quality and have given it more color.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.