The Strad market and the Carpenter family

July 23, 2014 at 01:12 PM · Fascinating New Yorker article about the wild Strad market and the Carpenter family: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/28/musical-gold

Replies (46)

July 26, 2014 at 01:48 PM · Except that with certain car and bikes they'll depreciate to a certain level and then, as they become classics and genuine collectibles the value picks up again, often to very attractive levels. Provenance - a famous (or infamous) owner - is another important factor.

July 27, 2014 at 05:25 PM · That's the fundamental problem with art objects.

A composition or a novel cannot be removed from manhood as easily like a painting or a violin.

In an ideal world art would belong to mankind, not to rich people who more often than not don't deserve these things at all.

Luckily musicians are not really dependent on old italian fiddles. There's an increasing number of people who understand that a big part of the Strad- and Guarneri-mystery is hype.

July 27, 2014 at 06:00 PM · I find the hype pretty disgusting. Anyone else? Bruce

July 27, 2014 at 09:30 PM · It's a cleverly and entertainingly written story. If one wants to look for someone to blame for merging fiddles with the collectibles market, one might look first to the Parisian dealers of the 1800s.

One benefit of prices on nicer old Cremonese instruments reaching nearly unobtainable levels, is that it has created a little more room on the lower end of the price scale, enough to enable contemporary makers to have a chance at making a really decent instrument, as opposed to needing to make a lot of compromises to fit a violin to an unrealistically low price. Arguably, that benefits those who are looking for a really good violin, for less than the price of the average house.

July 27, 2014 at 11:35 PM · "The razor sharp eye for a profit is something we can all envy ."

I don't, but maybe that's just me. I've always gotten greatest satisfaction when I could provide best bang for the buck.

Hasn't made me rich, but the relationship between wealth and happiness has always been pretty sketchy. Might even be an inverse relationship.

July 28, 2014 at 02:11 AM · Strads may be priced out of reach for all but the very wealthy and on loan to the finest musicians , but the inexpensive imports nowadays are vastly superior than those of 20 years ago... or arguably more affordable than ever before. For the great majority of violinists, the investment schemes of the rich and famous are entertaining, but far less meaningful than a Mozart sonata.

July 28, 2014 at 08:29 AM · " For the great majority of violinists, the investment schemes of the rich and famous are entertaining, but far less meaningful than a Mozart sonata."

Should also apply to the small minority of violinists ;-)

July 28, 2014 at 12:11 PM · "...the relationship between wealth and happiness has always been pretty sketchy. Mght even be an inverse relationship."

Some of the most really unhappy people I know (or know through someone else) are quite rich. The dough doesn't make them happy at all...

It could be that the Laffer Curve can be applied, with happiness on the Y-axis and bank account balances on the X.

July 28, 2014 at 02:22 PM · I find it a pity that only the Carpenters themselves play on the instruments (or other members of their chamber music ensemble). They do not seem to have a program for loaning them to talented young violinists. At least it didn't see this mentioned in the article.

July 28, 2014 at 06:40 PM · Nice people? Affable perhaps, but from Mead's article I came away with a strong impression that the Carpenters are very arrogant and avaricious, if perhaps not vicious or back-stabbing. They seem much less interested in the performance and advancement of music or the stewardship of rare instruments than they are in securing for themselves the trappings of wealth such as extravagant furnishings and clothes and dining at exclusive restaurants.

I laughed when I read that one of them was enticed into the trade by seeing someone else driving a Bentley and wearing a beautiful suit. Isn't that the kind of thing you usually hear about in the context of teen-aged prostitutes and their pimps?

July 29, 2014 at 04:35 PM · From David Burgess

Posted on July 27, 2014 at 11:35 PM

"The razor sharp eye for a profit is something we can all envy ."

I don't, but maybe that's just me. I've always gotten greatest satisfaction when I could provide best bang for the buck.

Hasn't made me rich, but the relationship between wealth and happiness has always been pretty sketchy. Might even be an inverse relationship.

As the Tao said: " The more you own,

the less free you are".

Or the old Greeks: " If the gods want to punish you they give you what you want"

We all need some basic stuff though and it's nice not to have to worry too much about getting out of debt.

July 29, 2014 at 05:01 PM · another good old saying: "The wealthiest man is the one who is happy with what he has." Over the years, lots of stories extolling the recent, young, new, smarter high-flyers. Then, some years later, there's the anatomy of their crash... Whatever happened to the guy who put all those great instruments in the Newark orchestra? Not to say these folks will go awry, but they have tapped a new market, it seems, for collection, and when that levels off, the growth will come to a quick end. Quick rises often result in quick falls.

July 29, 2014 at 06:25 PM · I found the article obscene. I think expensive

musical instruments and art objects should be in the public domain. They should belong to museums or other nonprofit organizations, and loaned out to musicians or other museums. The profit motive and the love of beautiful music and art are diametrically opposed, in my view. But then, I am a socialist.

July 29, 2014 at 07:21 PM · Once in a while I wish: may the gods punish me - just a little.

There is this Landolfi in Toronto at Heinl's I would love to have. A fantastic fiddle.

But it's going in the Canadian Council for the Arts Instrument Bank. Good for the donors who could have sold it for what ? 300,000 or so?

July 30, 2014 at 02:46 PM · I have to disagree with di...

While I may not agree with collectors spiriting away all the high-priced antiques out there...neither do I agree that everyone should have full access to everything either...

There are more than enough 'good' violins to go around...

July 31, 2014 at 08:22 PM · The world does not need one more violin shop were the owners are completely incompetent when it comes to building and repairs. There are certain things a non top trained repairperson will never be able to know about a violin unless he has to pay someone to tell them, kind of like buying your student violin at walmart, same kind of genius!!

August 5, 2014 at 05:37 PM · For and against what? Selling violins?

I think it's a helluva story and it looks like they've had a steep ascent in the dealer world. I saw their group (Salomé) play in May at the Primrose competition and honestly found it to be quite entertaining. I think if they ever get dizzy at the top or depressed by their wealth ;), they could always land on their feet back on earth and use their talent and exceptional ability to connect on stage to sell the world on music education, classical music, etc. They would be great ambassadors, maybe they already are.

Here's another interesting story.

August 5, 2014 at 08:39 PM · I wonder if they buy instruments at all, or are simply brokers. Neither article covered their business practices closely enough to judge. If they are indeed just middle-men (and women), I sure hope there are no Machold-esque tactics involved.

August 9, 2014 at 10:36 PM · This thread should be renamed "the John C. daily monologue".

August 10, 2014 at 11:40 AM · I'm warmed by the many responses to these articles, and especially from Di - well done!

There could be a simple answer to all of this - don't buy (if you have the dough) the expensive fiddles etc.

Get a good new one for a fraction of the price and play it in, and then sit back and enjoy the sound - it may even be as good as a Strad or Del whatsit. You will have saved a few £million, and helped a talented luthier to make a living and may even have the next generation of Strads, del boy whatsits etc.

Let the greedy speculators lose money big time, and don't bail them out when they are in the debtors prison.

P S I've just had a short listen to the viola guy on that linked youtube clip on the last article. I'm sorry to say that I hate that sort of crude, showy viola playing, trying to compete unsuccessfully in my view with flashy fiddlers. Personally I think he has a lot of learning to do before he gets good as a player. It's all show and no substance. Just my reaction, please disagree if you want to.

August 10, 2014 at 12:49 PM · I would love to see violinists boycott old instruments and only buy great modern fiddles. Let's see how valuable the strads are then.

August 10, 2014 at 05:16 PM · There are a number of soloists who perform on modern instruments, including those made by current luthiers, but the problem is that if soloist "X" is known to perform on a "Strad" or "Guarneri" that fact is guaranteed to get audiences into the concert halls almost irrespective of other, more important, considerations. It could also be said that the possession of such an instrument would scarcely be seen as a hindrance if one were applying for an important post such as concertmaster in a major orchestra ;)

The solution to the problem appears to be unobtrusive education of the concert-going public, coupled with the facts that modern instruments are being made that are at least the equal of the Cremonese greats, and that the supply of 300-year old violins is self-limiting in relation to the steadily increasing number of violinists worldwide. It should be remembered that over the coming years such old instruments will gradually become solely collector and museum items because they will be getting too fragile for everyday concert use.

August 10, 2014 at 08:35 PM · Hi Peter,

I share a lot of your sentiment and I was glad no one paid $45 million for the strad, but I don't think David Aaron Carpenter deserves such mean spirit...I agree it's a lot of show but there's also substance too. I would rather listen to Laurence Power, Kashkashian, and Tabea Zimmermann on almost everything rather than Carpenter, but Carpenter has forged a path for himself on playing Paganini and showpieces on viola, and I respect that because it's also a lot of hard work and we can learn from that.

August 10, 2014 at 09:55 PM · In my view and adding to some previous comments, there are today incredible sounding new violins made by contemporary makers that are not only sounding great but are also structurally healthy.

What we are lucky to be experiencing today is a new golden period of incomparably high standards of modern violin making. Old Cremonas though as has been said, draws the audiences to the concert halls and this is hard to change. A soloist can easily be convinced about the tonal merits of a new violin because he or she can try it. The audiences everywhere though, have been brained washed for generations about the superiority of old violins and this is next to impossible to eradicate in the near future. Inevitably a 300 year old violin will at some point become too temperamental and unreliable to depend on as new repairs and wood are added onto old repairs. There are old violins that are more new wood than original and are still considered good sounding and old. Old violins belong in museums where the following generations of violin makers can study them.

August 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM · Years ago when I was a teen, I was informed by Those In The Know (aka the Violin Nerds in the orchestra's violin sections that are really, really, really excited to find out what the fiddle is) that just because Soloist X is famous for playing on The Ex-Whatever Stradijesu does not mean Soloist X is actually bringing along The Ex-Whatever Stradijesu to play at the gig, especially if the gig is out in the provinces.

Because unless, say, Mr. Beare himself is standing at the corner of the stage, pointing to the violin and stating that THAT particular violin is the Ex-Whatever Stradijesu, I assume nothing, no matter the hype.

It makes for a refreshing, freeing listening experience, to hear the tone and sound of the violin without prejudice.

You never know...

August 11, 2014 at 12:06 AM · Oh yes, as for DAC and his interesting family, surely they will keep up a good business. I heard him last season, and he plays beautifully with a lovely tone, with whatever vla he was using at the time. The stage antics are less impressive, and not needed.

Can't comment on the business side the family engages in. They'll do quite well, for sure. New money chasing new money will keep the press interested for years, so we'll probably have more articles like this to come.

August 11, 2014 at 03:54 AM · " The audiences everywhere though, have been brained washed for generations about the superiority of old violins and this is next to impossible to eradicate in the near future."

I love your post, but would have to say that it seems to me fiddle players are the ones more brainwashed. Not sure the audiences care one way or the other. Maybe they do...

August 11, 2014 at 06:43 AM · Fiddle players were gravitating towards old violins up to now,(the ones who could afford them),but due to research and new technologies in the last decade or so,contemporary instruments have become so good to at least favourably compare,or be better than the old Italians. Today's soloists realize the superior tonal merits of new violins and naturally see no reason to pay millions more to buy a comparable old Italian violin, unless they strongly believe old violins are career launchers.

Audiences now, because a majority of them don't play the violin and are not aware of the new tonal situation, I think will be more inclined to attend a concert where the violinist advertises in the program that they play on an old Italian instrument. As far as actual sound is concerned, let me point out to the last comparative test that took place not so long ago. When the blindfolded violinists were asked which violin they would like to take home, most of them would take the new instruments.

Now what I would like to discuss and get opinions on, is the comparative merits of new vs, old bows. I'm aware that there are some excellent modern bow makers out there, but people are still using and cherish their old French bows. I have three old French bows that I really like and although I haven't had the chance to play on a representatively numerical sample of modern bows to compare, people have suggested to me that modern bows don't play as well as the old ones, due to the shortage of good pernambucco. Is this true or is there more to it.

August 11, 2014 at 10:48 AM · I absolutely agree with what you're saying about modern violins -- I've been a huge proponent of modern fiddles for a long time. And I definitely agree that 'more and more' soloists are starting to come around...but I would argue not enough of them, in my opinion! And many of my colleagues still believe that older instruments are superior.

As for audiences...maybe. It would be interesting to see if Perlman would still pack a house if he advertised beforehand he was playing a Burgess. Many violinists, however, don't advertise beforehand what instrument they will be playing, even though it may be listed in the program. Seems to me concert attendance wouldn't really be affected unless the concert was advertised strangely.

I certainly hope there are modern bows that are as great as the old French bows. I've played some really good ones. Admittedly, I play a Fetique with my modern fiddle. I've yet to find a modern bow that has the sound with the handling of great older bows. Hopefully they're out there, though!

August 11, 2014 at 02:16 PM · I do not have great experience of playing on famous old French bows but I find carbon fibre bows to be excellent. I have an old English bow of some pedigree but its not as good as my cheap carbon fibre bow.

However, I was trying some violins a while back and realised the bow they had given me for the trial was excellent. When I looked on the tag it was one of the best Hill bows - about £3.5K then.

So I'm really on the fence regarding bows. I understand that Paganini (I think he was the geezer who wrote the 24 Caprices) did not bother what bow he used.

August 11, 2014 at 03:00 PM · "I understand that Paganini (I think he was the geezer who wrote the 24 Caprices) did not bother what bow he used."

Didn't I read somewhere that Paganini played on a clunky Eury bow, and that when Vuillaume saw it he laughed ??

[EDIT] I found this, attributed to Gennady Filimonov :-

"Niccolò Paganini's favorite bow was a Jacob Eury which was broken in several places when it fell off the back of his coach on tour (as he was travelling in England towards Newcastle). Paganini had brought it to Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume for repairs as they were good friends. He went on to use this bow extensively."

August 11, 2014 at 03:50 PM · Pierre Rode was another geezer who wrote 24 Caprices for the violin. My preference is for the Rode caprices rather than Paganini's, especially when performed by Oscar Shumsky.

My particular interest in Rode is that he was my great...great...teacher.

August 11, 2014 at 07:29 PM · Not as tough as Paganini caprices.

August 11, 2014 at 08:30 PM · But Rode is arguably the more interesting musically. (Always room for different opinions in this sort of discussion!)

August 11, 2014 at 10:06 PM · No, in my opinion...(but I respect your opinion and lineage!)

"Ilya: Yes. Any etudes that you could practice: Rode, Dont, you name it; they're more channeled towards improving technical facilities, because they're written for that. Paganini is not written for that.

Laurie: They're not pedagogical.

Ilya: No, not at all. I'm convinced that there is a higher kind of musical agenda there, that (Paganini) is after."

http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20144/15735/

I agree with this. Not that my opinion matters (which it certainly does not).

August 12, 2014 at 07:12 AM · Paganini made a career as a showman violinist. He was at his best playing his own compositions which he composed to suit himself and him alone.He rarely played anything composed by other composers and when he did,he played badly as has been documented. Being a showman, he composed difficult pieces that other violinists could not play at the time so he could show off. His concertos, full of operatic cantilena but little depth. Compare any Paganini concerto with the Beethoven or the Brahms. His caprices are valuable for keeping up the higher technique one has acquired, but are not structured as a method to tackle specific technical problems like Rode,Kreutzer,Dont,Fiorillo and others.

August 12, 2014 at 08:57 AM · Of course, Paganini didn't have much connection with "the wild Strad market".

By all accounts, though (e.g.Ricci) his Cannon Guarneri was and still is pretty darned wild.

August 12, 2014 at 10:22 AM · In addition to the obvious musical value of the Paganini Caprices, there is a definite pedagogical value and I believe that through the caprices he was advocating an advanced style of technique.

His statement that "there is only one scale, one position" is fairly obvious in for instance the 3rd caprice (Presto) in which it is not ever necessary to do a shift in the true sense. There is just a lot of creeping and crawling around the fingerboard via extensions and expansion of the normal range of the hand being increased easily to a fifth on a single string. Also see caprice 14).

Similarly in Caprice 15 most shifting can be eliminated in the 32nd notes in the Posato section. for instance in M. 16, it is perfectly possible for a normal hand to reach from what we call 8th position back to 2nd position, then back to 8th using only the wrist.

Similarly in Caprice 17, the same technique can be used to increase the range of the violin in the fingered octaves and makes them considerably easier. Same in Caprice 19 especially the B section, same in Caprice 8 measures 19-23.... I could go on...and this is just one left hand technique.

August 12, 2014 at 11:35 AM · "As for audiences...maybe. It would be interesting to see if Perlman would still pack a house if he advertised beforehand he was playing a Burgess."

Music critics would probably claim that they could tell right away that something was very wrong, and there would be widespread speculation that he must have suffered some major financial calamity. LOL

I think it may work out better when a soloist with a famous old Italian doesn't tell the audience when they're using a modern. The program notes can still mention that Perlman owns a 1714 Stradivari, and that will be enough to make whatever fiddle he actually plays sound good to most of the listeners. ;-)

August 12, 2014 at 11:40 AM · I'm an oldster whose playing could EMPTY a house PDQ even if I were to be equipped with the finest of Stadivarii ;-)

August 12, 2014 at 12:36 PM · I have been playing the Rode caprices for about 50 years and still have the original copy from student days with my wonderful teacher's markings on some.

I am of the opinion that the Rode are more useful than the Pag Caprices and personally I feel both are very musical. Playing the Rode's are no mean feat either. I appreciate the input gained from that interview (Illya) mentioned above and from the advanced and experienced violinists on this forum. Bruce's input was very interesting.

August 12, 2014 at 12:37 PM · I also heard that (to my surprise), apparently Paganini never performed the Caprices, or maybe even played them?

August 12, 2014 at 04:21 PM · Too difficult for him perhaps? ;)

August 12, 2014 at 05:05 PM · In fact that was possibly the story!!

April 14, 2015 at 03:21 PM · I dunno. There's something about this family that sounds rather exceedingly odd. I certainly admire close family relationships, and I enjoy a close relationship with my own siblings. However, this one sounds past close and well into codependent. Of course I don't know any of them, and probably never will. But, they're all in their late 20's early 30's, no outside romantic relationships, live at home with their mom, and apparently still share bedrooms. Something about this just strikes me as a touch weird. Whatever works for them I suppose. Who am I to judge? Yet, I do anyway I find.

April 14, 2015 at 09:06 PM · Squeaky clean, maybe, but not average!

I have seen them perform. They seem nice and enthusiastic. I had mixed thoughts. The analogy is Lang Lang, minus LL's technical chops. Both are using music and image to advance themselves as stars (or star dealers). Rather than having the music itself (or community) be the centerpiece. I imagine many people have similar ambitions of fame and fortune, but few are so obvious about it in classical music.

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