The expectation that advanced players "need" a $10k+ violin is fueling inequality in classical music

August 15, 2020, 7:36 AM · Opinion:

Why can't we agree that an already large sum (like $10k) for a violin is "good enough" for serious students and professionals? The current industry expectation of expensive violins is discouraging players from poor and middle-class backgrounds from pursuing a career as a violinist.

I would pay the same amount to watch a soloist play on a $10k instrument as I would if they played a $10m Strad. 

Replies (277)

Edited: August 15, 2020, 10:14 AM · Because it isn't nearly good enough, your lack of discrimination not withstanding?

Orchestras that strive to be mediocre don't generally get too far, but if you want to hold them to your standard, there are plenty of community and minor orchestras playing on the type of violin you suggest and players from mediocre schools to feed them, so your statement doesn't really hold. There's a real place for this; everyone's having a good time doing this, including the audiences, so it's not necessary to be in the top 1% to enjoy music.

But if you want to be the best then you have to be the best, not less. And, yes, audiences can hear the difference.

August 15, 2020, 8:14 AM · What Michael said.

Occasionally in a professional orchestra audition, it happens that the clearly best player is playing on an obviously inferior instrument (and yes, we can hear that from behind a screen). In those cases, the candidate may be hired on condition they get a better instrument.

August 15, 2020, 8:54 AM · Price is not an absolute indicator of sound quality. Sure, your chances of getting a good-performing instrument go up as you spend more, but good ones can be found in the lower price range with more time and effort spent looking.

My favorite anecdote is the soloist who was offered to use a $4m Strad for a performance instead of her own modern one (less than $10k). After a comparison test, the modern one was chosen. Even the owner of the Strad agreed that the modern one was the right choice for the conditions (unamplified, full orchestra). It's my favorite anecdote for an obvious reason: because I made the modern one.

August 15, 2020, 9:02 AM · I fully agree that lack of access to quality instruments (as well as lack of access to quality teachers and even things like accompanists) is leading to extreme inequality in classical music. However, I disagree with your solution, because the wealthy families out there aren't going to stop buying nice instruments and getting extra lessons with expensive teachers.

Here is a solution I think WILL work. My son is part of a program that is for underrepresented groups in classical music. This program is mostly targeted toward minority groups, but it also will accept white/East Asian kids if they are low income or will be the first in their families to attend college. The program provides scholarships for lessons each year, a stipend to apply toward instrument purchase, money for music camp, and even things like SAT prep if needed. (There are also lots of non-monetary benefits like masterclasses, mentoring, performance opportunities.)

To me, this is a much better solution to dealing with inequality. Though I do have to say I believe it hits too late (most of the programs take kids 12+ or so).

Edited: August 15, 2020, 9:16 AM · Regarding Don's post: On the other hand I went to a concert last year where the soloist bills himself as using a Strad but I knew he often used a modern instrument by a respected maker, which he believes is good for the job, and we can probably assume that at least one other person has supported that viewpoint. He obviously was using the modern and the results were horribly sub-standard. I almost walked out and I could see that a lot of the orchestra was wishing they weren't there, too. I could name several other similar situations. So though two or three people could decide a Strad is worse, the audience may know better. :-)
Edited: August 15, 2020, 9:45 AM · By the way, there are quite a few players who are playing on instruments they couldn't afford that are lent to them because the lenders recognize their talent and need, so being personally unable to purchase a better instrument is not an inevitable limitation. Though lent Strads and such make the headlines, this happens at all levels, and there are several or many individuals and non-profits doing this. I think that the ordinary person is probably not aware of the great extent to which this happens.

You can catch a view of some of the more obvious participants by googling "instrument loan foundation", but this is just the tip of the iceberg, and doesn't begin to cover individual patrons, of whom there are many. (I maintain more than a dozen instruments lent locally by various unrelated private persons, and I'm far from the only shop in town.)

Susan, will you share the name of the program?

August 15, 2020, 9:55 AM · What!?! You mean students whose parents have money (and/or education and social connections) to provide them with the best equipment, teaching, and opportunities do better than those whose parents don't!?! Total shocker! Never heard of this happening before!
August 15, 2020, 9:56 AM · I agree with the OP. I enjoy the regional and community orchestra concerts I attend (or used to attend before COVID-19), and play in. They fit my budget and my schedule. They bring accessible live music into my life and that of my family on a regular basis, thereby enriching all of us. Many of these groups (which include professional, semi, and amateur), on which people play on affordable instruments, are indeed more diverse in terms of both repertoire and players than more prestigious big-name orchestras.

On occasion I've also gotten to meet in person the soloists who play with these groups--who are usually local music university professors, teachers and freelancers also playing on more affordable instruments--and they've been wonderful. To me the accessibility, diversity, and opportunity to participate in the music-making are the most important aspects of such groups. So in a way I think what you want is already happening--you just have to look in the right place.

But universal agreement on this subject can't be forced; audience members who feel this way just have to vote with their feet and their money. Sometimes I used to feel put down by snobby comments but life is too short to get bent out of shape about things like that.

August 15, 2020, 10:27 AM · Ms. Agrawal,

Glad your son is able to take opportunity of such a program. Many are the musicians who are not able to afford quality training or instruments in the US. Do not take it for granted-no need to mention it, I am sure!

"Pro" instruments' price and acquisition difficulty has been high for some time, proportionate to low income individuals or families. What is utter garbage at $8000.00 for those privileged to have a collection with many important name violins, can be a treasure for those without wealth, especially if it sounds good and plays well (uncommon, but happens.)

The pricier instruments are, however, worth it for the professional if they really sound good (not just good provenance), and what I would recommend for players with "regular" means is to get the best sounding and playing violin they can for the money they can spend now, and to save up if they want to go towards that "next step", forgoing vacations and personal pleasures/expenditures that are not essential. In time, you may be able to spend many more thousands-even if it takes 10+ years.

I also believe the modern instruments are worth it, and the living luthiers deserve to be paid for their art as much as the musicians. So the price is right.

But inequality is the cause of that symptom. The wealthy won't cease to exist. This has been the case for ages, not just today. Studying violin, and having a good instrument and bows is an expensive proposition. Only those with the strongest resolve, discipline, and determination need apply-and even then, you may not "succeed" as some would have it.

Let us help those in "musical need", and be aware that all things equal, humans of all ethnicities and backgrounds have unlimited potential.

In short, if you are poor, keep doing your best within your means, find the best affordable violin you can, and save up if it makes sense for you to buy an instrument of better provenance due to professional expectations. Show us your determination.

Best Wishes,

A

August 15, 2020, 10:45 AM · As Susan points out, the cost of the instrument is just one of many for the young career-bound violinist. You could easily budget $4000 a year just for lessons (assuming 1-hour lessons starting at age 10), and that could well be a baseline budget. And there are so many other costs along the way -- travel to competitions, summer camp fees ... even music can add up pretty fast. If you can get your kid to the point where they're ready for conservatoire at age 17, you're going to be able to afford a $20,000 violin. And if you can't, well, then you borrow against your home or you raid your IRA.

It's all actually worse than that. Because if you have a child that's actually gifted, then it's almost impossible to nurture their talent with both parents working. Which means one of you better be pulling six figures and then some.

Susan's "solution" sounds wonderful, and I'm delighted that her son has that opportunity. But it's not scalable. And if there were public resource to make it scalable, frankly I'd rather they were spent elsewhere. There are still plenty of kids who don't have enough to eat and haven't seen a doctor or a dentist in years.

August 15, 2020, 10:45 AM · Hey Felix, I'm a little confused about the point you are making. Are you saying that an advanced student or professional doesn't "need" a $10K violin to be successful, or are you saying they don't "need" a six or seven figures antique? Your title suggests the former, the post suggests the latter, and the distinction is important.


I think what's "discouraging players from poor and middle-class backgrounds from pursuing a career as a violinist" is the many years of lessons costing many thousands of dollars a year; the corresponding amount of focused effort that is required to be competitive relative to the many other demands and distractions teens have today; as well as fewer job prospects and a broadly lower level of interest in classical music compared with several years ago.

August 15, 2020, 11:26 AM · Wait until the Covid recession hits, then all violins will be half price.
August 15, 2020, 11:34 AM · Collectors and wealthy amateurs driving up prices are a major problem nobody has mentioned yet. Yes parents buying to help their kids be more competitive, but I've got a friend who just bought a $75,000 instrument because she could, when honestly, a $2k instrument would more than meet her needs and match her skill level. That instrument would have been half the price 15 years ago.
August 15, 2020, 11:47 AM · Although Gordon’s message may be half tongue in cheek, it is very much on point. It is more and difficult to earn a living playing acoustic music. There are fewer orchestras, fewer projects in Hollywood, fewer record labels that will front the money to make a big recording. That was all true before covid. Now it is an utter bloodbath.

Fewer professionals means less demand for instruments. Certainly the best ones will still be. Rey expensive. However, the overall appetite for instruments will drop and with it so will prices.

Edited: August 15, 2020, 12:03 PM · So far this has not happened. The bulk of violin sales have always been to non-pros, believe it or not, because pros are a small portion of the market and usually buy one last time and they're done, where the market up to that point is always churning, and the real top end buyers these days aren't pro players and haven't been for quite some time. The people buying pricier instruments tend to be using easily disposable income that hasn't been affected, and for people in the most expensive violin bracket may never be affected. For them, it's just another form of diversification of assets.

Anyway, as I always say approaching a recession, but no one listens to me, a violin is a better long term bet than cash or random stocks when disaster is in the offing. Historically, violin prices do NOT go down, while you national currency and stocks may dive. Antique violin prices stay the same and owners just wait until people are buying again. Most times they're an optional purchase and people don't feel a need to liquidate in bad times, they just hold.

We are starting to see that now, in that sales are fine, but acquisition has become harder because of logistics. I was reading a music business trade mag yesterday, and guitar sales are steady or even up right now, since people aren't moving around a lot, have some extra money that might have been for a vacation or something, and are looking to spending on entertainment they can access at home. Thus, instruments.

Edited: August 15, 2020, 12:05 PM · Half tongue in cheek, but in fact I'm about to spend $4000 (refurbished German violin ca. 1830) and wondering whether to wait or not. Then I think to myself, if I wait, I may die.
Edited: August 15, 2020, 12:08 PM · Or possibly, wait and that $4000 (changed in response) may buy you a loaf of bread, instead, considering that a common way countries try to dig themselves out of depressions is by printing money.
August 15, 2020, 12:07 PM · (I changed the price because the dollar has sunk a bit during the last fortnight)
Yeah, food inflation hasn't had a chance to creep in yet, but it will.
August 15, 2020, 12:26 PM · Thank you for the comments thus far. It has been very insightful to hear the many different views on this topic.

Just to reflect on a few points raised (sorry for paraphrasing):

- "Professional orchestras and their audiences want the best sound and $10k instruments are not good enough": I agree this is how the world works today, but my original post is pointing out the side effect of this is a lack of accessibility. I see my view that audience members and players accept lower quality instruments and focus on the high-quality playing is not shared.

- "Scholarships and instrument loans are a better way of increasing accessibility": These are great initiatives and they do help students from less privileged backgrounds get into classical music. However, they are not very scalable.

- "Some soloists play on cheaper instruments in the $10k range": This is an interesting perspective I didn't consider, that some pros prefer a cheaper instrument to the expensive antiques. Probably not generalizable, but at least it supports my point that $10k can afford a "good enough" instrument for a professional.

- "The costs of becoming a pro violinist are not just the instrument, but also in the lessons, travel costs, parent involvement, etc.": True. That's also a problem. Let's fix one thing at a time.

- Mary Ellen: it's reassuring to know that orchestras attempt to listen past the quality of the instrument during auditions. What happens when the candidate is seen as having an inferior instrument? Does the orchestra ever loan out instruments to the musician in such cases, or does the musician need to find the money to buy a better instrument themselves?

- Stan: My point is that serious students and pros are expected to play really expensive instruments (a lot more than $10k) and that's bad for accessibility.

August 15, 2020, 12:36 PM · @Michael " a common way countries try to dig themselves out of depressions is by printing money."

That happened a lot in the past. I don't know if it still does. But in Britain farmland is limited in quantity and speculators have been buying it up since the Brexit referendum, so we have their avarice vs trade tariffs to face here.

Edited: August 15, 2020, 12:43 PM · Felix--Just pointing out that orchestras are competitive businesses, not charities. Their goals encompass, to some extent, being the best that they can be, and this is how they encourage donors and audiences to support them. Neither audiences nor donors want to hear an orchestra be or become worse, and I can't believe that players, either, would choose for worse orchestras rather than choosing to being enabled to get a good instrument. If there is a solution here it needs to deal with the supply issues, getting good tools into the hands of users who can use them to make better music, not the demand side by lowering the quality of orchestras.

That's my opinion, and I bet a lot of orchestras and their musicians would agree.

August 15, 2020, 1:13 PM · "My point is that serious students and pros are expected to play really expensive instruments (a lot more than $10k) and that's bad for accessibility."

The pros and makers may tell me I'm wrong but I can't imagine that playing a good modern maker's violin will prevent a serious student from getting into a top conservatory, or someone from getting their first pro orchestra job coming out of conservatory, rather than musicality and skill. I'm not talking about the few, very best orchestras, or a career as a soloist. And we could debate whether that price is closer to 10K or 20K but that's more a function of what the living wage for a US-based violin maker is.

August 15, 2020, 1:25 PM · Other professional-grade instruments in the orchestra will also be in that 5-figure price range;--Oboe, French Horn, Bassoon, etc. The ultra-expensive million dollar Strads and Guarneris will not be owned by the musicians, but might be owned by the orchestra or on loan from a collector/investor. Is a $100 K fiddle ten times better than a $10 K fiddle?--certainly not, but it might be the difference between coming in first or second at the audition.
Edited: August 15, 2020, 5:55 PM · I don't think focusing on the instrument rather than the cost of training should be the first priority. The cost of training for a career as a professional string player is likely to run well over $50k, possibly over $100k. A first-rate modern violin at $20-30k is a fraction of that cost.

The more important thing, IMO, is getting earlier exposure in public school music programs. The problem with scholarships right now is that the students who would benefit most from them generally didn't start playing early enough to be able to compete for them. The disadvantages compound over years. Having some amount of free instruction through schools at an earlier age, even if not the same quality as private lessons, at least helps close that gap. I notice that, at least from what I've seen in Northern California, a significant number of professional orchestral string players (not a majority but a substantial minority) started in school music programs.

That said, I agree with Julie O'Connor on instrument pricing. Rapid inflation driven by free-spending collectors has become a major problem in the professional price range, and I don't think even the pandemic is affecting that because the wealthy have largely avoided the economic blow.

August 15, 2020, 2:47 PM · We don’t ask, but we can hear the difference between a good instrument and a mediocre instrument. It’s very obvious to anyone with ears.

For what it’s worth I have never owned a violin worth more than $17,000. Back in the day when I was on the audition circuit, I was playing an old German violin from the Klotz school, and nobody ever told me I needed a better instrument. My current violin is a 2018 Cison and I like it a lot. I do agree that it is possible to find a professional level instrument without spending the price of the house, but $10,000 is low enough that you have to be very lucky indeed to find something adequate at that price level. And you should probably spend at least that much on a bow in order to maximize the instrument you have.

August 15, 2020, 2:54 PM · I really don't understand how your assessment can make any economical sense. I think people are going to try to get the best sounding instrument in their price range. The more they search, the better they'll do. Players only really care about what sound they can get out of their violin.

My experience with my bow is an example of why I think this. I've had the same bow for the past 15 years. I can't remember what it's worth, but I think my case cost more than my bow. However, I love this bow, and I've never had any reason to get a different one because I like the way it plays, and it feels like it's part of my hand at this point.

August 15, 2020, 3:49 PM · My wife and I were contributing supporters of the NJSO during the time that the Orchestra Board was lured into purchasing the "Golden Age Collection" that the owner was trying to keep away from the federal prosecutors who were after him for a variety of fraud charges.

We were, and still are, friends with some of the professional musicians in the orchestra. We cringed as the Music Director denigrated the musicians instruments begging for money to buy the collection. Millions of dollars were collected and spent and when the dust settled the NJSO got bilked.

To be sure there are a lot of inferior instruments in the world - they sound terrible. That being said, there are also a lot of excellent instruments and not all of them have fantastic price tags.

Yes, professional orchestras can, and should, demand the best in musicians and their instruments. However, there aren't all that many professional orchestras that pay enough to keep and maintain top-dollar instruments.

Personally, I love community orchestras because, deep down inside, I'm one of them. We play for the love of music not for the glory. Occasionally, we go to concerts played by the top professionals and they are great but often it is clear that their performance is just another highly paid "gig."

The pyramid gets really small at the top and while it is great to strive to be at the top, sometimes we have to realize that the simple logic is: "If it sounds good, it is good!"

August 15, 2020, 4:15 PM · If I get lucky, I will buy a wonderful instrument of decent provenance, be it modern or vintage. But it has to be *much* better than mine, which I will keep anyway.

I am unfortunately many, many years away from such a purchase, thus the "luck" part. You players that can afford almost anything-do not take said privilege for granted! Enjoy your beautiful works of art.

August 15, 2020, 5:43 PM · @Michael, the names of the programs vary, but they are in several big cities and most are sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. The one my son is in is called Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative. I think Atlanta's is called the Talent Development Program. Boston's is Boston Bridge to Equity and Achievement in Music. I'm not sure but I think there are a few others either in the works or already established as well.
August 15, 2020, 6:31 PM · Thanks. I didn't know about this!
Edited: August 15, 2020, 6:43 PM · George wrote, "Occasionally, we go to concerts played by the top professionals and they are great but often it is clear that their performance is just another highly paid gig."

I have to say that I've scarcely been to a performance like that, and I'm thinking of some of the headliners we've had here in Blacksburg in the last several years like Gil Shaham (with The Knights), The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, the St. Lawrence Quartet, Joshua Bell (with Sam Haywood), Yo-Yo Ma (with Kathryn Stott), Emmanuel Ax, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Itzhak Perlman, Jane Monheit, the Sirius Quartet, Fred Hersch, the Talich Quartet, Mark O'Connor (with Dan Strange), The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, the Dover Quartet ... not to mention local professional chamber groups. I thought all these people totally gave their all. Maybe my general sense of expectation is just different. I've paid good money, so I expect to enjoy the performance. So generally I do. I have a dear friend who is a music lover and seems more critical sometimes. During intermission at a recital by the Emerson Quartet he said he wondered if one violinist's intonation was better than the other's ... I really didn't know what to say. Some people can never just enjoy something.

Oh yeah .. if you're a parent of a promising young musician, that's another thing you're going to be spending money on: Concert tickets.

August 15, 2020, 7:12 PM · I am too familiar with these expert critics (though Mr. Wells is not at all coming accross that way.) When I was young, I used to be more critical, but that did not last long. I quickly realized it's not worth attending concerts to figure out all that "went wrong". 100% perfect performances are an ideal, and super rarely achieved, even by the top performers. The things people complain about reminds of competitive, teenage violin students picking on each other behind their backs, but having no real substance to back up their critical "expertise."

I agree I have rarely attended a performance where the performers didn't go "all out".

I believe everyone must attend concerts, *especially* serious violin students. I guess parents can save some money for a little more time. When I am able to see another great violin recital again, I will most surely cry.

Edited: August 15, 2020, 9:10 PM · Some interesting points. The season brochure for the CSO suggests who might have been better off using a Strad. Wikipedia says he rotates a nice one with a few moderns, including one brand known to be very expensive. I wonder which one he was using that night?

As for price growth on instruments, you have to be careful. Right now, there is a ton of excess liquidity chasing all kinds of assets. But there were times when that didn't happen. Between the late 20s and the late 60s, owners could be pleased with their purchases but not because the prices were going through the roof.

I wonder if we are going to see just a little bit of settling in the market now, though. There are probably older musicians who bought, say three awesome bows decades ago who will now decide they can get by with two, especially since decent Peccattes are clearing more than $100K. If we stay in lockdown for another six months or a year, there may be people sweating who have managed to do OK until now.

As for collectors, I heard a great story last week. A dealer was telling me he takes care of a guy who doesn't own a lot, but what he has is very good. For some reason, he is selling a nice Voirin now, but his real bow is the Tourte that Joachim used to premiere the Brahms Concerto. He uses this to play a good del Gesu-- in first position. Badly. Some might say it is a waste, but he is looking after them well, and those trophies will now have an extra 50 years of life that would have been burned up if used by a soloist or concertmaster.

August 15, 2020, 11:21 PM · One could make a reasonable argument that for $20k (or perhaps $30k), you can purchase a contemporary violin that's plenty good enough for professional orchestral playing. There are superb contemporary violins that will do just fine for soloists, too, and may be more attractively stable than an antique. And, in fact, you will find that many pros do buy and perform on contemporary violins (especially younger pros -- older pros may have acquired fine antiques when they were less expensive).

However, to get a pro-quality violin for $10k is going to require an enormous amount of searching and luck. However, given the escalating quality of Chinese workshop violins (and reasonable inventory of older workshop violins), most students can acquire a fairly nice instrument to study with for under $5k -- and worry about acquiring a good enough professional instrument if they actually reach the point where it is absolutely required.

I have heard early-career soloists on inadequate violins (contemporary violins, in the particular instances that I'm thinking of), and yes, you can hear that they'd benefit from something better.

As noted, the bar to broader access to lower-income families is the cost of lessons (and camps, etc.) and not the cost of the instrument itself. Not to mention the high cost of conservatory, especially for those not good enough to earn a scholarship.

Students don't really need to upgrade until their teacher feels their current instrument is holding them back. Many students who get a $2,500-ish workshop violin will never reach the point where their teacher tells them something better is required. For anyone considering a possible pro career, this is probably dead last on things to worry about -- but it should indeed factor into whether or not a marginal candidate can afford to pursue a music career.

August 16, 2020, 2:50 AM · What is the thing that's usually the most obvious aspect of sound that gives away a "cheap" instrument to the listener (in auditions for example)?

I don't know if it's because of general cost differences, but in my country the most expensive violin from one of the well regarded, well known luthiers is 10000 euros. https://www.demsarvioline.si/index.php/sl/ponudba

August 16, 2020, 3:26 AM · I think these are two statements everyone would agree on:

1. More expensive violins are statistically better than cheaper ones, especially when the price difference is significant (but other factors exist, and exceptions exist)

2. The price of violin is indeed a financial hurdle that many could not get over.

I argue the price itself is not the cause of the inaccessibility, but rather a symptom.

Professional violinists want better violins, and that makes the good violins more valuable, hence sell-able at a higher price. A pricier item is affordable only by a richer buyer, hence poorer people have less access.

There is no practical way to "agree that an already large sum (like $10k) for a violin is good enough", because that reverses the cause and effect. It's like saying if we cap the thermometer at 25 degree celcius, there will be no more hot days.

There are other financial forces (investors, collectors) in the play, obviously, but that would be even less probable to be fixed by orchestra "agreeing" to some level of instruments being acceptable.

To systematically improve the accessibility of classical music, to better the chance poorer students could get into classical music, we need more programs that help with their predicament. For example, lending them instruments at a discount, sponsoring their education, etc. Such programs exist today, and more should be created tomorrow.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 5:25 AM · Urban, I suspect you could get many answers to your question. For me, it's that I have musical expectations that a bad violin fails to fulfill. It's like someone doing something a couple of tables away that begins to be noticed, then becomes irritating and finally I want to walk over and slap the person to make them stop, but in a musical sense. After two or three minutes I begin to realize that none of the things I want the music to do are happening.

This could be the musician's fault, but for a violin they usually fall into the same characteristics: an unwavering, unvarying tonal quality that becomes an unpleasant drone, vibrato that's a simple pitch variation as opposed to a moving pulsation of a cloud of varying tonalities, compressed volume differences from note to note and within a note. There are other things, but those are the main ones. Add to that a sound which is fundamentally plain and unbeautiful, lacking complexity. For me, a great violin has a twitchiness in the sound that makes it much more interesting on the finest incremental level than a tone generator, where a bad violin sounds more like midi music.

These aren't things that someone can immediately hear and instantly learn in five minutes, suddenly understanding good violin sound because someone has explained them to you--they are habitual expectations unfulfilled, and can take years to develop. In discussions with non-player audience members, I've seen that attentive concert attendees develop an appreciation of this to the point where there's a category that I'd classify as professional audience, and they often will hear these characteristics before players, who tend to listen more to the mechanical execution of the player--the finger skill. When I'm at a concert that's trying my patience I like to look around the audience and can usually spot a portion of them that's having the same problem and aren't trying to hide it. :-) I think I've told the story of my piano teacher who wanted to start a lesson with a discussion of a violin concert she'd just been to where her husband, a non-musician corporate CFO had wanted to get up and walk out in the middle of the playing. She asked me "why would such a famous player choose to play on such a bad violin, and why would the Chicago Symphony permit him to do it?" This is about a musician with an international reputation whose CD I had thrown in the trash after a three-minute listen, but she didn't know that. This player uses and promotes a particular modern maker. Players like this might be fooling themselves and other musicians and casual audience, but they aren't fooling the entire audience.

The result of this is that there are players I just can't listen to. After a couple of minutes their sound becomes a grating drone. Invariably, these are players who think they are getting away with playing a cheaper instrument which isn't all that different, or is better than, something like a Strad, TO THEM, thus my response to Don's comment earlier on in this thread. I could give you a quick list of musicians suffering this problem, but it wouldn't be polite and would offend a lot of their fans.

In general, this is a discussion that's more fun with audience than violinists, because fellow violinists are usually listening to finger chops, not tonality, and comparing the player's finger and bow skills to their own, often ignoring the musicality of it, so they are, on my terms, impressed by the wrong things, since music is about musicality, not finger prowess. I'm speaking generally here in a relative sense, not trying to imply that musicians are non-musical idiots, but only pointing out that they can sometimes place too much of their attention in the wrong place when listening. I personally would rather hear a sloppy performance by a musical player than a perfect one by a human drone, which is why some of my happiest moments listening to music have been to perceptive amateurs in living rooms.

Back to the topic at hand, I have heard expensive violins fail to deliver these qualities, but I don't think I've ever heard but a single $10,000 violin deliver them. As Mary Ellen said, double that and it's a possibility if you look hard enough. Increase your budget and it becomes increasingly possible. One of the very best violins I have heard for under $200,000 or so sold for $25,000 to someone who definitely appreciates it, so they're out there.

August 16, 2020, 5:14 AM · @Paul, did you really see a headline for the "Maria Schneider Orchestra"? Did they do tango?
Edited: August 16, 2020, 5:59 AM · Michael Darnton wrote:

"Regarding Don's post: On the other hand I went to a concert last year where the soloist bills himself as using a Strad but I knew he often used a modern instrument by a respected maker, which he believes is good for the job, and we can probably assume that at least one other person has supported that viewpoint. He obviously was using the modern and the results were horribly sub-standard. I almost walked out and I could see that a lot of the orchestra was wishing they weren't there, too."
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On the other hand, in blind and double-blind experiments, both players and listeners have sometimes rated the contemporary instrument(s) as being superior to the Strad(s). Of course, in a blind testing situation where one doesn't know what instrument is being played, all that matters is what the instrument actually does, and the Strad will no longer have the "wow factor" advantage.

August 16, 2020, 6:36 AM · "most students can acquire a fairly nice instrument to study with for under $5k -- and worry about acquiring a good enough professional instrument if they actually reach the point where it is absolutely required....

Students don't really need to upgrade until their teacher feels their current instrument is holding them back. Many students who get a $2,500-ish workshop violin will never reach the point where their teacher tells them something better is required."

Lydia is wise.

August 16, 2020, 8:01 AM · David and I have disagreed on this topic over the years. The famous violin tests have violated some common sense test requirements and that discussion has been made many times, but the worst thing they have done is failed to qualify in advance if the people making the test responses can themselves tell Shinola from the other brown stuff and as I note above, musicians, even good ones, are not good by default at judging violins.

I heard some interesting comments regarding those tests while listening to the very worthwhile The Beare's Podcast; Violin Stories the other day, so I'll just point you to the May 11 podcast with Alan Gilbert to hear what he has to say about it all.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 9:14 AM · In the "Strad vs. modern" comparison I described earlier, I was at the subsequent concert where the soloist played the modern, and the concertmaster (in the orchestra) played the Strad... and he even had a few solo parts to play. So I could clearly hear the difference. In this particular case, the Strad had a clear, crystaline sound that was great on the E string, but powerless below that. The modern was vastly more powerful across all strings, which was necessary to be heard over the orchestra. So in THIS PARTICULAR CASE, with these two instruments, power was a requirement and beauty of tone secondary. For a studio recording, I think the choices would be reversed.

What tool works best depends on the job you need to do... and the aesthetic tastes of the ones making the decision.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 10:23 AM · Michael, what part of the podcast? The part where Gilbert said that the sound of their new performance hall changed as the hall was "played in"? (which might be a little weird and more than slightly questionable)

Don, in studio recording, a producer or recording engineer can make a violin sound pretty much any way they want, either with mic selection and positioning, or with post-processing, or some combination of the two.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 10:24 AM · Whoops---wrong episode--May 18 with the Australian violinists. Sorry... I've been listening to too many podcasts while working.....
August 16, 2020, 10:28 AM · About 45 years ago I won the all-state audition in Pennsylvania playing on a beater violin that had cost my parents $75. I really liked that violin; I didn't know any better.

The all-state conductor told my teacher I was a decent musician but needed a better fiddle, so my parents somehow found thousands of dollars to buy a professional-caliber instrument.

But that fiddle certainly didn't make me a better violinist. In a way it added pressure, it made me think I should try to make a career of it instead of playing for the sheer joy of it. (In the end I decided not to go to conservatory and I'm extremely glad I didn't try to be a professional musician)

Today, a lot of parents spend $10,000 because they can, not because they need to. 98% of high school fiddlers will be served well with workshop instruments costing $800-1000 in my opinion.

And exceptional players, people thinking about conservatory, don't really need to spend more than $2,000-$4,000. As long as you don't care whose name is on the label, you can get a splendid sounding violin more inexpensively now than has ever been possible. Which is really good news.

August 16, 2020, 10:29 AM · I think it might be a different podcast.
Edited: August 16, 2020, 10:37 AM · "Today, a lot of parents spend $10,000 because they can, not because they need to. 98% of high school fiddlers will be served well with workshop instruments costing $800-1000 in my opinion.

And exceptional players, people thinking about conservatory, don't really need to spend more than $2,000-$4,000. As long as you don't care whose name is on the label, you can get a splendid sounding violin more inexpensively now than has ever been possible. Which is really good news"

I agree with your concept but those numbers are out of date. An $800 - $1000 violin is very, very unlikely to be good enough even for an advanced intermediate player. Sound production is an important part of learning to play the violin well and very few violins at that price level have a complex enough sound to encourage a student's development.

I would say most advanced high school violinists will be adequately served by a $5000 workshop instrument, with lucky ones finding an adequate instrument in the $2000 - $4000 range, and an exceptional player can get into conservatory on a $10,000 instrument though that player will most likely need to upgrade for professional auditions.

Making All-State is not a good metric to say an instrument is good enough. I made Maryland All-State three years in a row in the 1970s, and All-Eastern orchestra once, on an absolute piece of garbage violin that even at that time was not nearly good enough for me. My parents, non-musicians, didn't know any better, but as soon as I got to Oberlin, my violin professor let me know in no uncertain terms that my violin was unacceptable. He arranged for me to use an Oberlin-owned instrument until I was able to buy one of my own, which was halfway through my senior year.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 10:37 AM · I would love to see blind auditions similar to the ones in Indianapolis and Paris that basically debunked the mythology of Strads and Del Gesus.

Indianapolis and Paris taught us that even trained ears cannot tell the difference between a $5 million 300-year-old Italian violin and the work of a modern master.

Similarly, I think blind auditions would obviate, for many people, the need to spend $10,000 or $15,000 for their kid. If you could double-blind audition a $10,000 master-made violin against a top quality $2,000 Chinese violin, I'm certain the less expensive instrument would hold its own very well.

I own an excellent fiddle by a well known American luthier that appraises at about $9k. I also own a Chinese viola that cost $250 on Ebay ($450 after adding good strings and a better bridge). Both these instruments hold their own very well playing chamber music with professional players. (I do think the $250 viola is an outlier -- generally you will not find a decent instrument that cheaply).

So -- I think people spend too much because they can't hear the difference and they want to use their money to give their kids every advantage. It's a good thing for violin shops. But it really isn't necessary to spend anything like the money people are spending.


August 16, 2020, 10:38 AM · I think there is a lot of wise advice here. I am a student and will never be more than an amateur who is doing this for love - my experience with my teachers adult student ensemble tells me that I would really like to play with a chamber group someday. For fun, however, I will never be a professional.

This thread really makes me think of my violin purchase yesterday. On my second visit to the violin shop I walked in the door already thinking on a particular $2,000 violin. Apparently, however, the previous week I had actually been "listening with my eyes" rather than my ears - because in a true blind sound test my teacher and the luthier made possible, the $2,000 beautiful instrument was rejected even before my original instrument, and the winner - by a huge margin - turned out to be a $1,750 19th century instrument. Far from visually beautiful, but I will never outgrow this violin! Just illustrates Thomas' point about the ability to find great sounding instruments without spending huge amounts of money.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 11:03 AM · To the contrary, in the Paris test there was apparently one player who could tell the difference, and really, all that's needed to disprove a theory is one contrary example. If the testers have been intellectually honest in their intent, they would have gone farther with that one player, to find out what he heard, and try to understand it but that would not advance their own prejudices.

This is a question that will be forever limited by people who believe that the limits of their own perception should be the benchmark for everyone else's abilities and refuse to believe that they could know and understand more. You don't know what you don't know is a common saying for good reason..

I'd compare it with intonation. There are plenty of people who think their intonation is fine, and plenty more who know it isn't, but to get the first group into the second you first have to convince the first that they're wrong, and that's a whole new problem. Someone here is going to say this is easy, you just watch a tuner, and those are the first group, with "science" on their side.

August 16, 2020, 11:00 AM · Mary Ellen, as a teacher you deal with this more than I do, so I have to defer to your expertise, but I wonder if your numbers are a little too high.

I'm not disputing that an advanced student needs a good quality fiddle (and bow!).

I think in the last 10 years prices have been driven down, not only by China but by the plethora of excellent young luthiers being turned out by the Violinmaking School of America in Utah and other high quality academies.

A young luthier last year told me that there are terrific violins from people just out of school available for $2-$4k -- not workshop fiddles, but master-made. These are people who have all the skill in the world but haven't yet made their reputations.

And Chinese violins are just astonishingly good for the price at all price ranges. For $2k or even less you are getting properly aged wood and really good workmanship in a workshop fiddle.

There are no guarantees of quality -- quality will vary a great deal, so some expertise is important in the selection process.

But really that's true in higher price ranges as well. You can definitely spend $10,000 or even $20,000 for a fairly crappy violin if, say, you have to have Cremona on the label.

But to the original question. If a family is contemplating spending $200,000 or more to send a kid to conservatory, a $10k or $20k investment in an instrument is certainly reasonable. But in my opinion it's not really necessary, because really good fiddles can be had for less.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 11:11 AM · Michael, statistics really do matter. One person preferring the Strad doesn't prove that the Strad was better or that one person's ears were better than all the other ears.

What would matter is if there were a statistically significant difference in the number of people who picked the Strads over the contemporary instruments. But there wasn't a significant difference.

And in the raw scores, the contemporary fiddles actually did better. (And these were professional musicians doing the rating!)

Blind auditions are a powerful thing. They have revolutionized the way symphony orchestras hire players and undoubtedly made orchestras better.

There's no reason to disbelieve the result of the Indianapolis and Paris experiments.

There are lots of people with enormous money tied up in antique instruments who don't want to know.

But for those of us who don't have a financial interest in the outcome, I think it's really good news that great violins don't need to cost a huge amount of money.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 11:08 AM · I dislike arguments (I do not mind disagreements), but just wanted to add one must be more than lucky to find a good sounding instrument at $800.00-$1,000.00. I wish I was wrong. Even $5,000.00 requires luck. And I don't take for granted that all chinese $3000+ instruments are "better for the money", as they can sound decent, but I have not been awed (maybe I need to try more...) Perhaps I am too picky regarding these?

I respect Mr. Darnton, but I do not value the audience's "expertise" as much as he does. They can know good sound and have good taste, but some have a "hater" streak, or are extremely opinionated one way or the other (I am also not referring to Mr. Darnton himself.)

I have witnessed a good concert that wasn't superb to me, but I feel it may have been the artist, and not the modern-maker violin being played. The encore was amazing, but the main piece played was not so memorable, to the point that I remember the encore, but not the concerto. Only happened once, and I also won't mention names.

I have also witnessed Mr. Zimmerman play the Sibelius on a modern (during the days he did not have his Strad) in a hall not known for great acoustics, and he sounded great.

Stay safe everyone, and as always, feel free to agree to disagree.

August 16, 2020, 11:17 AM · Though I get wrapped up in it, this type of discussion isn't really too important to me. I trust that there are maybe two people reading who will go out and try harder to hear the things I've mentioned and it's for them, not the ones who insist on staying the same.
Edited: August 16, 2020, 11:37 AM · Mr. Boyer and Mr. Darnton,

My apologies if I have offended you.

Just wanted to add, I love old, great sounding instruments myself-there's so much history and "mystery" to them in a very subjective way. But I cannot afford even the best sounding modern maker violins! (Not complaining about the price-just being factual). So I will have to do with my garbage-for-most violin for now, which at least I know well and love.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 11:56 AM · Michael Darton wrote:
"To the contrary, in the Paris test there was apparently one player who could tell the difference, and really, all that's needed to disprove a theory is one contrary example.
_______________________

To me, it's a little weird that one would take a single outlying opinion to be representative of truth, or superior perception. To me, it's kinda going into the "tin foil hat" realm, or the scamming realm. How far into that should we go?

Would it be better for me to sleep in a graveyard tonight, or deal with the usual ghosts under my bed? LOL

August 16, 2020, 11:48 AM · My numbers are based on thirty years of helping students acquire move-up fiddles. And part of every decision involves a blind test where I play each of two or three "finalist" instruments under consideration, sometimes throwing in one of mine, and having the student and parent pick which one they like best without awareness of the price.
August 16, 2020, 11:56 AM · The noted soloist Elmar Oliviero has been promoting contemporary violin makers for many years. When he came to play the Brahms Concerto with the Waco Symphony a number of years ago, he played on a violin by the German maker, Greiner. That said, he was constantly "fiddling" with the sound post and asked me for my opinion. (I have known him for many years.)

He assisted his wife, Sandy. in selling instruments. He would play on an instrument in front of a prospective customer to demonstrate it, and of course it would sound great, thereby influencing the customer, of course.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 12:16 PM · I firmly believe that good old instruments can have tonal characteristics that differ from good modern ones (yikes! old vs new again!!). I have been seeing the measureable differences myself, and it is consistent with several articles published over the years. I even believe I can hear the differences to a large degree.

The arguments arise when preferences are confused with objective goodness. Most blind tests are about what the listener/player prefers. Although I think you can find one listener or player who can perceive and prefer the "old Italian Sound", that doesn't invalidate the result that most experienced listeners either can't perceive the difference, and/or don't prefer the same thing.

August 16, 2020, 12:07 PM · You see this double-blind stuff in hi-fi circles, wine, etc. To follow on Michael's point, the trick is to see where the randomness is located. You could have a bell curve of a bunch of people's success in telling the difference between violins, or bows, or amplifiers.

Step two, which is rarely taken, is to re-examine the top 10% of that curve.

If all opinions are just random guesses, then this subset will fill the same bell curve as before. If the randomness is not in their opinions, but in the ability to hear and discern differences, then this group will continue to make correct choices.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 1:08 PM · Bruce, Elmar Oliveira may have made some money from promoting contemporary instruments, but that's probably nothing close to the commissions which can be offered for selling even one Stad. Are there not lots of Stads on the market, seeking buyers? And when have there not been?
August 16, 2020, 12:12 PM · Unrelated to the core of this discussion, but worth raising again, is that sound under the ear and sound to an audience is not the same. I was shopping for an instrument in high school to replace a black-varnished, Czech Strad copy. One instrument, but Hill & Sons, seemed to me to be an obvious upgrade. More responsive, sweeter, etc. My teacher suggested we switch places-- I went to the back row of the auditorium, and he played the two violins onstage. No difference whatever. The two antique Italians, on the other hand, were notably and consistently different from the others on the table.

You also hear about someone playing a del Gesu for the first time and being unable to hear himself. Only to be told at the rehearsal's break by the rest of the orchestra that he needs to shut up.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 1:59 PM · Stephen, there will always be legends and anecdotes, and anecdotes offered in support of the legends. That's just human nature. When has this not occurred, at any time in human history?
August 16, 2020, 1:14 PM · If you're an Ensemble player and know that's where you'll be for at least a few years, will you generally have the same quality instrument as a Soloist? This is obviously a rookie question as I'm primarily an electric Cellist. I'm asking because aren't Ensemble players generally part of the collective mix? Where what they're playing won't stand out individually? And how would the Violinist 3-4 chairs down hear you over the others?
August 16, 2020, 1:20 PM · I had to reglue a seam on a Cremonese instrument for a quartet from Germany playing locally, the three musicians played Cremonese instruments on loan and the first violin played a Greiner, at the concert the Greiner stood out like a sore thumb, no richness, much more plain tone
August 16, 2020, 1:29 PM · Music is a very competitive field. The conception is that there are only so many soloists that will be supported, etc. People vie for these roles. Anything that can provide an advantage is desirable. Thus, people want the better instruments.

It is all really quite sad. There are amazing violinists, such as Midori. However, it is not as if everything she plays is ‘the best’. There is room for other interpretations, other sounds, etc. It is not all about competition, it is about personal expression.

Somewhat back on topic, the price of a violin is influenced by various factors. I was speaking to a luthier who lamented that modern Baroque instruments do not command as high a selling price as modern instruments. He stated if he put the same amount of work into a modern instrument he could sell it for substantially more. Given that there are quite a few baroque works in the violin literature that are of great importance, it is surprising.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 1:47 PM · Going back to the OP's topic:

How many people have actually been forced out of their career because they couldn’t get a good instrument? I’ve heard of violinists handing back their instruments because the loan term expired or they got into a disagreement with the patron, but it seems rare for anyone to leave (or opt out of a music career, for those at a serious level) because of that.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 2:53 PM · David, And there will always be people who are willing to swallow any nonsense because, SCIENCE! Except that real science readily admits its shortcomings.

"It is one thing to celebrate science for its achievements and remarkable ability to explain a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But to claim there is nothing knowable outside the scope of science would be similar to a successful fisherman saying that whatever he can’t catch in his nets does not exist. Once you accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, you have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific."
https://www.aaas.org/programs/dialogue-science-ethics-and-religion/what-scientism

August 16, 2020, 2:52 PM · @Frieda

https://www.cleveland.com/musicdance/2011/03/vioinist_dylana_jenson_finds_h.html

Edited: August 16, 2020, 2:57 PM · The important thing about the Paris double-blind test is that it put top-notch contemporaries against the Strads et.al. The typical professional isn't contemplating buying a Strad vs something else. They're contemplating buying a low six-figures antique (or a five-figures antique) versus a five-figures contemporary. A top-notch contemporary is definitely NOT cheap. A Zygmunotowicz will set you back around $80k. Top makers will run more than $40k. Even reasonably well-established makers are generally $20k+.

Yes, some violins punch above their weight class, and some just suck. Your price range is effectively a statistical likelihood of finding something satisfactory. If, for instance, there are skilled young makers offering the occasional great violin for $4k, how many shops do you have to go to, cities/countries do you have to travel to, violins you have to try before you find that needle in a haystack?

The hunt itself has a cost. Young players who need a full-size generally need it within a few months. They don't have years to devote to the hunt, and their parents probably don't have the willingness to devote more than a few weekends to the search.

(Mary Ellen, how many violins do your students typically try before purchasing anything? My teacher, who deals on the side, often actively hunts for his upgrading students, going all over the country and sometimes sourcing stuff overseas, probably going through hundreds of violins and bows to winnow out a small number of attractive candidates. And the students themselves often look up and down the east coast, even if they only have $5k-ish to spend. But there are a much larger number of shops in driving distance if you live Mid-Atlantic.)

August 16, 2020, 3:06 PM · I think that notion of exploring what the top 10% can hear that the others can't is very interesting. Over the years, I've been educated by others on distinctions I can listen for / feel when I play, and once you start hearing those things, you can't unhear them. It's not just what people physically perceive, but what your brain hunts for.

(By the way, adjustment plays a major role in how good an instrument sounds and how well it plays. There's a certain seasonality, as well, I've found. My antique routinely frustrates me because when it's perfectly adjusted it is glorious but the perfect adjustment is elusive. Some day, I'm going to ask Michael Darnton have a go at it while I'm in Chicago. :-) )

Great violins have a sort of radiant glow. The sound isn't unidirectional; it radiates. There's a complexity to it (my mom calls it "woodiness"; I think of it as the equivalent of an "oakiness" in a well-aged libation), a spectrum of frequencies. There's a clarity to the sound, along with a wide range of color and modularity. Among other things, it allows a soloist to constantly output a high level of projecting sound while continuing to give the impression of dynamics. The responsiveness is instant and precise (which does give you unparalleled ability to play badly, note).

I don't think these qualities are restricted to antiques, though (and there are plenty of antique violins that are not good, much less great).

Edited: August 16, 2020, 3:45 PM · Michael, your tin-foil-hat description of "science" has almost nothing to do with my concepts of science, or learning methodology.
Perhaps you can come up with something better than a lame attempt at bullying? (which best serves to demonstrate the weakness of one's position)
Edited: August 16, 2020, 4:23 PM · From what I understand about the Paris study, they selected from a huge number of modern instruments samples that were louder than the Strads, and they only had a small sample of Strads to choose from, then using people with not necessarily highly developed ears, they majority chose the modern violins because they were louder, not because they sounded any better. so the survey was basically a volume test.

So basically it was a set up, the studies authors intended to promote modern violins over antiques and they set it up so the moderns couldn't lose for uneducated listeners.

They knew that modern violins couldn't beat Strads on tone alone, so they focused on the one thing modern violins can do well, produce a loud volume. in blind test of violins and stereo equipment, studies have shown people pick the louder instrument or piece of equipment over the quality of tone

August 16, 2020, 4:18 PM · Lydia, my students might try up to 10 violins in the shop and then select two or three at a time to trial at home. There are only two credible violin shops in San Antonio and I have a definite preference for one over the other. Texas is not like the East Coast where driving an hour or two might put you in reach of innumerable good shops. The next closest city is Austin which is a solid hour and a half away if you get lucky with the traffic. It is a very rare student of mine who is looking for something not available in the local shop, but if they can wait until February when TMEA takes place (in a normal year, I mean), there are a plethora of dealers in the convention center including Robertson.

I once had a student, whose mother was in one of the higher paying medical specialties, show up with an $18,000 violin on trial from a Houston shop. And this violin was utter garbage, I mean I thought perhaps I had heard wrong and she said $1800. At my encouragement they compared it with violins from the local shop and ended up with a violin that we were all happy with that if memory serves was somewhere in the three to $4000 range. The first thing I asked the mother, after my horrified reaction to playing on the Houston violin, was if the people at the shop knew what she did for a living. No surprise, they did.

August 16, 2020, 5:07 PM · Mary Ellen:

My mother (a doctor) once fretted that she had fallen victim to the same thing. She bought my first violin at Jacques Francais in NY, while dressed to go to the opera that evening, and was quite convinced she was taken. The difference was that she wound up with an 1/8 size French instrument, hand-made, for about $80.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 6:16 PM · I was present for the second part of the "Paris" experiment.

Here is a link to the article on both parts of that experiment, as published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences (the second-most-cited scientific journal):

https://www.pnas.org/content/114/21/5395

People can read it and decide for themselves whether Lydon's characterization is accurate or not.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 6:04 PM · Mary Ellen's story indicates why the "look for the perfect violin under $10k" just isn't practical for most students.

I remember, as a kid, being happy with absolutely none of the instruments that I got to try (all blind, knowing neither the makers nor the price tag) when I upgraded to a full size. The lower bound of price on what I liked was a Carl G Becker priced at over $30k at the time (well out of my parents' price range). And we were in Chicago. (We were also not told how to effectively shop, but I did get a modest sampling of things from several major local shops.) I bought the thing I thought I could live with, and which my teacher thought was livable out of the options given -- which was one of the least expensive options. But it was also clear that I needed an upgrade about two years later.

August 16, 2020, 6:17 PM · Are you calling him a fruit? ;-)
Edited: August 16, 2020, 6:40 PM · Even though I very much tend to favor the scientific blind-testing approach compared to "pros know", I would have to concede that a truly controlled study is quite a difficult undertaking when it comes to comparing violins, and I'm not convinced that any of the famous "studies" have truly conquered it.

Some of you might think I've lost my marbles to say so, but Michael Darnton is onto something when he points out that one of the judges was able to tell the antique from the modern. Even though the statistical nature of the study discredits the outlier, the question becomes: How do you put together a panel that has good ears? What would that mean, exactly? Or should "good ears" be assumed from excellent playing skill? Should panelists be subject to listening tests just as prospective sommeliers are subjected to tasting tests? I don't think that's tinfoil-hat territory -- I think it's reasonable to challenge the design of the experiment, and the choice of the panelists should be an obvious factor. If it were mine to do, I'd take the challenge and invite panelists who were performers that swore up and down that moderns don't come close, and then see what their ears tell us in blind testing. Ideally these would be individuals who are immune from the sophomoric tendency to just choose the loudest violin. I would also really like to see a blind auditory comparison of bows.

Three other comments,

Yes Dimitri, we saw Maria Schneider Orchestra here in Blacksburg -- I don't remember the details of the program, but it was outstanding. It was billed as a different kind of experience but still pretty much sold out (ca. 1200 seats). In contract the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble was marketed as a big band -- and you should have seen how many folks ran for the exits after the first and second pieces, I was kind of embarrassed for my community when that happened.

Xuanyuan wrote, "I’ve tried 50000 Italian violins." Okay, that's a lot of violins.

Finally, as I've said before, I think we live in a golden age of violin-making. I don't know whether David Burgess or Michael Darnton or Don Noon has made anything comparable to a Strad or a Del Gesu, but I hope they all keep healthy and making violins. In 50 or 100 or 200 years, who knows how their violins will be esteemed vs. the Italians? Any violin maker who has a waiting list of some years for his or her commissions is probably doing something right. I'd almost rather try one of their violins (rather than something priceless) because if I really wanted to I could buy it.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 7:23 PM · Paul, how would you suggest that the soloists and listeners level of good taste in good violin sound be evaluated? Should they use bassoon players? (I mention this, because the best person I ever met at noticing super-subtle changes in sound happened to be a bassoon player.) :-)

But it's true that the results will necessarily be compiled from subjective impressions, because so far, there is no way of accurately determining the degree of "goodness" of a violin's sound by measuring, (although some people, with sufficient training, can get a very rough idea from some types of measurements). But the final arbiters are still the players and listeners.

Further complicating this is that not all good players like exactly the same thing. Which is good in a way. Imagine the chaos if every violinist only liked the same one fiddle? ;-)

Edited: August 16, 2020, 7:20 PM · If we aim at the audiophile / hi-fi community, then does that serve classical music in any way? Not to cast aspersions at those nutjobs, but if you look up lists of audiophile test-albums, you get some weird stuff that has more to do with production techniques than anything else, which has what exactly to do with music?

Tone production is a very personal thing that depends on a constellation of factors, and is going to be hard to measure in any meaningful way. You may as well run your tests with musicians and classical music audiences. I think there is room for a healthy skepticism about any experiment regarding something so subjective, but it seems to me that it's the best option available, and given how prevalent the placebo effect is (and effective), it stands to reason that our headache goes away more quickly when we eat a nicely aged Strad versus a modern maker.

I worked for a short bit, as a summer job between school years, in a workshop that made bespoke hi-fi amps, and those hi-fi enthusiasts are something else! Maybe they have supersonic ears, but how do you KNOW?

Edited: August 16, 2020, 8:57 PM · A story I like to tell is about an acquaintance of mine who was able on the first past through, NOT by comparison, to identify which of the 25 Strads and del Gesus in the Bein and Fushi were which. He missed only one, the Ruby Strad, which he identified as a del Gesu. He told me how he did it, which I'm not going to reveal, but it was both very simple and something which I could not do because I don't have his experience as a musician. My point in telling this is that this is a task that I've heard many people say was simply impossible, and if you took 100 players, I bet none of them could do it. But the 100 failures means exactly nothing.

Using totally legit survey methods I could prove beyond statistical question that no one can run a 4-minute mile. I would first go onto the street and select the first 100 people I saw--no rigging at all Then I would ask them to run a mile as fast as possible. This is a totally random experiment, no hanky-panky on my part. I think it's reasonable to suspect that every one would fail. Hypothesis proven.

My point is that it's not enough to do a survey--the survey has to be properly designed IN CONSIDERATION of the question. You can't just grab random people for a situation like this. In testing for exceptional ability you at least need to test people who claim to have this ability, and that's just a preliminary! That you could randomly find seven musicians who can't perform this very specialized task which is not part of a musician's normal tasks? Why should this be news at all?

August 16, 2020, 8:30 PM · Do you consider the nine soloists who participated in the study to be random people off the street?
August 16, 2020, 8:30 PM · But Michael, an analogous question is, if you are designing a shoe for runners, do you REALLY need to track down those sub-4-minute-milers to prove that the shoe works and is comfortable and can shave time of your run? I know this is a bit of a mixed metaphor, but if the classical audience have 4-minute-mile ears, then sure, it makes sense, but if the ears of only 1 in a 1000 in the audience can run that 4-minute mile, then is there really a point to insisting on them picking the fiddle? If you think so, and you have a way of really verifying their superior perception skills, then sure. It's just going to be a lot of work, a lot of subjectivity to get past, and you have to start with what you are actually gaining in the process.

Of course, I'm often the one guy at a concert with his arms folded while everyone around is on their feet clapping, but we don't have to get into my superior taste.

August 16, 2020, 9:03 PM · Michael's perfect test: sort through prospective testers by seeing who consistently prefers the violins Michael says are good in a blind test... and then have them do a blind test to see what they prefer.
August 16, 2020, 9:06 PM · Michael knows this subject much better than you do, Don
Edited: August 28, 2020, 6:48 AM · I'm with Christian. Even if you can scientifically measure the characteristics in the sound of violins, does it matter to most of the people who will be hearing the violin in a concert? Different types of people will zero in on different aspects of an instrument. Maybe that makes it worthwhile to sample from each group in future studies:

If you care about what soloists prefer, then survey soloists.
If you care about what musicians hear (without their perceptions being biased by violin technique), then survey bassoonists.
If you care about what lay audiences hear, then survey audience members.
If you care about donations, survey donors.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 10:02 PM · So maybe that's the best conclusion: The results of the Paris study are valid for rank-and-file soloists who are using their violins twice weekly to perform for the public; but the results are not valid for the occasional savant. Michael might argue that it's the savant whose opinion matters, and I don't think that argument gets rejected out of hand.

Michael's story about the violinist who has some "secret" method of detecting whether he's listening to an antique violin or a modern violin was interesting -- makes you wonder whether the quality used to draw the distinction is a positive or negative one! For example you could put a group of people in a room and ask them whether they think the lights are fluorescent or LED and the blind guy seems freakishly adept -- turns out his hearing is fantastic and he can pick up the characteristic frequencies of the different transformer electronics.

Edited: August 16, 2020, 10:32 PM · Don, we only know someone in the tests could tell new from old. We don't know his preference. That you think he would prefer old says a lot, though. David himself has sometimes made the case in the past that some players who know have chosen new, for specific reasons (carrying power has been mentioned by both him and you at various times).
August 16, 2020, 10:43 PM · To confuse things more, if you gave me a budget of $75K for a violin, I'd try like hell to find a great one for 25K and spend 50K on the bow...;)
August 17, 2020, 5:16 AM · Lyndon wrote:
"Michael knows this subject much better than you do, Don."
____________________________________

I'm not so sure. In the years I've known Don, he has exhibited a special talent for evaluating things objectively, and coming up with practical experiments to test a theory. Perhaps it's partly because he doesn't have the disadvantage of decades of indoctrination and sales tactics in the fiddle trade. Or maybe it's because the Mars Rover required a lot more than myth, belief, and a strong sales pitch for it to be successful. It had to ACTUALLY and demonstrably do what it was supposed to do.

August 17, 2020, 6:36 AM · Don's just another in a long list of violin makers that thinks he is better than Stradivarius.
Edited: August 17, 2020, 8:46 AM · Lyndon, how wonderful it is that you haven't given up on becoming a mind reader, despite your many failures. Keep trying, since persistence can have value, some times. Other times, it's better to switch horses. :-)
August 17, 2020, 9:13 AM · If I had to read minds I'd say that you are on that same list!!
Edited: August 17, 2020, 9:35 AM · There is no way I will ever equal the workmanship of Stradivarius. When it comes to sound... let's compare in 300 years. But as of how, I'm 1 and 0 against Strad ;-)

I'm not really serious about any of this... for example, consider the problem of deciding if Strads or Guarneris sound better. It's all subjective, and "better" can only be decided by who's listening and under what conditions... and which specific instruments. Since these discussions always reach the posting limit, there will never be an end to this.

Michael... BTW, I am fairly confident that I can do pretty well at sorting old from new just from looking at response spectra. I have offered to do this as a blind test with Curtin's data, but so far he hasn't taken me up on it.

August 17, 2020, 1:39 PM ·
Michael wrote:
"We only know someone in the tests could tell new from old."
_________________

Except that we don't, unless we are hell-bent on interpreting it that way.

August 17, 2020, 2:01 PM · I had the rare privilege of playing the "ex Wieniawski" Guarneri del Gesu at Bein & Fushi back in 1997. I have also played a fine Christophe Landon copy of the "ex David" Guarneri del Gesu in 2017 priced at around $80k. I now own a beautiful Dereck Coons copy of the "ex Kreisler" 1730 Guarneri del Gesu. The sound of my violin, to my ears, is as good, or better, than any of the others I have played. No need to spend millions or even tens of thousands when you can buy a modern instrument from an American luthier for much, much less. For me, as a violinist, its all about the sound. But as they say, to each his (or her) own.
August 17, 2020, 5:10 PM · Alexander, in the four years B&F had the Wieniawski I showed it to many people. Only two made it sound good. It was a very difficult violin to play. So please don't judge all Cremonese ciolins by that one.
August 17, 2020, 7:17 PM · I'm curious: For the ones that did manage to make it sound good, did it sound like a top-notch violin, or merely pretty good?
August 17, 2020, 7:57 PM · Michael, I'd be interested in hearing what made the instrument particularly hard to play (for even what I assume were professional-level players).
August 18, 2020, 12:25 AM · It sounded great in the right hands.
James, for one thing, the top is 4mm thick. Back is also very thick. Arching is stiff on top of that. Most players didn't have enough power to move it all.
August 18, 2020, 9:43 AM · There is such a thing as an instrument that is easy or hard to play, and it isn't necessarily related to the quality of the instrument. I've tried out a couple of Gaglianos and I felt like I was fighting with both of them. Great violins, but hard to play, or at least I found them so.
Edited: August 18, 2020, 11:04 AM · One of the discussions that might be had about del Gesus is how young whiz-bang players often get a Strad, then eventually years later will switch to a del Gesu. Historically that has happened quite a bit.

The speculation would be that initially they respond to the ease with which a Strad gives up what it has--they're often described as being twitchy, like a light car on a bumpy road--responsive but needing careful control. Del Gesus are more stable, need more drive and power (work) from the player to get them moving and to steer them but offer more potential in return for that, supposedly, so players tell me. Where a Strad tells you what to do to a certain extent and you just hang on for the ride, a del Gesu demands to be driven, which older more experienced players are more willing to do to be able to do what they want to do, but which seems less exciting to someone who's just starting.

Obviously this depends on the setting. I used to have a nest of my violins in Vegas, when they had pit orchestras. I asked one owner why, and she told me that mine had a reputation for being easy to play, and that they were playing many hours a day and didn't need to be fighting their instruments. On the other hand, I have been in classes with teachers preparing potential soloists, and they have to prod the students to work hard, to project to the back of the hall, that this is supposed to be a job and hard work, not a ride in a carriage. For a player in an orchestra, standing out probably is a lot more undesirable than the ability to blend.

So there's an ideal type instrument for every job, maybe.

I've never been to an orchestra audition, but I get the idea that sometimes it seems like they're auditioning for soloists but then expect them specifically not to do that on the job. :-)

August 18, 2020, 12:27 PM · A different theory on Strads and del Gesus: two commodities with the same demand will have different prices when there is a shortage of one. Fewer Guarneris = higher prices, all else equal. That is one reason players might be slow to move.

The other possibility that I am less confident about, but may be worth examining, is the change in hearing response of older musicians. Is there something about a Strad that requires more sensitive high register hearing to enjoy and appreciate?
Or maybe there is a similar muscular change. I always thought Perlman, for example, was a classic Strad player, and was perplexed when he bought Menuhin's Guarneri. Now, I am not so sure. That may be a result of physical changes. Not to say that Guarneri players are less adept physically. Some may start out with the correct bag of tricks for them. Zukerman is as good as most people would want to be, and David Nadien is another who came at it with a very different style.

August 18, 2020, 12:47 PM · Hi Michael,

You wrote:

"The speculation would be that initially they respond to the ease with which a Strad gives up what it has--they're often described as being twitchy, like a light car on a bumpy road--responsive but needing careful control. Del Gesus are more stable, need more drive and power (work) from the player to get them moving and to steer them but offer more potential in return for that,"

Please pardon my ignorance. But is this because of the thickness of the plates between a Strad and a Del Gesu? The wood and varnish, perhaps? Or is the thickness of the plates for either a Strad or Del Gesu vary from violin to violin, thus, it's not much of a consideration?

You mentioned the plate thickness of the "ex Wieniawski" as a reason for it harder to play; if a modern maker is making a copy of the "ex Wieniawski" Guarneri del Gesu, would they usually follow the exact measurement of the original instrument? Or modify it a bit to make it more "playable"? I'm assuming one cannot really replicate the character of the original?

Just curious.

Edited: August 18, 2020, 3:13 PM · This could be a huge lecture, but basically "normal" Strads and del Gesus from their respective best years (Strad, 1710-1720, maybe; del Gesu, ~1741-1744, just to name ranges) can be the opposite of each other in both graduations and arching, with the Strad having thin grads and an "easy" arch to move, and the equivalent del Gesu being as much as nearly twice as thick with a much harder-to-move arching. Wood and varnish aren't that different.

Around 1998 I started making copies of the Cannone del Gesu. As I improved my arching to more resemble the original, I found that it would tolerate much thicker grads and still be playable. In the past, many makers would make del Gesus with Strad grads, because that was more of a sure thing. Now that there's better access to good charts of original instruments, I think we are seeing more makers attempt the original grads, with more success. I'm experimenting on a Strad model with del Gesuish grads, myself, hoping to blend characteristics in a way that's comfortable and interesting for players.

The Wieniawski not only had thick plates, it also had a typical late del Gesu arch, which is a stiffer, less "easy" arching. The whole violin is a Strad opposite in every respect. In general, this late arch, in my opinion, is the earliest appearance of what I'd call a modern arching form. The Cannone is one of the later appearances in del Gesu's work of a more traditional Cremonese arch, but not as extreme as a 1715 Strad which is kind of out of Cremonese tradition in the exact opposite direction from late del Gesus, and one reason those Strads are special as Strads.

This would be easier with charts and drawings. :-) I have a very clear idea of what I mean that might not communicate fully in words. Also bear in mind that dates and types aren't precise boundaries for characteristics, and everything can be especially cluttered by regrads obscuring original intent, especially in the del Gesu instances. Anything I can say, someone could pull out an example to "disprove"--I have mainly been looking to extract meaningful trends and their effects, to integrate into my own making, not looking for excuses to say "it's all inscrutable." :-)

There's a lot of confusion and bad info floating around about these topics, so I feel lucky to have had 36 years at the top of the business (Starting in 1984 at Bein and Fushi, sequentially holding, as Bob Bein once observed, every position in the business: repair/restoration workshop, making, instrument sales, author, instrument photography, teacher, now fancy shop owner) working directly with these instruments, being able to experience them through adjusting, and to talk with their owners about their perceptions, and being the type of person who refuses to accept things without direct confirmation from the originals, as well as being able at the same time to do a lot of playing around with making in the styles I see in front of me on a regular basis to sort out the effects of what I'm seeing via my own work. I think I have had nearly half the extent del Gesus and a third of the Strads in my hands, which is an unusual situation for a working maker. I want to stress that this is not all about hard thinking, in a vacuum. Lucky!

August 18, 2020, 2:56 PM · Thanks Michael, for a very informative insight! :-)
Edited: August 18, 2020, 3:23 PM · I'm really interested in the idea that the plates were very thick on the del Gesu. Four millimeters is thick. That surprises me. My childhood violin was declared "too heavy" by Dalton Potter. Regrading the top (at Kapeller in Richmond) accomplished rather little. Maybe I just needed a heavier bow and a better right arm? I thought nowadays violin-makers carve the tops as thin as they think they can get away with structurally. Is that not true? Please excuse the fact that I know less than nothing about violin-making. (Less than nothing because what I *do* know is probably mostly wrong.)
Edited: August 18, 2020, 4:27 PM · Fortunately, I have never had to be in the position of a "sales-geek". When I was employed in the Weisshaar shop, sales was considered to be the antitheses of real talent. Hans was enough of a consummate craftsman, that he didn't need to rely on a bunch of BS to make a go of it.

But I am also a "preacher's kid", so I might have more easily adapted to the Weisshaar shop environment, than I would have to the Bein and Fushi environment.

Yes, I was solicited to work at the Bein and Fushi shop, but declined, in the belief that it wouldn't have been a good fit.

Many years later, one of my employees/trainees was also offered a job there. He also had a job offer from the Francais/Morel shop, and that's what he ended up chosing. I don't know of him having any regrets for having made that choice.

That would be Jerry Pasewicz, who evolved into one of the most brilliant people in the restoration business. He's kinda short on words, but high on content. Able to communicate in a sentence or two, what might take others a page or two.

Edited: August 18, 2020, 5:15 PM · Paul, since the initial problem is to get the plates moving at all, there are different ways to get there. If the arching is too stiff or sub optimal, you can lighten the wood until the lack of weight compensates to a certain extent. On the other hand, if you have a shape than inherently is flexible, then the weight of wood serves a different function and you don't need mobility through lack of weight. Or, as you know, you can have an arching that's so ineffective that regraduation can't save it.

Consider the inverse--you can design a stiff bridge structure that requires a minimum of material to provide the stiffness, or you can simply throw material at a poor structure to make something that won't fall down. Now just flip that idea around. Once a violin's structure is optimized to give the amount and type of movement you want, then the weight isn't dictated by that aspect and can be utilized for other purposes. . . better guard rails, fancy lookout points and signage. . .

Another approach (which IMO just leads to a lesser result by necessity) would be to consider that arching isn't important in the fine sense, that you can adjust flexibility by graduation where you want more or less. That also sidetracks the wood to a purpose it shouldn't have to be used for, to fix an arching problem that shouldn't be there--a suboptimal result. I think that the beauty of the Cremonese design at its best is an perfect arching where the arching fully performs its function, and then the wood is used to fine tune some other things. In the best result, on a Strad you can use lack of wood to make a beautiful sounding twitchy instrument, or a del Gesu can be a beautiful sounding stable one, sacrificing nothing in either case.

Obviously there are a lot of ways to put this together, and the really stellar instruments are example where everything is optimized towards some desirable (not necessarily identical) result better that other instruments have managed. Stradivari in 1715, del Gesu in 1742-43.

As I mentioned previously regarding the availability of higher quality information about original instruments, I think you will find fewer makers building as thin as possible, and also there's a trend away from using the lightest possible wood, as a similar concept.

Edited: August 18, 2020, 5:39 PM · It makes sense intuitively that the shape(s)* of the arch should be of utmost importance. The analogy to structural engineering is crude but apt. Potter said that my violin didn't just have thick plates, but heavy corners, and so forth. It was "No. 24" (1972) from a gentleman who was a guitar-maker (and an amateur at that) and then decided in his retirement from his day-job that he would have a go at violins. That was Claude Watson of San Diego. The violin is wonderful as an objet d'art, however, as it is made of a well-figured bird's-eye and varnished in bright orange. My old theory that Watson was afraid the birds-eye would be intrinsically weak doesn't hold up because the top, obviously, is not of maple.

*Shapes because there is one on the outside and another, different shape on the inside. It's not like an automotive side-panel where the shape is likewise critical to its performance but then you just stamp the part out of sheet steel.

August 18, 2020, 9:07 PM · For the record, I got my first three full time jobs (Memphis, Richmond, and Colorado Symphonies) on a German no-name valued at 4k. But I know this is unusual. I will readily admit that when I was thirty and got a really nice instrument for the first time, I became a happier person and less frustrated player, who then also had more opportunities - I'm not sure how much of it was psychological, because of course yes I also sounded better. Regardless, I agree it's a barrier, but it's the least of all the barriers to worry about. The biggest barrier is access to early individualized training (aka expensive lessons), the second is the inequities in school opportunities (wealthy schools with great orchestras and booster clubs) and the third is the lack of big scholarships at state colleges that are not SAT driven. I say state colleges, because that is often where people who are not wealthy will go to school. Large scholarships at public institutions are heavily SAT weighted, which I believe is discriminatory and senseless. SATS have nothing to do with musical potential, or much other potential for that matter, and yet they continue to be used one of the primary benchmarks for scholarships for all majors. The greatest predictor for SAT's are a persons' zipcode (aka wealth) - more than the number of hours of TV they watch every day or any other factor. Scholarships matter because they equate directly to how many hours students will work while going to school (when they can't practice) and how much debt they will graduate with, and how many summer programs they can go to. Those 3 things are more likely influence the career trajectory than what violin they are playing on. Practice, debt, and extra opportunities/connections.

I am hoping that the digital revolution that we are currently in will facilitate some opportunities for new models that make private lessons more accessible. Maybe small lesson pods (that are shared among a group of students, video lessons, mentorships and more.I think if we can create efficient and cheaper modalities of learning we could make a big difference.

Edited: August 18, 2020, 10:34 PM · Susanna I agree with you entirely. However, the counterargument that you will hear (and that we have heard plenty of times here on v.com) is that if you're not getting a full ride (or at least a scholarship that brings your tuition down to public/in-state levels) to one of the top programs, then you're not likely to be competitive for salaried jobs as a violinist anyway. I hope that's not actually true, but I fear that there is some truth to it. Of course it depends what "making it" means to the individual, and there are more jobs and careers than being a salaried section player or a globetrotting soloist.
August 19, 2020, 5:14 AM · Even if you get a free ride, though, private lessons before that point still cost significantly more than most of the violins that are played in salaried orchestras, and that's not even counting time and family commitment.
August 19, 2020, 8:35 AM · Sussana,
I don’t know your age, but it only takes going back a few decades to make your 4K violin closer to the 10k violin, with just general inflation and not counting the inflation within violins.
Your comments about educational fairness and equity I am totally on board with.
We live in a fairly rigid class system, with less class fluidity than many of the Northern European “socialist” countries. And folks from those counties are not lining up to emigrate to the US. On every level they are happier and healthier.
Edited: August 19, 2020, 10:46 AM · Since I went off to college at a state university, the tuition there has gone up 5X the inflation rate. Out of state tuition is now equal to slightly less than the median US family income. I think this is a problem not only for musicians but for everyone, and that ultimately this country will need to adjust its priorities back towards improved public education or we will all suffer in a way from which recovery will be impossible, if it isn't already.

We are already seeing this toxic national ignorance in the response to the Covid pandemic, which is being hampered by the public's ignorance and mistrust of informed science and general inability to think critically. If the entire problem is not fixed, this will end badly for everyone, not just musicians. In a sense, as a non-essential field oriented toward culture rather than cash, music is simply one of many canaries in the national coal bin.
August 19, 2020, 11:13 AM · A key difference: Low-interest loans are readily available for trucks. Not so with instruments (there are some programs through the AFM union, I believe, but they're limited and not low-interest, AFAIK).
Edited: August 19, 2020, 1:01 PM · Michael, unfortunately it's even worse that you say. Not only are public universities not considered "public goods" that are worthy of support from everyone (including those not presently sending their own children there), but in some corners they are viewed as evil hotbeds of indoctrination -- part of the government "beast" that needs to be "starved". I teach university chemistry. I must confess that I do teach a "pro-science viewpoint." Until the early 2000s it did not occur to me that this viewpoint would be considered a political one.
August 19, 2020, 3:54 PM · Michael Darnton;

A few statements you made.

“David, And there will always be people who are willing to swallow any nonsense because, SCIENCE! Except that real science readily admits its shortcomings.”

“We are already seeing this toxic national ignorance in the response to the Covid pandemic, which is being hampered by the public's ignorance and mistrust of informed science and general inability to think critically.”

Maybe a little contradictory?

Anyway, this is all very interesting, informative and entertaining. My son is 17 and will attempt a career with violin. I have corresponded with another member of this forum who suggested I start making the four drive to NYC from my rural upstate home. Initial contacts reinforce the the original topic of this post. We are not even in the game unless we invest big on a new violin. Lots of zeros that do not include the zeros right of the decimal point. We were also informed that who you take lessons from can make a difference. So names, politics, and even more expense come into play.

So yes, inequities abound across the board and are unfortunate. The playing field is far from level financially and geographically. We, as his parents, will support him in his endeavors for a couple years and reassess then move forward or move on.

Such is life!

Please stay well and out of harm’s way!

August 19, 2020, 4:06 PM · There's science, and there's "SCIENCE!" Some can't tell the difference.
August 19, 2020, 4:48 PM · If we used science, and engineering, to build, improve, and purchase instruments, we might have instruments that perform better and cost less over time. But who wants that? And if it produced instruments better than Stradivarius, what would we use as a metaphor for quality and object of worship?
August 19, 2020, 7:59 PM · Some makers already do so, particularly for acoustic analysis.
August 19, 2020, 8:07 PM · There is so much great content here from multiple contributors! I'm late to the plate, and I spent quite a long time reading it all! Its hard to know where to start.

I've had the fortune (and a lot of fun) of being able to collaborate with multiple makers on creating instruments and bows, and have learned that within the best intensions and materials to work with, there is always a compromise of ideals and factors that will garner more or less successful results for a player. Hence the subjects of Strad vs Guarneri, Peccatte vs Sartory, Antique vs Contemporary and many more will always go on, and should!

I think it is possible to find a suitable concert instrument within the top 90% of ideals (just a number) starting from a 4 figure range, it just gets increasingly difficult the lower the price goes. Also having a highly personalized, top set-up from a knowledgeable luthierthat has worked with great instruments work on less expensive instruments is a rarer thing. Convincing the restorer/set-up professional that its worth their time, and the player having the advanced basics of what moves could be made to optimize an instrument. It does take experimentation, and its not recommended for the player looking for their first great instrument.

I think musicians (student, amateur, or pro) have different requirements in owning their musical tool. Many may have preferences of budget open or a range, aesthetics, tone types, sizes, feel, provenance, age, who made it, commissioned for them, etc, that will affect their choices. Its actually quite complicated, I think many on this forum are very passionate about instruments and all things strings, and there are many watchful eyes, both envious and encouraging, but its best we try to offer what we can within the constraints we have.

I think having conversations with luthiers, dealers, teachers, musical colleagues, vcommers, etc, can better help one gauge where to go about finding their voice in an instrument. Hopefully the motives are honest, and without ulterior motives looking out best for the searcher in mind!

A word of caution however, when one shops too much and dosen't know where to stop, the right one may slip away when continuing to look for the right one. I remember in my college days I had come across a Victor Fetique bow that I returned because I thought I could get another example for a bit less. I've always regretted that, and now its something I wouldn't do. If you find an example of something that impresses you, by all means, go for it! If it is a good investment due to various factors, but most of all a great musical tool, its something one may not want to sell in their lifetime anyway.

August 20, 2020, 9:24 AM · Michael Darnton wrote:
"Since I went off to college at a state university, the tuition there has gone up 5X the inflation rate. Out of state tuition is now equal to slightly less than the median US family income."
_____________________________

Michael, any thoughts on why tuition has gone up so much?
Both my parents basically worked their way through both college and grad school, with my father shoveling coal at the college power plants, and my mother working in a vegetable canning factory during the summers, and working in a bakery during the school season.

A good friend of mine (about my age) put himself through college by working in restaurants. Are such thing no longer possible? If not, why? Why has college tuition increased so much?

August 20, 2020, 9:37 AM · I can tell you it is not going to faculty!
Edited: August 20, 2020, 11:21 AM · "Why has college tuition increased so much?"

1. Decreased state support for the institution. Every time there is a downturn, state budget-cutting starts with the universities. When times are good, it's not added back. It's the boa constrictor at work.
2. Universities today offer a much different, more diverse, and in my opinion substantially better product than they did 50 years ago. 50 years ago, universities did not need to provide internet services to their faculty or their students. Classrooms were lucky to have overhead projectors. Nowadays there are many more opportunities for students to get support in academics but also in their general wellness including (especially) mental health. Nowadays it is not unusual for 5-10% of a college class to need disability accommodations that require different testing facilities, special arrangements, and extra work. There are at least twice as many majors now -- and not just in "PC" humanities areas, but also niche areas of engineering like data-mining, yet more niche areas of the life sciences (e.g., applied molecular biology), and "job training" kinds of things like turfgrass management or hospitality. My department recently split its chemistry degree into three different majors -- chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and polymer chemistry -- hoping to attract more students wanting something that sounds more "applied."
3. Increased complexity of government regulations and accrediting agencies drive up internal costs and compel the university to "hire so many administrators" (including more lawyers) to take care of all of the various programmatic assessments and other stuff that need to get done. In this context think "Title IX" and ADA, but that would just be scratching the surface.
4. "In loco parentis" has gone on steroids, but I sense that in this area the pendulum is getting ready to swing the other way (starting with the latest from Betsy DeVos & Co., which says that Title IX doesn't apply to sexual assault that occurs off-campus).
5. Higher unavoidable costs -- notably employee health insurance. So yes, some of it is going to faculty, it's just not going into our paychecks. (Meanwhile they charge us exorbitant fees to park our cars on campus. I'm sure that's even worse in Ann Arbor than it is here.)

A student cannot "work their way through school" any more. In fact one wonders if they should just not try, but rather take out the damned loans and concentrate all of their effort on getting better grades so they can increase their earning power when they're finished. I have not asked my daughter to get a job to help pay for her education; I would rather she spent the time studying. And so far, so good. (She does have a small part-time job, but it's not even 10 hours a week, and it's super flexible.) I realize there are others who do not have the same choices.

Edited: August 20, 2020, 10:16 AM · College costs that have risen sharply higher than the rate of inflation combined with a minimum wage that hasn't even begun to keep pace with inflation have made it impossible to work one's way through college.

https://www.savingforcollege.com/article/can-you-work-your-way-through-college#:~:text=Rising%20college%20costs%20and%20nearly,a%204%2Dyear%20college%20education.

Anecdotally, the cost of my senior year at Oberlin in 1981-1982 (expensive private school) was about $10,000, which when adjusted to 2018 dollars is equivalent to about $25,000, which is pretty close to what we paid per year for our son at the University of Texas (in-state public for us).

Edited: August 20, 2020, 11:51 AM · Paul Deck wrote:
"Decreased state support for the institution. Every time there is a downturn, state budget-cutting starts with the universities. When times are good, it's not added back. It's the boa constrictor at work."
________________________

Paul, I'm guessing that decreased state financial support for public colleges is not the main reason for increased tuitions, since tuition at private colleges has gone up a bunch too.

From what I've looked up so far, the net cost of attending Princeton (a private college where my father got his grad degree) is lower than the University of Michigan (a public college, and the college town where I reside). What's up with that?

Edited: August 20, 2020, 2:17 PM · David,

You may have to reconsider the price of UM vs Princeton, since UM is far more affordable for people living in the state of Michigan, whereas Princeton is a private institution with a significant endowment. Makes for a difficult apples to apples comparison of price. I know when I was looking at universities, UM was significantly cheaper than any of the Ivy's (plus MIT, Cal, Northwestern, Uchicago, UC system, etc...), but then again I lived in Michigan at the time.

Also most online think-pieces tend to completely ignore community college education. There really are different forces at play for public institutions, private, but non-profit institutions, and then your for-profit diploma mills.

In either case, research can more or less reflect 2 really large factors at play here vis-a-vis the outpacing of university education vs inflation for the first 2 categories.

The first is the expansion of gov't backed student loans in an environment where there is persistent salary premiums for education, combined with low interest rates. The size of the student loan portfolio owned by the government was $250B at the beginning of the 2000s, and is somewhere hovering around $1.3T-ish today. Since student loans more or less represent real payments (as opposed to monetary policy which expands balance sheets but may have limited influence on prices), this is a lot of money going into a fairly fixed pool of university education, and by and large the government backed loans don't discriminate between public and private university education. Furthermore HW Bush passed legislation which reduced the cost of debt by allowing students to write-off the interest rate on federal loans.

Second is the expansion of the quality of life (whether or not you think this includes education) for students, and the increased trend of universities to "subsidize" lower income students receiving grants by raising the price tag on wealthy students. While the likes of Princeton and UM are non-profits, their administration is still driven by the desire for a higher salary, and targeting wealthy out-of-staters or foreigners is a great way to do this in a way that allows the university to spend on things like buildings, gyms, counselors, IT staff, etc... without breaking the bank (or the endowment, as the case may be). Paul is correct that state support for public institutions is declining, and even education such as UM or MSU which were affordable options for students in the past are now heavily focused on recruiting the wealthy:

https://www.collegexpress.com/lists/list/percentage-of-out-of-state-students-at-public-universities/360/

So more or less we can summarize this:

1) Direct injections of cash from increase cost

2) Recruiting wealthy foreigners to fund programs has proven to be net-positive for revenue

Back to the original topic at hand, I wonder what people generally think of as the cutoff for really great professional instruments. In my experience, going from $5k to $10k doesn't really buy you a whole lot of violin. This sentiment is sort of echoed by people who make instruments (and the labor involved in doing so). You're really not going to get a violin from someone with the knowledge and experience to build an instrument from the ground up, by hand, for $10k. The time it takes to build an instrument simply does not support that price point. Or so I've been told.

Edited: August 20, 2020, 8:18 PM · David, private institutions are indeed funded differently, but of the five reasons I listed for escalating costs, only Item No. 1 does not apply directly to privates. Still your point is a very good one. Decreased state funding may still apply indirectly to the privates, because as they set their prices, I'll bet they still watch very closely how expensive they are relative to public schools. But I really don't know. Princeton might not be representative. Institutions with gigantic endowments glean so much investment income that they can subsidize student tuition from that source. Harvard has been criticized for charging tuition when they probably don't need to do so at all. There are a few isolated colleges (usually very small, like Berea College), that charge no tuition because they have very surprisingly large endowments for their size. The University of Michigan, also, is notoriously expensive among the public schools -- but maybe its better to stay focused on the trends rather than the absolute costs. I took a quick look at one of those cheesy aftermarket sites for "cost of attending" and within Michigan, Hope (where I went) has gone up about 31% in ten years, Albion has gone up almost 50% in the same period, and K College by 42%, whereas MSU has gone up 36%, WSU by 34%, U of M by 38%.) Those are all Michigan schools. Note that Michigan is one of the lowest in terms of its state support at about $5100 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. So it looks at first glance as though the privates have gone up more. But public schools can't just set their tuition willy-nilly. It has to be approved by other state agencies and the legislature. Then come the "cost-cutting" measures such as increased class sizes for general education courses, or increased use of adjunct faculty or graduate TAs (the latter especially for large-enrollment lab courses), electronic instruction, etc. And as was previously noted, increasing the day-spa experience to attract more out-of-state tuition dollars. Hope College is never going to teach General Chemistry to 300 students at a time. I don't think they have a single classroom that large. But five years ago Virginia Tech built a new 320-seat classroom specifically for that purpose. (That raises another question -- whether capital expenses such as building construction are counted in FTE state-support figures. If not, then obviously that gives the state schools another huge advantage.)

Note that among the Michigan privates, Hope College is a very good value -- but unfortunately they have doubled down on religiosity as the core of their institutional identity (which could explain some of their success, actually), and if I were choosing today, I would go somewhere else -- maybe Grinnell or Harvey Mudd. But for a family that is heavy-duty conservative Protestant, Hope is an excellent choice.

August 20, 2020, 7:00 PM · Paul, just want to say I find your posts very interesting and informative. If I could go back to college, I think I would major in Chemistry (it was my favorite science course in high school). I majored in History, which was fine, but I was always curious about what was happening in the polymer science building (at UMass Amherst).
Edited: August 20, 2020, 8:21 PM · The rumor I heard is that the beautiful PSE building at UMass (where I once gave an invited seminar) was a tidbit of "cultural exchange" (i.e., pork-swap) between Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott. Curiously the University of Southern Mississippi got a lovely new polymer science building at about the same time.
August 20, 2020, 9:03 PM · An anecdotal point of reference...

In 1972, my education at a well known, private science and engineering school was $1,200/year. Between my Freshman and Sophomore year, I got a job in my field of study for the summer at a rate of $8,000/year. Starting salaries for people with B.S. degrees was in the $12k to $15k range.

This year, at the same school, the cost is $55,000 per year. Starting salaries: around $65,000 on average.

From 1972 to now, multiply by around 6.2 to adjust for inflation. So that would be just over $7,000/year for tuition and $74,000 for starting salary.

In contrast, the publicly funded university cost has gone from $800/year to $17,000. Reasonable when compared with starting salaries.

Something has gone seriously bonkers with private higher education in the U.S. over the years.

On topic: the premise of the thread's title has not been demonstrated, IMO. The expectation is for a pro and serious student to play on an instrument worthy of their talents. I fail to see where blind auditions ask the player to submit the price tag of their violin.

I've enjoyed classical music for years, but admit I could not tell the difference between a VSO and a Strad. But after I started playing, seven years ago, I became more aware of the various voices the violin possesses and how difficult it is to make them sound without much practice, proper technique, and a good instrument.

I still cannot tell a VSO from a Strad in the hands of a master, but have attended many performances by local talent and can readily tell when the performer needs a better violin. Certainly an experienced orchestral player will have an even better ear than mine for such things.


Edited: August 28, 2020, 6:41 AM · Paul makes good points.

As for how much families have to pay, you really can't compare private college tuition with public without considering the out-of-pocket, net price. Tuition has increased more than inflation, but as James T observed, wealthy private colleges are also giving a lot of grants, and that's based on ability to pay.

They've been trying to improve access to people from lower and middle incomes, but that means relying on the wealthy to pay (full tuition and donations). Many students don't pay the full list price. According to Princeton's website, if you come from a low income family, it is free. They subsidize everything. Even at some six figure family incomes, the average student is getting free tuition, so the out-of-pocket cost is $27,000 (for room, board, fees) or less.

Some private schools with big endowments are more affordable with financial aid if your family earns less. But getting into these schools is very hard if you're the average high school student. It's much easier if you're wealthy, and some schools are not need-blind when admitting students.

August 21, 2020, 8:32 AM · A maker in the USA needs to charge at least $10,000 for a personally-made violin just to put food on the table.
Edited: August 21, 2020, 9:19 AM · I agree Andy; folks just don't build that many instruments per year. As another data point, the guy that made my daughter's cello is well known and recommended here fairly frequently, hors concours in the VSA competitions with multiple Triennale awards, and charges just under $20K for a violin commission I think, which is pretty reasonable given his experience and credentials.

Also with regards to the original topic, my kids' strings teachers and stand partners are section leaders in a major state symphony, and didn't get their "really great professional instrument" (six figures older Italian and French) until much later in their careers. So no matter how cool it would be for someone right out of conservatory to have a "really great" Scarampella or Vuillaume or whatever, I really don't see this as being a barrier to entry.

Edited: August 21, 2020, 11:02 AM · Frieda I've been arguing for years that public-university tuition is just way too low. It's just too good of a wealth-redistribution scheme to pass up. As you say, the privates figured that out long ago, but Princeton is going to be on the extreme side of that, just because they can. There are plenty of families whose kids have always wanted to go to VT since they were very little and who would have absolutely no probably writing a check for twice what they are currently paying. I mean they wouldn't even blink. And a fair number of them are coming from overseas. Just look at the cars in the student parking lots and you'll immediately understand what I mean.

I agree with Andy that a luthier needs to make a living wage and unless they're charging $10,000 for every violin (and really that's a bare minimum) then I don't see it happening unless they lower their quality standards to increase their production volume (such as buying necks and scrolls from China). You have to remember these people have to buy their own health insurance, fund their own IRAs, and all of that, and there is probably considerable overhead on maintaining a workshop too. Plus, don't they have a patriotic duty to charge what the market can bear?

Edited: August 21, 2020, 11:05 AM · The cost of university administration has gone through the roof. Faculty costs have stayed flat or declined, but huge teams of highly-paid administrators are now the norm.

For state schools like UM, their out-of-state tuition costs essentially subsidize the lower tuition paid by in-state students. That's why many public universities heavily recruit foreign students, who are paying those full huge tuition bills.

The most elite schools in the US are trying to diversify their student bodies by lowering tuitions on a sliding income scale, but they tend to have huge endowments that are facilitating that.

Edited: August 21, 2020, 11:20 AM · The modern instruments are worth it, and should be relatively expensive, because its an art and they are difficult and time-consuming to make well. We should not pay them less-save up, or buy the best sounding/playing instrument you can for less than $10,000, regardless provenance.

Most modern makers violins will cost a bit (or much) more than $10,000. I cannot fairly complain about that.

(Whether inequality is fair is another issue altogether. Of course there are problems.)

August 21, 2020, 12:27 PM · To address Felix's original point, instrument cost is a significant barrier to accessing classical performance as a career. Others have pointed out that there are other costs...lessons, camps etc.

For some families, the barriers are as much to do with how to navigate the educational and cultural landscape around music. Not all parents are aware that their pupils can attend summer programmes, many would not have the capacity to organise visiting 3 or 4 violin shops in a big city over a weekend. Some won't know what to look for in a teacher, or have the knowhow/confidence to contact one. What about organising consultation lessons with conservatoire professors...again many parents won't have a clue. The list could go on...

There are plenty of barriers to accessing music as a career, and being unable to afford an instrument is just one of them.

August 21, 2020, 5:05 PM · To keep things in perspective, that $10,000 + price of a good violin is probably about the same as the cost of an independent car mechanic, plumber, carpenter, etc.... setting up a a business, with a full set of tools and specialized truck or van.
August 22, 2020, 7:30 AM · So true.I just had the front brakes done on our minivan.My mechanic just spent $30000.00 on two new hydraulic lifts.He said his largest expenditure is diagnostic equipment.
August 22, 2020, 8:15 AM · uh...
1/ Music has always been "inequality". Has Mozart an equal? Or Beethoven? Or Debussy? Or Heifitz? etc.
2/ I think a "serious student" will need an instrument that will enable her/him to excel in all aspects: technique, tone, expression, projection.
3/ Could a lower-priced violin be suitable? Maybe yes, most likely no. Any violin that can achieve all aspects to the level expected by experts will be a darn good violin. A good violin is scarce by comparison to the mass-produced ones and, given supply/demand, will not be low in cost.
4/ When compared to higher-level violins these days, $10k would be far below entry-level in many circles. I would rate my chances to find a suitable violin for $10k to be rather low. Again, supply/demand. Would I have the luxury to visit hundreds of dealers across continents in a quest to find the best for less? So doubtful as to be certainly no. Thus, supply/demand in my region would dictate price.
5/ Will violin prices reduce some day? Very difficult to say. On the one hand, the millennial generation is likely not to value classical music or instruments, and thus demand will reduce. On the other hand, regardless of world fortune, wars, misfortunes, etc, a top-level violin has always been prized and thus has always been valuable. A top-level violin defies all norms of economics. The more lower-tier violins produced, the higher the value for the top-tier violins. The investment value of Stradivarius, Guarneri, etc is beyond dispute.
August 22, 2020, 9:26 AM · Rob Grune makes a good point. I could spend $20,000 on a violin, or I could spend $10000 on travel to find the same quality as the $20,000 violin for half the price. And if you think it's hard getting a loan for a violin, try getting a loan for ten airline tickets.

If I was shopping for instruments that cost in the millions, then the travel expenses would be easily worthwhile. But probably I would just pop in to the tony New York shops whilst in town to give my sold-out Carnegie Hall recitals.

Edited: August 22, 2020, 10:31 AM · With apologies to James T., who mentioned interest rates earlier in this thread in a form that I haven't yet understood and perhaps others.

Historically low interest rates are clearly another major factor leading to price inflation for products and services which may be considered large and investments, provided of course that the probable or possible payoff is large enough to compensate for the cost of borrowing plus the acquisition cost. In real estate, the link is obvious, as affordability swings wildly with the interest rate as it often tracks the payment instead of just the total price, with the assumption that in a rising market that price won't matter in the end, etc.. Moreover, real estate prices, affect other prices, as our housing costs increase. That some are largely insulated from the rising cost and benefit greatly from the subsequent sale at inflated property prices makes the overall analysis much more complicated and not unidimensional thought interest rates themselves might seem to be.

A university education is also an investment. Interest rates are low, so if you can borrow towards it, it's a sensible approach for now (*). And if it's affordable due to borrowing, and other costs including cost of housing for staff have risen, then tuition can also rise.

The difference with instruments is that it's a much less safe investment from the lender's perspective at least. But you might borrow against your real estate if you have it.

(*) We live in changing times, so none of the above should be taken as a guarantee of state of affairs for the future. Housing in particular is being impacted by how and where we work.

August 22, 2020, 10:37 AM · Rob Grune wrote: "The investment value of Stradivarius, Guarneri, etc is beyond dispute."

Since these instruments don't generated income by themselves, the only thing supporting the high valuations is the collective balance of what folks think they're worth and the belief that they will go up in value and be a good investment. If for some (or no) reason the collective belief is that they're not worth as much, and the value begins to decline... watch for the investor fire sales. Fundamentally, it's like any other investment, although admittedly up until now there hasn't been any obvious crash.

August 22, 2020, 10:48 AM · Eventually, instruments of Stradivari's era will surely become too fragile with age to be played in what we know today as a concert environment. What will then happen to their value?
August 22, 2020, 11:22 AM · Rob Grune wrote that the musical world has always had inequity. He mentions Mozart. Although this is a good example from the standpoint of modern perception of musical genius, it is a poor example from an economic perspective. Mozart was poor. If he were better supported economically we would likely have more masterpieces by him.

It is very important to support others who need it. The more support that is given the better the world will become. There will be more cooperation and peace rather than competition and war.

August 22, 2020, 2:34 PM · The Strads will probably still have significant value to collectors and museums. Many of their present owners don't play them either, or do anything other than vault them.
August 22, 2020, 2:37 PM · And many of them are worn out poor players now, so I’m told, but they retain significant value.
Edited: August 22, 2020, 4:07 PM · Good question Trevor. What is the residual collectable value of a master instrument that isn't playable? A violin reportedly played while the Titanic was sinking sold for $1.7M. Presumably a Strad with famous pedigree could still be worth a few pennies, playable or not. The sound may account for $150K if not less, the rest is the rarity and demand for the instrument. One unspoken reason, I think, master instruments are loaned, beside wanting it to be played is to add to its pedigree, which adds collectible value. An instrument played by Heifetz is worth more than the same one played by me, but I disgress from the OP. I think the sweet spot for the better entry pro-level instrument is thought as being around $15-20K, which is a lot. There seems to be very little available between $6.5-15K. $6.5K is thought as an intermediate level instrument, then it's a big jump to the next level. Violin playing ain't cheap indeed. Count $500 per year in maintenance alone and perhaps $2500+ for lessons, and amortization on the instrument and bow of $1500 over 10 years and you got an annual cost of $4500/yr at the minimum.
August 22, 2020, 5:03 PM · I played on my uncle's Vuillaume years ago, and who knows, since I couldn't get much of a sound out of any quality violin, but it was something else, like a rainbow coming out of the violin. A few years later, I came back to visit and he had two moderns instead, by, I believe, a Polish maker (could've been two different makers, I only played one), and it wasn't seemingly in the same galaxy.

Then again, a lot of factors are at play. Maybe the great fiddles from any particular generation are the ones that keep getting passed on, and it's not so much about being old, or even being a particular maker.

If anyone has an old Vuillaume they are trying to get rid of, I could probably do you a favor and take it off your hands.

August 22, 2020, 10:47 PM · some very good comments, re investment.

Violists should heed caveat emptor, caveat lector, caveat aures adhibeo.

Marx, not Buffet, stated: price is what you pay, value is what you receive.
Price is a function of demand, scarcity, capital.
Value is a function of psychology.
The two factors are not equivalent.

Will demand for violins continue? Will the psychology? Will the price? Will the value? In light of the hostility of one nation against virtually all others for the past 20 years, and the advent of the 'millennial generation', there is valid cause to doubt.

Wealthy people have always the need to preserve wealth, and thus objects become tradeable assets. I think people will continue to play violin far into the future. But what scope? Certainly, the bestest and scarcest violins will be preserved, eg Strad, Gaurneri, a few others. But what of the rest? Given the millennials, the question is not so rhetorical. Even so, will a $15mm Strad of today be priced at $15mm in the future? Very difficult to predict. But I think easier to say is the price of mediocre violins will not hold.


August 23, 2020, 12:34 AM · Rob, the suggestion that the millennial generation is reducing demand is a stereotype that could not be farther from the truth.

First of all: the entire millennial generation are now adults. The oldest millennials are almost 40. I am a millennial and the single biggest problem in my life is chronic back pain.

Second: the professional music world is more competitive than it has ever been, both in professional orchestra auditions and conservatory admission. There are more millennials playing string instruments at a high level than members of any past generation.

Third: millennials are starting to learn the violin as adults in larger numbers than past generations, as adult beginners have far greater access to competent teachers than before.

Perhaps a slightly smaller percentage of millennials are interested in classical music, but in raw numbers the number of violinists only keeps going up.

August 23, 2020, 10:32 AM · Christian remembers the sound of his uncle's Vuillaume with great fondness. But I have to wonder: Did he know the instrument was a priceless antique before he judged its sound?

Michael wrote, "Mozart was poor. If he were better supported economically we would likely have more masterpieces by him." But if Mozart was paid a flat salary allowing him to live comfortably writing, say, ten pieces a year, what would we have now?

August 23, 2020, 11:13 AM · Good thoughts, Paul. If I had been born to wealthy parents, I probably wouldn't have tried so hard. The notion of necessity being "the mother of invention" still has value, I think.
August 23, 2020, 11:38 AM · I can't remember if I had much of an idea about that name at the time, although I asked my mom yesterday, and she thought it may have been a Vuillaume copy, as she thought it may have been out of my uncle's price range (although the Vuillaume workshop was incredibly prolific, and the price spread is big), so while I don't remember my uncle saying anything about a copy, it's possible that it wasn't a Vuillaume at all.

There probably was a certain kind of placebo aspect of knowing it was my uncle's (a great violinist btw) fiddle, but it certainly played like a bit of a revelation to me.

August 23, 2020, 6:33 PM · @paul: If Mozart only wrote 10 works a year, but lived a full life we would likely have just as many works as we have now, roughly 600. However, producing only 10 works per year, I would expect that they would have been of an ever higher quality.

Responding in a more general sense, I will appeal to your own experience, if you need to get something done, get some cash now, doesn’t the quality of the work suffer? It certainly does for me.

If we are better supported, we can pursue things we truly value. This has its own motivation. We do not need to be beaten with the stick of poverty to make us work. It is simply cruel, and devalues human existence.

August 23, 2020, 11:56 PM · For some people, being under pressure results in better work. That's generally true for me, for instance.
August 24, 2020, 12:26 AM · Hypothesis: No great composer has ever been or become wealthy; more to the point no wealthy person has ever become a great composer in spite of having more potential leisure time than the rest of us. Counter-examples invited!
August 24, 2020, 12:39 AM · Charles Ives was quite a successful insurance executive.
August 24, 2020, 1:20 AM · Rachmaninoff did pretty well for himself when he got to America. Poulenc was born into a very wealthy family. Szymanowski was born into a wealthy family of nobility. Wagner made a lot of money in his life, despite squandering it all. I can't imagine that either Phillip Glass or John Adams are hurting for money. Handel was pretty loaded. Telemann was rich and famous. Paganini made a ton of money, and gambled it all away. Vivaldi was born into a wealthy family. Edward Elgar got pretty wealthy. Milhaud was born into a wealthy family, and seemed to do pretty well for himself during his career. I could go on and on.

Of course, "great composer" is subjective, but your hypothesis does not stand up.

August 24, 2020, 1:44 AM · Steve, Mendelssohn came from a very wealthy family. I think we can all agree he was a great composer!
Edited: August 24, 2020, 3:25 AM · Well thank you everyone, plenty of exceptions there to prove the rule. We can agree to differ on which of these composers was "great" (several of the above I'd say are pretty middle-ranking) and how much money counts as "wealthy" (Elgar for one I certainly wouldn't include). But yes, some of these did indeed manage to write great music in spite of their advantages.
August 24, 2020, 8:53 AM · Oh good grief.

It’s just as misguided to assume that wealthy people achieve little as it is to assume that poor people do so.

August 24, 2020, 9:27 AM · Please Mary Ellen, you don't need to take my provocative ideas so seriously! Yes, I do believe that wealth can be an obstacle to creativity but it would be absurd for me to make or think such a gross generalization as "wealthy people achieve little"
August 24, 2020, 10:08 AM · In general, historically, people did not become composers unless they came from sufficient wealth that they had access to a musical education. They were, at the very least, "middle class" -- which in those times was a much narrower slice of society, still near the top of the incomes for the time period. (They were "middle" in the sense that they sat between the nobility and the working class. They were either modest landholders or prosperous professionals that generally still qualified as "gentlemen" and "ladies" even if untitled.)
Edited: August 24, 2020, 10:19 AM · I was really only musing about Mozart having a posh salary instead of scraping by. Nobody will ever know what might have happened. I wasn't trying to start a war. But it's the internet, right?

By the way, Steve, from my own biased perspective the best example is Alexander Borodin, who was a chemistry professor! It's been noted that he did his best writing when he was ill. In fact there is a joke about Borodin, that he should have been sick more often!

Beethoven also ... would he have written such great late-opus piano sonatas, symphonies, or string quartets without the hardships that befell him? Contrast him with John Williams -- not exactly a "starving artist" but still very creative and productive. Maybe he just does it because he loves it and he knows he's good at it. I imagine the same is true of Adams. And performers -- Josh Bell could retire right now and he'd be fine. But why would he?

August 24, 2020, 10:32 AM · Paul,
Maybe we do know. According to some historians, Mozart made a posh amount. By one account, it was in the top 5%. The speculation is that he lived beyond his means and incurred other large bills, or he gambled it away.
August 24, 2020, 10:52 AM · Frieda, that's interesting to learn. I was just going on what someone else said, that he was "poor." Gambling continues to be a serious problem for many people.
August 24, 2020, 10:57 AM · Not just gambling. Parties, clothes, other kinds of high living. His actual income was pretty good, but you could earn $150k today and still be facing problems if you spend $160k.

Mr Micawber.

August 24, 2020, 1:57 PM · Mary Ellen, I agree.
Edited: August 27, 2020, 11:55 PM · As from ~ former Loanee, Guarnerius del Gesu But! #179

This Subject Title is Political and I detest some of the 'crappolla' going on by usually informed and very discerning Violinists. This idea of 'inequality' being fueled by advanced players is utter Rubbish & a bold faced LIE!!

As the only private artist-pupil of Nathan Milstein, at his London Chester Square home for 3 & 1/2 Years, at least twice weekly for minimum 3 & 1/2 hrs each 'advanced repertoire bowing tutorial', I can verify that Mr. Milstein loved playing his Porggi - a contemporary Italian Violin, with joy! He was,
after all, NATHAN MILSTEIN!! Further testament to this Insane Distorted Notion of 'inequality' due to advanced players needing above $10K violins, was my First Icon Mentor, JASCHA HEIFETZ, enjoying his Berger Violin & possibly in our Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class Films, without any sense of 'discrimination' ~ What in heck is going on in the String World even tho', Yes, we are still in a Global Pandemic and Yes, we have All suffered due to One Bad Criminal losing his life due to One, Only One Demented Police Officer, gone utterly mad. Enough!! We are Not musicians if trying to Mix a very dangerous 'Movement' currently causing great divisiveness & fear with the Idea of What Violin one Plays if an Advanced player 'causes inequality'.

I sincerely caution those & the Author of the Title of this Discussion to Now Cease and Desist. Please STOP!!

One can play magnificently on an inexpensive Violin as my great Mentor & Friend of 24 years, Nathan Milstein, used to often say! Repeat: 'YOU CAN PLAY WELL ON ANY VIOLIN IF YOU, YOURSELF, PLAY WELL.'

Please Stop all of this as After the Pandemic when Life returns to a near to 'normal' whom do you think will be targeted First by (God Forbid) Rogues in Power, one of whom demanded $25,000.000.00 M for The Mighty Wealthy Endowment of The Kennedy Center yet left All the Honest & Gifted String
Teachers/Artists Out to Hang??? So, dear people, do the Best with All you have & Good will come to You ~ And to Each of You, and Do Not believe in what is obvious Divisiveness right here on a Violinist.com Discussion with a very silent yet-underneath-Viciousness and Jealousness of Great Violinists' 'Dude', who penned this to get vast Replies. We need to cut out this 'White Supremacy' /"inequality" due to advanced players Garbage to Avoid being Party to such things . . . I was told by an 'advanced' player colleague that he'd 'performed Music by a Black American Composer which demonstrated his {my} Lack of White Supremacy'! Forgive me, Good Friend Violinists & Luthiers here, but in telling me this & feeling he needed to 'educate' me, the daughter of a Famed late ASTA National President, who witnessed her first teacher-father of Strings & Music Conductor Fire All 9 Double Bassists in his suburban LA Orchestra due to the Principle Bassists' voiced prejudice to Dad in our home, against a poorest of the poor young black 14 yr old immensely gifted kid, who refused to sit next to a 'N****' in mid-later 1950's, & Popoa so enraged, then Fired All of his 9 Caucasian Double Bassist's on the spot & tutored young Henry Lewis, (many under 50 may not know of), but nevertheless Dad taught him Bass minus any Fee's for 2 full years and had young Henry Lewis in his Orchestra with 9 new other Double Bassist's playing minus any prejudice with utter Professional Behaviour cordiality to young Henry Lewis, that 'star' Henry due to Dad's total Encouragement of a true Talent, just 2 years later, was ready to apply in an 'Open' audition for the Principle Double Bass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and on-the-spot Won the job becoming the 1st Black American 16 yr old Principle Bassist of the LA Phil and *Without an expensive nor near to even minimum medium priced Double Bass my Dad had given to Henry Lewis, from Willowbrook, a wrong side of Tracks poor kid's neighbourhood of Compton, CA, who hadn't money to purchase a Double Bass yet a Brilliant 'colour-blind' Mentor who believed in him named Ralph Matesky, (who Never in his Life, tolerated any attitudes excepting the Highest Professional Codes of Respect amid kind Colleague-ship from All whom he hired w/Great Soloists, included, & with some whom hadn't *Strad's but Made Do with refined or good instruments who were inspired to give their all in Solo / Orchestral Masterworks of LvB, Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Sibelius & 3 Tchaikovsky's IV, V, & VI ('Pathetique') & Etc., in numerous public concert performance's), Lifted Way Up by Dad, continued his non prejudiced mentoring of all changing Live's of thousands.

Such a dastardly notion Advanced String Player's Must-Have High Priced 'Quality' Instruments IS (& perhaps unknown to the Author of this informed string player's Discussion), a Reversed Snobbism of the First Degree!? We
are not Rich in $$$ but incredibly Enriched through our Great Love of Great *Genius Composer's (who are you, X, to demean great's?) & forever devout industrious faithful practicing throughout our Lives Performing & Teaching Music to All and Be (Pardon me a second) Damned w/ a New rented Violin or loaned simple one ~ If we train enough to obtain a position in a good or better or Best Orchestra, with healthy salaries we sometimes, later on, can at least purchase fine instruments & from wonderful present day Maker's as Michael Darnton, Paul Becker or a Douglas Cox, plus many others which space prevents naming, but just FYI, my longtime friend & Sr. colleague, Great American Violin Soloist, Camilla Wicks, played a Joseph Smith Violin made for her in Australia, to utter joy with her glorious sound & especially in Sibelius' Violin Concerto eliciting a handwritten Letter from Jean Sibelius, yes! the Composer, to Camilla Wicks, with words beyond praise of her artistry in portraying his Violin Concerto! Requesting a retreat from Media Hype re 'White Supremacy' or 'Racism' for most of American's have passed the 1960's & understandable eruptions of shock electing a Black President in 2008 & a Second Term in 2012, was this termed Racism or 'inequality'?? Heck No!!! (Both issues display parallel's above ~ )

Climb out of deliberately promoted Thinking by Those who will defund our Police plus you name it, and go back to the Mentor's who encouraged you with no hints of This's or That's yet occasional 'gestalt' Trash teaching low attitudes based on arrogance or lack of ability to Teach, but Not for colour of Skin nor origin in Life or poor, poorer or silent hints that smacked of "No, you're not good enough because you are black, from mixed parents" with a host of 'other's' "Baloney" to revive instincts to Give More than you receive in performing and teaching Music For All . . .

Carried away, my recounting of The Henry Lewis Story via Ralph Matesky has much more but I'll wait until another time! Suffice to say, Henry Lewis, performed a goodly time in the LA Phil, went to USC studying Conducting w/Dad, who expanded his range of repertoire to also include Opera as well
which proved providential upon Henry Lewis' marriage to Great USA Mezzo Soprano, Marilyn Horne, w/later child plus becoming Ms. Horne's preferred Conductor throughout Europe & Asia + Australia & the UK, whom I last saw at The Wigmore Hall Studios on Wigmore St. in London's Mayfair, & when seeing me w/violin, embraced & told me, "Elisabeth, without your father, I would Never have had any chance to become the musician I am nor marry the woman of my dreams, have a child & Conduct throughout the world and now heading back to NYC, having accepted the Music Director/Conductor post of the New Jersey Symphony! I love your father to this day & forever!!" Seeing Maestro Henry Lewis was a Huge Joy in my heart, to say the least!!

In closing, please know I believe all here would & will already have taught & mentored many with the least which is part of our 'Mission' as 'Apostle's' for Great Classical Music & connecting Genre's 'Authentique' . . .

Thank you for reading this which wasn't intended but occurred from within a part of one's heart tucked inside myself until Now ~

Yours respectfully and musically from Chicago, USA

Elisabeth Matesky

(Elisabeth Anne Matesky *FB full name*)

*https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

*https://www.violinist.com/directory/bio.cfm?member=Milstein

Cc Dale Golden (c)CopyrightEM#179,8.27. 20. All Rights Reserved.

Edited: August 28, 2020, 5:44 PM · **A Memo of Recognition ** #180

Above #179, is a Reply from experience and one's heart, with Warmest Greetings to recognized Contributor's on this very extensive Discussion including ~

Mary Ellen Goree
Christian Lesniak
Joel Quivey (praying the Fires haven't touched your home)
Nate Robinson
Lydia Leong
Alexander Saldarriaga
Stephen Smychych
Jocelyn Marrow
Gordon Shumway
*Freida Francis (new)
Paul Deck
And Compliments to Michael Darnton!!!

Thank You's to All ~ Elisabeth Matesky August 26, 2020

Cc Dale Golden(c)CopyrightEM#180,8.27. 20. All Rights Reserved.

August 25, 2020, 2:57 PM · The OP mentions the audience but forgets the player. It is the player who pays, and he pays for a quick response, clarity, a wide and generous dynamic range, an instrument that is easy to play, and in tune, good tone and yeah, good tone even under the ear.
Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:27 PM · Intriguing Observation by Luis Claudio Manfio ~ #182

A fine Luthier just posted an obvious yet so obvious it has yet to
be addressed re ~ "It is the player who pays, and he pays for a
quick response, clarity, a wide and generous dynamic range, an
Instrument that is easy to play, and in tune, good tone and yeah,
good tone even under the ear.'

To enforce Violin Luthier Manfio's very important response, I can actually verify that my 'other' Iconic Violin Master Mentor, NATHAN MILSTEIN, used to frequently ask me, his termed, 'Guinea Pig' artist protege, to 'Please play my Strad, Elisabeth, so I can hear it away from my own Ear!!" I would do &
a touch nervously, holding his Milstein Strad under my chin, yet playing the many passages from that we were addressing w/Mr. Milstein, listening most carefully to every minutiae, then seemingly Happy!! He would also leave the 'torture chamber' (our coined phrase!) to bring his Porggi & have me play it just following hearing his Strad, to compare varying tonal qualities between his 1714 Strad & his 'brand new' Porggi, circa about 1969/'70 (?) new Italian Violin ~ Even sometimes NM would play both back to back then ask me to describe 'How he {I} sound on the Strad or the Porggi?!!' Quite often one or the other would sound better than the other!!!! No Kidding! Yet I can say without reservation, that the Porggi was easy and immediately responsive to my hands & inner idea of particular sound/s I wished to try re- producing! And it goes without saying, Mr. Milstein's playing on his beloved Porggi sounded above & beyond what one could imagine! Another aspect to do w/NM's Porggi was how it sounded away from Chester Square in his lounge (living room) in Zurich, on hardwood floors w/beautiful wooden walls when teaching there starting in Summer 1970, & being Milstein's Help-Teach Assistant on hand for international pupil's first time exposed to NM's very unique bowing technique/s, I would be asked to offer help to ensure those w/Flesch or Galamian ideas re bowing, could try grasping unusual NM Bowing's fused w/bowed 3 & 4 stringed chording minus any scratch! I was able to give extra time to those gifted pupil's w/open minds who knew Milstein's mastery of the Bow was the Key to artistic technique in service of the spread chords so prevalent in Unaccompanied Bach Sonatas & Partitas which are the Violin's Holy Bible & Art of playing technically & even more importantly, spiritually ... His Porggi sounded even more rounded w/gloss in his 'Zurich tone' than in NM's London home ~ He was forever delighted with his 'new' Porggi!!! I was There!!!

Sending Best Wishes to you, Luis Claudio Manfio!!!!

Elisabeth Matesky

Chicago USA

Cc Dale Golden(c)CopyrightEM#182;8.27. 20. All Rights Reserved.

August 25, 2020, 3:48 PM · Hi OP here.

I'm just dropping in to thank everyone for their contributions to this discussion. I suspected it would be an engaging topic when I first posted it, but who would have thought it would get over 180 responses!

There are certainly strong views on this topic and some from opposing perspectives. It's all in the spirit of healthy debate! What's important is that we can have a positive discussion and be open to learning from others. I've learned a lot from reading all your comments (including the digression on college tuition).

Thanks for the great discussion. Love you all in the v.com community. I look forward to other great conversations elsewhere on this site.

Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:29 PM · Thank you, Scott Cole!! August 25, 2020

~ Scott Cole #184

Thank you for trying to 'wade through' but when starting my initial response, I'd no idea it would become so involved but something moving a very deep personal experience & learning much from my father & ways he dealt with all mentioned above in #179, I obviously became involved and went ahead with my own 'stream of consciousness' to somehow get it all on the page with the powerful (to me) messages it contains and contained at a tender impressionable age ~

Preparing to write a Book or Memoir of my professional musical career & Life thus far, & upon meny requests, I've not been on Laurie's website too much, but Thank You for your suggestions!!! A relevant Story ~

When writing a Letter to Sir Georg Solti, at his home in London, responding back re a Violin Concerto composed & dedicated to my father, for myself, a personal script was evidently very long & the next time we met at Orchestra Hall, visiting, the Maestro looked at me as an adorable 'Dog' look, saying - 'Mein dear Elisabeth! I read your 7 Paged Letter, but it was Too Long, mein
Dear!!!" I thought a moment then looked straight back at Solti, saying, "But, dear Maestro, You Read All 7 Pages!!!!!" With his Secretary, David Harvey there, he let out a Roar of Laughter & scratching his head (which was then mostly short on hair!) said in Yiddish: 'My Crazy Child!!" We Belly laughed together until we could no more!!! It was & is one of the funniest exchanges Solti and I had!!! How I miss The Maestro, Scott ~ I will include this in my Book, thanks to you!!!

Tired now, I may come back mañana to Edit it a bit for you to more easily read ... I'm a Hobby Writer, so excuse my roaming about ~ btw, I completely agree with your Reply regarding not to put Blame on the Instrument. It IS the sole responsibility of the player to do due diligence on the 'Board' not to mention The Bow!!! That is a Big Deal which Nathan Milstein literally, over 2 plus years of the nonstop 3 & 1/2 injected into my right arm & so Ready, I worked as a maniac to 'Get It' and the rewards were & continue to be totally & completely 'Liberating' to one's playing & musicality w/a near 'surgically' 'transplanted' Milstein Bow Arm First Generation from The Great Master of Bowing Art, Nathan Milstein!!

Sending warm regards from sunny Chicago ~

Elisabeth Matesky

*https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

*also Listed here on Laurie's Directory*

Cc Dale Golden(c)CopyrightEM#184;8.26.20. All Rights Reserved.

August 25, 2020, 6:11 PM · Thanks Elisabeth! I remember of a good written article published here by Laurie Niles, I will transcribe it here:

"Your violin is your teacher, too: So get a good one

February 14, 2007, 11:28 PM · As of this month, I've been playing the violin for 30 years. My violin anniversary is February 18, to be specific. I know because I started on Melanie Mayer's ninth birthday, as did Melanie. She reminded me every year. So wherever you are, happy birthday, Melanie!

I've been playing on an excellent violin now for one year, and it has opened my mind in ways that nothing else could in the 29 years before.

That's right, my nine years of violin instruction before college, four years in college, two years in graduate school, years of performing in dozens of orchestras, solo recitals, not to mention literally thousands of hours in the practice room – none of it taught me what a good violin has taught me.

One sees this phenomenon in small children: the child with a quarter-size violin who is ready for vibrato, for example. The child can do vibrato, even, but neglects it because he or she can't see the point. Then the child gets a larger violin that resonates, and suddenly vibrato makes sense and he or she can learn it.

The highest violin technique makes sense only on a fine instrument.

I've been looking back at pieces I played in college and reading the notes my teachers wrote in the margins. At the time, I played on a German factory violin given to me by my grandmother; it had been in her attic. For all her good intentions, though, it was a squeakbox.

"More tone!" implores my teacher from the page of a Brahms sonata.

"SUSTAIN" in the last movement of the Saint-Saens concerto.

"Darker sound on the G string" was a comment in a Bartok piece.

Even "LOUD" at the end of the Andante melanconico in Intro and Rondo Capricc.

Certainly there were requests that had more to do with the player than the instrument ("Stand straight! Relax left hand!") but I also saw much begging for a sound that simply was not possible or that took such heroic effort. I worked and worked and worked to make those things happen, and still the results were marginal. I barely have to do anything to make more tone, or a darker sound, on my current violin.

Without having ever played a fine violin, I did not even understand the completely different plane of playing available to me.

I understand now why some conservatories and universities make fine instruments available to students. I used to think that if one played well on a bad violin, one would be way ahead of the game when stepping up to a better one. That if one was "spoiled," playing on a Strad in college, one would never figure out how to make do with something lesser. It's not true. If one plays on a fine instrument, one knows what to seek in any instrument, and one also knows its importance.

All those years of fighting a bad instrument cause frustration; they block out what could be; they prevent the exploration of one's fullest potential as a musician.

I am grateful to at last have an instrument that allows me this; even if I'm destined to be a very late bloomer! But I would implore parents, schools and young musicians themselves: get the best instrument you can. Get the one that will awaken you to your fullest potential!

August 25, 2020, 7:25 PM · Other wealthy "greats": Delius, Gesualdo, Henry VIII (of his time - Tallis and Taverner were greater). Rodrigo had a title - whether he had wealth to go with it I don't know. I think Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov were also quite well off.
August 25, 2020, 8:59 PM · Elizabeth is writing a book? Is there enough paper for that?
Edited: August 25, 2020, 9:43 PM · Elizabeth, in the Heifetz films he is playing a Berger violin, as in Karl August Berger? For some reason I always thought that was his Tononi! By the way, I'm a huge fan, thank you for contributing here. Looking forward to someday reading more about your life and inspirational father :)
August 25, 2020, 9:52 PM · Just a slight note in reference to Ms. Matesky’s first post. Heifetz inexpensive
Becker, son or father would fall in the 50-60K range now. And I assume Poggi mentioned (in reference to Milstein) sells for up to 200K. (Tariso)
August 25, 2020, 10:08 PM · Oops misread, still Berger at auction 15K.
August 26, 2020, 3:30 AM · Scott nice to see you back!
Edited: August 26, 2020, 8:23 AM · Since we asked “what if” about Mozart, and getting back to the OP’s question, which is about the difference in violins at a lower end rather than a Strad vs. top modern/contemporary:

At the soloist level: Suppose Heifetz or Milstein (or a future Heifetz/Milstein) had no access to instrument loans. Could they have become greats if, through childhood to age 22, they had learned on only instruments in the <$10K range (in today's dollars), or only on factory violins?

I think it would be reassuring to the OP if the answer were "yes," but do we know about soloists? As noted above among non-soloists, there are many examples of professionals who didn't have expensive instruments when they began their careers. (Maybe it's not even an issue for future soloists today. If you show that much promise at an early age, people will help you access a better instrument.)

There are violinists who borrowed fine violins that they then had to return, but they had time to learn on those instruments. Those skills won't go away just because they switch to a different violin later.

August 26, 2020, 8:31 AM · Scott says that every aspiring conservatory piano student needs a grand piano.
Sadly in this modern world, I don't think this is sufficient. I think that in order to compete, a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand is the minimum requirement.
August 26, 2020, 8:50 AM · Matthew Metz: Oh, heck no. You'll find Carl G Becker (father) selling for more than $100k, and Carl F Becker (son) selling for the $75k range, at least on the east coast, if in excellent condition.
Edited: August 26, 2020, 9:14 AM · I think the biggest impediment to becoming an artist or really a self employed
Independent of any kind is our embarrassing lack of a single payer national health care system. The only industrialized western nation without. Certainly keeps people in their place, whether it’s starting your own business, having one parent stay home to homeschool, choosing a financially difficult but soul rewarding career.
So, a 10K violin seems like a marginal impediment compared to the class rigidity and insecurity in the USA.
Yes, Becker’s were auction prices taken from Tariso, retail at a shop more.
Regardless, the cheap violins used by the famous were not below 10K as th OP asked.
August 26, 2020, 9:13 AM · "The only industrialized western nation without."
Not for long.
Edited: August 26, 2020, 9:36 AM · Getting back to the OP, while $10K might indeed be an "already large sum" in many contexts, it is not a large sum when it comes to quality violins. Perhaps that's the original disconnect.

For example, I think while everyone would agree that $50K is an "already large sum" in many cases, it isn't if you're talking about buying a house. In that context, $50K is very little, and a $50K house is likely to be a shack.

August 26, 2020, 11:38 AM · My guess is that:
1. 99% of players never need a $10,000 violin
2. Some larger % of those players would love one
3. For professionals of a certain level it's a necessary tool.

I think OP is talking about #1 and many people are responding with #3. I think one thing that has changed in modern life, in part because of the internet, is that we are exposed to a broader level of price points and luxury goods than we would have been in the past. Many of us could have grow up, fiddled happily for decades, and died in peace, all playing on the violin Pa ordered out of the Sears Robuck catalogue. Now we can watch thousands of hours of violins we can't afford on youtube and debate with world class players the merits of various famous makers. As others have said this is true of cars, houses, etc.

I have a kid playing violin who enjoys it and does some practice but will never crack that 1%. I am a little relieved that we will never have to mortgage the house to buy him a violin. He has a pretty good (for middle-of-the-section middle school) violin. At some point he may want a violin for $10,000, but I don't think it would dramatically improve his playing (maybe I am wrong). I guess this is another question: granting that a professional requires an excellent instrument, does an excellent instrument improve a middling player at all? If you lend Bob your $50,000 violin to play during practice, will he sound any better than he does on his Shar special?

For professional violinists I'm sure $50,000 is probably a great life investment. The romance of the instrument is part of the fun of violin and it is also really wonderful to watch great violinists and makers debating these questions.

Edited: August 26, 2020, 12:56 PM · "For example, I think while everyone would agree that $50K is an "already large sum" in many cases, it isn't if you're talking about buying a house. In that context, $50K is very little, and a $50K house is likely to be a shack."

I'm sure that's true for America. In some places it's a house, some places it's a nice weekend house or just a small house for 2 people. And a lot of the $50K is the land for the house.

August 26, 2020, 1:26 PM · J Seitz, the OP is specifically talking about "serious students and professionals" and "pursuing a career as a violinist."
Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:31 PM · To ~ Freida Francis ~ #201

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky

Carrier of the Heifetz-Milstein Legacy of Great Violin Playing & Teaching

Re: 'Suppose Heifetz or Milstein (or a future Heifetz /Milstein) had no access to $10K violins from ... Could they have become Great's . . . "

Dear Ms. Francis ~

Having been 1 of only 7 original artist pupil's of Jascha Heifetz in his First Jascha Heifetz Int'l Violin Master Class @USC's Institute for Special Music Studies for 2 full days per week of 6 hours a day & 1 hr for Lunch, including Friday afternoon Chamber Music with Mr.'s Heifetz, Piatigorsky & Great Brit Violist, William Primrose, occasionally invited by Jascha Heifetz to sit in as JH Second Violinist w/Violist, William Primrose +Great Violoncellist, Gregor Piatigorsky, in String Quartets & at Heifetz Tempi (!!), I can authoritatively answer your question regarding whether Mr. Heifetz or Milstein, (btw, my 'other' Master Mentor, privately, and at Nathan Milatein's home in London for 3 & 1/2 years), would have become Heifetz & Milstein if they had had no access from child-hood to aged 22, instruments of no more than $10,000K, w/an indisputable YES, They Would Have 'Become' Icon's, Jascha Heifetz & Nathan Milstein, & knowing both well & especially Nathan Milstein very very well for 24 Years, neither young boy, Heifetz, nor young boy, Milstein, had access to any violin of more than $1000.00 USD born & growing up in their home country, 'Mother' Russia, prior to 1917's Bolshevik Revolution, due to being 'genius' son's of poor parents & in the case of Mr. Heifetz, his Father-Teacher, Ruvin, barely scraping by, & Mr. Milstein's busy away from home father, selling fabrics as best he could & 6 other children to raise, w/Milstein's adored Mother, charged raising all 7 as best she could & doing so but on a limited budget, yet all-knowing regarding her young boy, Nathan,, whom she sensed possessed Greatness & a Curiosity for Soccer, getting into fights with other boys whom she distracted her young Natan, by making whilst supervising him practise violin at home!!!

Now! Nathan Milstein, Odessa born, studied with Stolyarsky who was also the Teacher of David Oistrakh, but some years apart as Oistrakh was 8 yrs younger than Milstein. I cannot write a historical book here but I know from both Iconic Artists, both my Mentor's & Friends, that Life was Tough in both
Vilna, in Lithuania, the birth place of Jascha Heifetz, & Odessa, birth place of Nathan Milstein.

Times were upside-down turbulent w/neither Family able to afford a decent violin & mattered Not due to extraordinariness of Genius, Heifetz, sounding as the Heifetz you've heard on recordings at the age of 7. Heifetz's Genius is Just That!! When Leopold Auer, Professor of both Heifetz (& Milstein + famed other's), heard the boy, Jascha Heifetz, the first time, he was beyond astonished & due to Rules at St. Petersburg Conservatory in Petersburg, could not admit the 7 yr old Boy, Heifetz, to his class but Ruvin Heifetz, the father & violinist teacher of his son, enrolled as a student of Leopold Auer, to get his unbelievable son, Jascha, in under the noses of officials!! Young Heifetz learned on a mediocre (being kind) violin but, for all here, made it Sound Magnificently due to his exquisiteness & already world class artistry & wizardry at aged 7!! The cheap violin hadn't any Impact on How 7 year old Jascha Heifetz sounded! Auer taught his Genius Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto which he, the Great Leopold Auer, had pronounced 'impossible for any violinist to play!'" But young Jascha played it w/such perfection no one could actually believe what they were both hearing & seeing in a 7 then 8 & 9 yr old child with Godly Gifts none to this writing have been fully able to understand nor explain!! Your idea re Talent of God, JH, not becoming Reality due to a less than $1000.00 violin is not even a part of the equation, dear Freida! And The Same applies to young boy. Nathan Milstein, who (& I quote NM to me) "for my amusement, I played all of Chopin's Polonaise's & Nocturne's for the PIANO on my violin out of boredom with every Etude!!" So, when speaking of The 'Holy Double' (not Trinity) of Greatest Violinists of The Father, whether they learned to play on a Box or cheap fiddle made nor would've made a hoot of difference with regard to both their truly Rare & Unique DNA composition At Birth with "Something from God" no human can really explain!!!

Being greatly blessed to be invited by Both Giants to study is a providential Gift from God, Himself, for He must have known yours truly would excel as an artist & placed Jascha Heifetz, after 6 decades of Global Emperor-dom of The Violin in USC's Bovard Auditorium on a Wedding Anniversary of my beloved parents when making my official Soloist Debut in Los Angeles in Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto w/the Super Powered USC Concert Symphony comprised of the most renowned musician friends w/Sir Georg Solti's WWII best Friend/Survivor from Nazi Gestapo hunting them down, Dr. Walter Ducloux, (& not finding them as they were taken in by a Suiss Family, hidden in the Attic from the Gestapo, starving but surviving death
to escape when The Allies liberated All Europe in 1945), Conducting! And, to return to Bovard Auditorium in early Winter of the 60s, Heifetz & his great friend/colleague, Piatigorsky, attended our concert as Eminent Guest's of USC to hear a pupil of Ralph Matesky, Prof at USC, perform the 1st Mov't of the Khachaturian on that particular Elisabeth Matesky Debut Night in LA!(Btw, had I known JH was there, I would Not have dared walk on the Stage! Ignorance Is Bliss!!!) Oh, Mr. Heifetz invited me to audition after, accepting
me as 1 of only 7 artist pupil's, w/lessons later filmed & on YouTube ~

One could pose the same Question about Albert Einstein!! Would Einstein have become EINSTEIN if from child-hood to aged 22, he had No Math or Light to See? It wouldn't have made any difference because God had given the baby, Albert Einstein, at birth that 'something' gene which would propell young Einstein to fail Math (!) & disgusted by 'Old' Ideas, drop out of Zurich University to follow his innate obsession w/Light. He hadn't need of Science Mentor's aside from nice support as all in his immediate group knew utterly Nothing of what Albert Einstein's Mind was examining organically & through experiments he himself began inventing which were leading him to his pen-ultimate World Shaking Discovery of Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity'! Yes, he had need of a bed to sleep, food to eat + must Great Classical Music & his shabby violin to try playing on, w/vast amounts of Paper to scribble out what may have been unfathomable configurations-equations before finally
discovering The Secret & Mystery of his 'Theory of Relativity' which after masses of Doubting stuffy Thomas's, proved Correct changing The World of Science Forever, & then Famed, was able to fulfill his lifelong Dream of meeting fellow Genius, Jascha Heifetz, at Heifetz's Beverly Hills Gilcrest Dr.
home even inviting The Great Einstein into his {Heifetz's} inner Sanctuary, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, Private Jascha Heifetz Music Studio to play Violin Duets, while nervously tuning Violin before his {Prof Einstein's} Idol, HEIFETZ!!!!

In closing (and Paul Deck is laughing at All the Space I'm taking up!! So am I, dear Paul!) let me say that the cheap modest violin's of both boys, Jascha Heifetz & Nathan Milstein, were 'there' & mattered not a bit to their already on display rare Genius for playing & making never before heard individual & completely Unique Sounds in all Violin Music they presented to a few & later, at 11 (JH) & 15 (NM) to The Czar, his Court, then Bolshevik Boss from whom came Fame playing for Thousands of 'Workers' w/a 'guy', Vladimir Horowitz, NM's Lifetime Friend/Musical Brother Pianist, who both escaped Bolshevik Russia to Berlin 3 months apart w/help of an Ambassador who idolized both Milstein & Horowitz, getting them papers to 'travel for awhile' to play concerts in Berlin in Germany ... I'm Done, but I Believe there shall Never be another Jascha Heifetz or Nathan Milstein, as there will never be another Michelangelo, Leonardo di Vinci or Vincent Van Gogh or Picasso!

"Kaspische", Frieda??!!!

My sincere musical wishes to you & listen to Heifetz's 'Havanaise' & Nathan Milstein's Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major w/Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI, now & hope, on YouTube ~ *One is as Astaire & the other as Gene Kelly of Dance Art but Violin Art!!! I leave it to you to figure out Who is Fred Astaire & who is Gene Kelly from their Sounds & Sweep Plus, et al ~

Exhausted but exhilarated being Challenged ~

Elisabeth Matesky ^*

^ Biography: https://www.violinist.com/directory/bio.cfm?member=Milstein

*All About: https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf
(FB only: Elisabeth Anne Matesky)

Cc Dale Golden (c)CopyrightEM#201-8.26.20. All Rights Reserved.


August 26, 2020, 1:32 PM · As aforementioned, I do think that a *really* good sounding instrument for $20,000 is a great buy for professionals. But there is an impossible to reconcile disconnect as well-many people in the US will never own a house, and may only own one of these instruments at great personal sacrifice.

Relative poverty is very real, and just working hard (or "smart") won't make millions of individuals or families well to do. Of course there are many cases where the poor has transcended that situation, but most often than not, many of these people do work hard and honestly for their living, and still are never able to buy a house. So please be aware that the reason a player may "refuse to get serious/better" is not lack of commitment to his/her instrument and aspirations, but a high price tag. These players need to save up, and will likely never own a fine old italian violin, or even a modern violin from a well-known maker.

I still however believe it is a symptom of greater problems, and that a good player can find a good instrument at a lower (not too low) price point. The player is the biggest factor-along with often expensive training. But since this requirement in schools and orchestras will not go away anytime soon, just accept it and save up, making sure your current "cheap" instrument is good, and that you are not deceived into buying a bad $20,000 violin once you are able to purchase it.

In short, inequality is real, but good violin training is relatively more accesible too, and one can play well on a "lesser" violin. But be sure to save up, forgoing expensive hobbies, fancy cars, etc. if you want that fine instrument for professional purposes. Focus on your goal, and do not let poverty limit who you are and what you can do as a musician.

Best wishes to all, and happy practicing today.

August 26, 2020, 1:42 PM · Once again Elisabeth, you cleanse us with your words like a bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap!
Edited: August 26, 2020, 1:59 PM · I'm not sure whether I feel cleansed or exorcised.
August 26, 2020, 2:14 PM · @Andrew Hsieh, I think there's still some segmentation among advanced students and budding professionals. This thread is helpful because it also shows: folk upgrading much later than they wished to, performance students relying on school instruments or loans until they could afford their own, folk bargain shopping if high priced instruments are out of their range, and people winning orchestra auditions on loaner violins.

While there are superstars who would profit from a $50,000 instrument in 6th grade, it may be the bulk of players, even music majors at good schools, don't need that instrument. It sure sounds like very few people on this board had such instruments in their youth, even though many (most?) are professionals of one type or another. I'm guessing you really do need a $50,000 instrument at major orchestras, but that's a pretty elite group, and many will have been playing for a long time before they get there.

On the house question, it does seem like $50,000 is a relatively small fraction of many people's lifetime earnings, but there's also a large percent of the population with no or negative assets.

My main take on Elizabeth's post is that prodigies often sounded great even on horrible instruments, which is an interesting contrarian response to this thread.

Edited: August 28, 2020, 6:42 AM · Nearly all child prodigies (and regular children) start by learning on fractional instruments which are "horrible" compared to professional-level, full-size instruments.

The question is, what happens if they continue playing on those "horrible" instruments and never have access to a better instrument? Would a child prodigy who keeps playing on a $1000 violin from ages 12-22 improve as much as the child prodigy who gets access to a $10K+ instrument during that time? Would they plateau in their development, or even get discouraged and quit?

August 26, 2020, 2:53 PM · If they never upgrade from their fractionals, then this happens:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qatp1D49wFk

August 26, 2020, 3:51 PM · I think my daughter has benefitted from having decent antique (Age not important) German fractionals and then her current well worn 1908 French full size. All “factory” or shop made, but all chosen by blind testing. Not telling the listeners (teachers) what the violin was or cost, just numbering and having them ranked (in different environments home, concert hall). I think their is a feedback loop, between the sound quality and playability, that does help her progress. And that her sound quality has recieved attention that has created opportunities. And the sound has furthered her love for playing. Likely we could have made a second job of looking for the needle in the haystack
that provided what was needed for 2K.
We have not reached the 10K mark but likely that might need to happen if she
goes to college for violin in 6 or 7 years.
We went to NYC for the contemporary makers show last fall, she played a bunch of violins 20K up and couple of them made her eyes go wide. Which was worth the trip.


Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:33 PM · @Frieda Francis ~ #209

Re: you've read my Piece on Icon's Heifetz & Milstein but not a word except using my words re $1000.00 Violin's learned on by Mr.'s Heifetz & Milstein as example for 'violin prodigies' but you've no idea of the time period of JH & NM as young boys so it is Not Time Period relevant ~

From ~ Elisabeth Matesky

The Answer is No!!! It does Not matter how simple the violin; what matters are innate technical-musical gifts. No violin can suppress Greatness that is Truly Obvious ~ Do listen to Heifetz or Milstein. Then listen to a person who began studying @5 to aged 22 who sounds scratchy & cold w/No Heart ~
You'll 'Hear' my Answer to your Question.

Do you play the Violin??? Me thinks maybe or a bit!!

Musically yours ~

Ms. E. Matesky

Cc Dale Golden re (c)CopyrightEM#209-8.26. 20. All Rights Reserved.
.

August 26, 2020, 5:50 PM · There's no need to get huffy. Someone with the penetrating talent of Heifetz or Milstein (there are no other great violinists in the history of the instrument, after all, or Elizabeth would surely have studied with them) may be able to coax compelling music from an inferior instrument. And yet, we have continually heard in this forum that ordinary mortals in the form of teenagers on the cusp of performing careers can have their progress retarded for lack of better tools. Cannot these two positions be reconciled at all? If so, can it be accomplished in fewer than 1000 words?

There is an argument to be made -- which will likely be unpopular and to which I do not necessarily subscribe -- that inequality underpins culture because there is not enough (and there will never be enough) government support for classical musicians, opera singers, ballet dancers, sculptors, or painters. So without at least some economic gradient within a population, there would be none among us with wealth above the threshold to be so disposable that it would be spent supporting our cultural institutions, and not only on one's church and one's local PTA. So goes the argument against communism.

Edited: August 26, 2020, 6:07 PM · I know you're playing devil's advocate, Paul, but I don't buy it. That argument wants to discount all the arts support under various communist regimes that (having mixed results in terms of freedom of expression) resulted in musicians, dancers and other performing artists being trained at incredibly high levels.

The fact that the US is a capitalist system that does produce good players is a testament to the inequality, as you mention, but it's more about the resources that the wealthier families do have to bestow on their kids than that capitalism drives demand from the audience - Otherwise, why would the prevailing advice on this forum be to NOT study music unless you absolutely have to? The US does not give a damn about its artists, and capitalism undercuts the sophistication of the audience, because people find cotton candy gratifying, and simpler forms of entertainment and their marketing command the attention.

Communism has its myriad problems when it comes to the arts, but whether or not it's a big deal to someone that the art is usually part of a propaganda arm doesn't really negate that the arts have been spaces of relative economic security in communist systems, compared to the libertarianism of the US, where 'good luck, and I hope you came from money'.

August 26, 2020, 6:24 PM · There are many countries who offer their residents basics , in particular universal health care while having thriving arts and a healthy private sector.
We just don’t live in one of them.
Edited: August 26, 2020, 6:45 PM · Either Auer was loaded or his students' instruments were cheap, if the 2014 biography of Heifetz by Galina Kopytova is to be trusted. Apparently, when Auer got angry with a student, he knocked the instrument out of the student's hands. Then later on, he felt bad that he had destroyed some poor student's instrument and bought him a new one at the shop. No way the cranky teachers of today could have similar bad habits without lawsuits and debt!
August 26, 2020, 6:58 PM · I get the distinct impression that people are talking past each other because they're talking about access to the $10k violin at different times.

Some are saying how ridiculous it is to suggest that someone needs to learn on a $10k violin. Others are talking about the need to have a good violin at conservatory or professional level. It seems obvious to me that these are not mutually exclusive things.

August 27, 2020, 12:27 AM · "inequality underpins culture because there is not enough (and there will never be enough) government support for classical musicians, opera singers, ballet dancers, sculptors, or painters. So without at least some economic gradient within a population, there would be none among us with wealth above the threshold to be so disposable that it would be spent supporting our cultural institutions"

If I may, I think that that a scientist would present this position as anything other than a statement of bias is an indication of how pervasive that bias is in that culture.

But it's not just cultural. The economic motive doesn't have to justify itself through the arts and higher achievements of mind, and cannot really, because there are sufficient counterexamples, as wealth is a form of power, and as such is desirable and self-validating. It must be just some residual shame of that accumulation and uneven distribution that leads one to attempt to idealize and justify it.

Canada is a partial counterexample to America, and also of course a compounding confusion as it can also be difficult to distinguish. Cultural funding, etc., is higher in general in Canada, and conversely private funding is higher in general in America, because the respective people, on average or en masse, apparently prefer it that way. People as a whole, in addition to themselves as individuals, determine the extent and relative funding through government to different parts of their nation and interests.

There isn't enough funding as we might like for classical music and arts because people generally don't like it enough.

August 27, 2020, 2:34 AM · Paul sorry but please back off on Ms Matesky? Elisabeth is the only direct link to Heifetz and Milstein we have here on this forum (perhaps even at all), and we should be very grateful for her presence and participation.
August 27, 2020, 2:45 AM · good point!!
Edited: August 27, 2020, 10:02 AM · I shall be brief ;)

Well, I find everyone is right! (Sitting on the fence like a true expat Brit, politically extreme centre etc..) Here is what I have found in my mouse-hole of a career:

- When I played on my young students' violins, their parents heard that the violin sounded better than usual.
So the player matters!!

-They also realised that the violin still sounded much less good than mine.
So the violin matters, too!!

So there! :)

Here I am comparing the children's €500-€1000 violins with my €5000 one, on which I have made a modest living.

BTW I have a sneaking suspicion that antique French trade fiddles are better, on average, than German ones. Lyndon may not agree..


August 27, 2020, 4:03 AM · French ones that cost twice as much might sound 25% better if that's what you mean
Edited: August 27, 2020, 7:50 AM · I think Felix, the OP, was well-meaning, but lumping together students and professionals did muddy the water in preparation for the cross-purposes that AndrewH observes.
If $10,000 is not enough for a pro, that doesn't mean it's not enough for a student. There's also the problem that $10,000 will buy you a vast range of standards, depending on what country you are in, what country or brandname you buy into, and whose shop you go to. [not to mention online auctions, which now enable demand to outstrip supply after initially providing far more supply than demand]

@Don: "up until now there hasn't been any obvious crash."

I think it's too soon. People are still wondering how to deal with the immediate crisis. After it is over, then they will try to work out how to invest in the future. At the moment the future is too unpredictable. For example, there hasn't been a harvest yet, literally, not figuratively, lol. People are holding on. But 1929 was specifically a financial crash, so it may be irrelevant to now.

If people make billions out of DNA- and anti-viral research, a lot of hopeful soloists will decide they want to study biochem or microbiology instead [/cynicism].
"I'm at the Bruch's membrane level", lol.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruch%27s_membrane

August 27, 2020, 9:05 AM · The pandemic has essentially split every economy into two, from the perspective of workers: People who have jobs working in industries/companies that are not hugely impacted and are probably desk workers whose jobs can easily be done remotely (or where they are in skilled in-person jobs where demand hasn't lessened, i.e. residential plumbers and pharmacists), and everyone else.

The sort of people who are buying their kids $10k+ violins primarily fall into the former category, which is mostly made up of upper middle class professionals.

August 27, 2020, 9:31 AM · In 3, Lydia. People who can just keep doing their jobs; people who cannot do their jobs and are laid off; and essential workers, who are bodies to be fed to the maw for the benefit of the former 2 categories.
August 27, 2020, 9:47 AM · I have been thinking (with no great conclusions) about the fallout from the current pandemic. First, while 1929 was a financial crash, it was followed soon enough by an actual economic depression. You don't have to be too firmly attached to Smith or Marx to know that at the extreme, wealth stems from labor-- and people were working less in the 1930s. Followed by that, there was the destruction of WWII. If you were a post-war American, you could do very well picking up art, antiques, and jewelry from belt-tightening Brits and Europeans.

Now there is no war (yet), but plenty of disruption. The country is poorer in real terms, and the main question is whose pockets all that shall come from. Right now, there has been a bit of a lifeline to those at the bottom, and enough money has been printed to provide some inflationary pressure on assets held at the top. Stocks and bonds, plus some luxury goods.

When all this comes to a halt, what will the result be? Not sure. I suspect that some of the very highest-ticket items may come down, much as I love them. When the Japanese stopped having enough money to overpay for Monet, prices leveled off. The same may happen for Strads, et al. I just saw photos a few weeks ago of a mint-condition Guad, that is going to be offered at nearly $2 million. That could find a buyer now, but I wonder who will pay that much in 3 years.

Less-expensive luxuries and status symbols might be more resilient, if they are genuinely good. Just as more ties get sold when people can't afford suits, it is possible that great bows will outpace violins for a while. In a similar situation, the wine market continues to explode at the top end. Asians have learned the very most famous names in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and you don't need $10 million to want to impress your associates by spending $4,000 on a bottle of red from Leroy. (It should go very well with Chinese food, BTW!)

That bubble could also pop, of course. But those are my thoughts at the moment.

Edited: August 27, 2020, 10:50 AM · Jean, I'm sorry that you feel I may have offended Elizabeth, but I thought it was unacceptably rude for her to have written, about another member here, "Do you play the Violin??? Me thinks maybe not or just a bit!!" Is it maybe possible that we can get the "direct link to Heifetz and Milstein" without quite so much condescension?
August 27, 2020, 12:06 PM · Just because someone has studied with x, or been in the same room as y, doesn't mean they have some meaningful to say, or that they serve as the spokesperson for x or y. I'm as interested as the next guy in hearing the thoughts of great players and teachers, but could you tell me what those thoughts have been based on your reading?

The word salad does contain croutons of condescension, slices of hammy appeals to authority, slathered in Russian dressing, or at least English dressing that was translated to Russian and then back into English, and yes, the occasional bit of nutrition.

My favorite part is the occasional comical legalese. I try my hand at humor from time to time, but this is next-level stuff.

August 27, 2020, 1:36 PM · Please note, I'm not trying to pick a fight here -- just my .02 cents.

For those who are new in the violin world or thinking about upgrading to a "better" violin, don't buy a violin that is beyond your means. Don't justify buying a violin that would cause you to be in debt because you believe it will be a great investment. How can it be a great investment if you go into debt?

The violin is a tool that can only be as effective as the one who plays it. Sure it can be an investment, but then you are entering the "art" world, where price can be finicky. Just google prices of violins made by specific makers, and you will see that the price of that violin is all over the place. Violin dealers do not price their violins based on the sound, but rather, they base it on the provenance of that instrument.

Buy an instrument that is within your means. Do not be carried away by what other folks say, after-all, they don't control your pocketbook, and they will certainly not bail you out if you go into debt.

So enjoy your tool, learn from it. When you have the means, then go ahead, buy your next instrument if you like.

August 27, 2020, 2:51 PM · Thank you Ben David for that basic financial common sense!
Edited: August 27, 2020, 3:19 PM · There are thousands of violin makers in the world who are virtually unknown.
The "Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers" by William Henley is a widely cited reference work providing information on approximately 9,000 violin makers (before 1960). The work was first published in five volumes in 1959 and 1960, and republished in a single volume in 1973. I have a copy of the 1973 edition as reprinted in 1997. Makers of two of my violins and two of my cellos are listed in "Henley." Makers of 3 of my violins and 1 of my cellos have had auction sales listed by Tarisio.

Many of my instruments were obtained by the "TRY AND BUY LOCALLY" approach. I learned that there are people who make violins because they love woodworking and violin making provides an audible reward for good work. Many of these people were already talented at woodworking before trying lutherie and studied, sought coaching, participated in workshops and entered competitions of violin making (including viola and cello).


I suggest looking for such local "amateur" makers. You may find an instrument to love at a small fraction of the cost of an instrument of similar quality with a label name you have heard of. I have bought 3 instruments by a local "amateur maker." I guess he stopped being an amateur maker at some point between his first and 101st instruments (they have all been sold except for #1 , #101 and his "Messiah." The instruments I bought from him cost me $1,200, $1,400 and $1,900 between 1996 and 2000.

Just a suggestion - it can be a real fun search. Just don't count on it being a "financially rewarding investment."

August 27, 2020, 3:46 PM · Following up on Ben's wise advice, most Americans would do well to spend much less on their homes in the first place and then they'd have more to spend on just about everything else. Too many people are totally shackled by their mortgages. You don't need a new car every three years either. I have a friend who was complaining to me just a few days ago about their financial situation and this person is driving a $75000 car. The problem with this statement is that if you save money assiduously like your parents taught you, you'll have nothing on your FAFSA to protect you from paying full freight for your kids' college tuition.
August 27, 2020, 3:48 PM · You can usually find a much better sounding antique for less money than these so called amateur makers, they don't call them amateurs for no reason.
Edited: August 27, 2020, 4:08 PM · I don't disagree with your "usually" at all, Lyndon. But I have found the delight in finding exceptions worth the search.

I prefer the 1st definition of "amateur" below:

1. one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession, i.e.,
(a) She played soccer as an amateur before turning professional.
(b) a tournament that is open to both amateurs and professionals

2. one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science, i.e.,
(a) The people running that company are a bunch of amateurs.

August 27, 2020, 4:24 PM · I recall a formal study done some time ago which attempted to identify specific aspects of the sound quality of violins that are judged to "sound good", which found that a large number, though not proportion, of violins made by amateur makers were also in that category.

Of course, if price is your primary measure of quality, or the only measure you have, then violins made by amateurs, by definition being not the primary source of income for those makers and therefore not also carrying the responsibility of supporting themselves and their families, as well as the obvious probable limitations in invested time and reputation, would have lower measures.

August 28, 2020, 12:50 AM ·
Per Mary Ellen Goree:

Occasionally in a professional orchestra audition, it happens that the clearly best player is playing on an obviously inferior instrument (and yes, we can hear that from behind a screen). In those cases, the candidate may be hired on condition they get a better instrument.


What would you say is the approximate price-range of what you're calling an inferior instrument? I assume if someone is at the level of auditioning for a pro orchestra they're not playing an eBay Chinese wonder.
Edited: August 28, 2020, 3:48 AM · No need to shout!

Both Mary Ellen and the maker Luis Manfio mention quality, not price.
Price is more related to provenance and market forces..

May I respectfully add that Ms Matesky is comparing the excellent with the superlative.

Edited: August 30, 2020, 6:48 AM · To Violin Contributor's

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky

August 28, 2020 ~ #235

If my genuine musical relationship's with Mr.'s Heifetz and Milstein (which, btw, were earned through one's performance of the Unaccompanied Bach Chaconne in the d minor Partita #2 requested by Mr. Milstein, & in Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto by Jascha Heifetz + Bach's Sonata #1 in g
minor for Unaccompanied Violin) & then following through with JH studies for a goodly amount of time which led to relocating to London on a Fulbright Fellowship, I earned, & meeting Nathan Milstein through his Auer London class-mate, Sascha Lasserson, JH & NM revered Auer class-mate in St. Petersburg, & wonderful Artist Teacher in London, insisting on introducing me to NM on his own initiative), is fuel for bashing me by Paul Deck, then I will inform my Artist Representative's about this slander against me by Mr. Deck. None are going to 'riot' against me for earned invitations to study with the 2 greatest violinists of all time, who were also over decades my friends, sharing much about Professor Auer's teaching &, btw, @Jocelyn Marrow, (Auer Never hurt his pupil's violins as some author wrote in a Book on Heifetz, she sold re Prof Auer whom she never met), I ask how insulting & slanderous is that to write such things when there is absolutely no evidence to suggest Auer was remotely akin to an Andre Gertler, later in Germany, who was truly rough w/some of his pupil's, one of whom I met in Helsinki, FI, during the 1st Sibelius International Violin Competition, & upon receiving the 'Special Award for Best Violin in Unaccompanied Bach' & then playing Sibelius' 'Adagio di molto' from his Violin Concerto before All Five Sibelius Daughters + Sibelius Relative's & Jury Members for the official Finnish Gov't Inaugural Concert-Ceremony of Sibelius' Birth-House proclaimed by Finnish Minister of Culture, the 'Sibelius National Memorial Museum' on the day of the Centenery of Finnish Master Composer Sibelius' December 8th,1965 Birthday in Hameenlinna, FI, w/TV Camera's from all around the World filming my solo performance w/Finnish Official Pianist from the Sibelius Academy of Music + marvellous meeting w/All Five Sibelius Daughter's, speaking about Mr. Heifetz's championing of 'father's Violin Concerto' after photographs were taken as their gift to me w/homegrown Flowers from ailing Madam Sibelius' garden as 'our Mother's present to you, Ms. Matesky, for playing for us on father's 100th Birthday' ~ (& most grateful I'd never experienced any Teacher hurting my violin out of anger then fixing it) my point is simple: Stop this slamming against me, my Mentor's, indirectly, and their teacher, the very late, Leopold Auer ...

A few of you are 'rioting' against me as a person & artist which you have little clue about. No one is going to slam mud at me without serious made known professional harm & I know whom to report this to. Please apologise or I'll be forced to make this known to String World colleagues. Paul Deck has a lot of nasty nerve & oddly, my Attorney in NYC, has copies of all my Replies here as they have been filed as information reminder's for Memoir's being compiled. At a point of outrage for what is occurring in our country by bought/paid for Thug Criminals rioting/looting & burning down shops, major houses of worship, taking axe's to break shop windows to steal money & merchandise as "reparations", is on the way Down for 'you reap what you sow'. I was not 'huffy'; I'm on to someone whom I think a fraud who might be trying to use anything perceived important to then claim their own. One of the reason's I have deferred YouTube posting many EM unreleased recordings is for protection against wicked's who will try tearing me down as an authentic violin representative of 2 'Monument's' & in this case, Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. And adding to this hesitance on the part of said Concert Management, Jocelyn Marrow actually paraphrases Leopold Auer must have been 'loaded to hurt his pupil's violins & ...' (out of anger or whatever else some person accused the long deceased Auer of reputedly doing this & worst of all, to have put this in print without Professor Auer being here to speak for himself), nor as a matter of fact, Mister's Heifetz and Milstein no longer here to speak for either of themselves) I ask how inhumane have violinists become or revealed themselves to be ~ Having just seen an Apology, it is accepted & let us all return to being part of this website's Violinist's Family ...

Altho' less disheartened, it might be best to avoid contributing thoughts & musical overviews of mine on this website to rest & focus (as some other colleagues have done) on preparation's of one's violin repertoire and Life recollections in Music to begin writing a Memoir or 'Book' to be published with still special conditions it not be made public until after my demise or until uglies of current Times are Things of the Past ...

As Harry Selfridge counsels shop girl, Gladys, in "Mr. Selfridge" Part II, Ah! 'never apologise nor offer excuses for anything to other's in business. Just go back in to my Store with your head held high." 'Alls well that Ends Well.'


Elisabeth Matesky

(Don't believe all "crappolla" from a purported JH Lawyer in 'God's Fiddler' who claims knowing all about Mr. Heifetz's Estate. It' is questionable? JH might sue him in a nano second. What have some become?)

Cc Dale Golden

(c)CopyrightEM,#235;8.28.20. All Rights Reserved.

August 28, 2020, 4:47 AM · I regret that I sent my above message to Paul publicly. That was a mistake. I certainly don't like the way this has gone.
August 28, 2020, 5:20 AM · @Jean Dubuisson

Dear Jean ~

Don't fret ... It is very upsetting that it has gone the way you
nor myself like. I've never experienced such horrid attacks ~
You are not at fault in any way & need not worry ~ I truly did
appreciate your words way above of kind respect toward me.
Please know this ~ It wasn't a mistake. Here we are at 5:00
AM (CDT) & you (?) over something which should never have
occurred, yet it did. At first I laughed at his first comment re
something like 'E. writing a Book. There isn't enough paper
around for her ...' or something close to this, which I took to
be humorous & had a good laugh. Yet now, having seen his
near bullying & snide arrogance insinuating I've studied with
Everyone but (inferred - done Nothing) got to me. This is a
swipe professionally & he knows it. You will not be at all in
any communique ~ You are a classical person & again, I
thank you, dear Jean Dubuisson, for trying to get him off
his intent to hurt me as a concert player ~

Please be well, okay? If you wish I can be reached via my
FB Timeline ~ There is a old saying: 'Steer clear of muddy
water as it settles itself . . . ' (Or almost like this.)

Warm greetings, Jean ~

elisabeth 'm'

^special note to kind jean dubuisson^ #237 (8.28.20)

August 28, 2020, 6:27 AM · Ms Matesky, I fear that Paul is merely reacting to the impression that comes over in your posts, which may be far from your true nature..

Paul was also the one who took me to task for unpleasantness towards a particularly difficult contributor. I apologised and explained myself a little more clearly. (Oh dear, now what does that "infer"?)

August 28, 2020, 7:47 AM · Dear Elizabeth,

I apologize. The last thing I would want to do is hurt you as a concert player. Please don't report me to any of our string world colleagues or your Attorney in NYC. I look forward to hearing your many unreleased recordings on YouTube someday, as you are surely one of the last ones left carrying the great artistic legacies of Milstein and Heifetz.

Sincerely, Paul

August 28, 2020, 8:18 AM · Yes indeed. Your passionate writing augurs so well for your violinistic artistry.
August 28, 2020, 8:24 AM · None of this is good.
Edited: August 28, 2020, 8:51 AM · To Scott Roberts: one of my teachers said that he (or a friend of his-- I forget) was once trying out for an orchestra and had used what he thought was a very decent Gemunder. Apparently, they liked him but wanted to hear better, so lent him something like a Gagliano for the final round. Totally different fingerboard, so it was a stressful weekend of practicing.

Prices were all considerably lower then; I wonder what level orchestra would now not be happy with a Gemunder in its ranks. Perhaps this was a first chair slot?

Edited: August 28, 2020, 8:55 AM · I think Pierre Amoyal (a long term student of Heifetz) was one of the last to actually buy his own Strad. Now they have to be borrowed.

In a way I am glad the marvellous "MacDonald" Strad viola did not reach its reserve price of 45 million USD (or was it GBP?) at Sotheby's! I think both Primrose and Schidlof owned it years before.

Edited: August 28, 2020, 9:01 AM · "I think Pierre Amoyal...was one of the last to actually buy his own Strad."

one of, maybe. It seems to have been stolen from him in 1987. Perlman bought his from Menuhin in 1986.

August 28, 2020, 9:15 AM · To the original post, and ensuing conversation- just a couple non-conflictual thoughts.
I’ve noticed as I have gotten older the occasional moment when I confuse 10K
When I was 25 with 10K now nearing 60.
10K would not get one far in setting up a studio in my craft, which is nearly tenuous as music. And would be a small investment if one wanted to start any small business one wanted to earn a living from. 20K still not much.
And not a large amount in comparison to the larger cost of years of lessons, camps and conservatory to someone wishing to be a “professional”.
Not a player, so disregard if not useful.
August 28, 2020, 9:31 AM · Perlman also bought Menuhin's Guarnerius some years later. But he is one of the few who earned enough in royalties to make that work.
August 28, 2020, 9:50 AM · One of the nice things about posts that are difficult to read and follow, and this applies to all such posts and not just to one person, is that they are also thereby easy to ignore and skip. Which is exactly why, when we do wish to be heard, one strives to be clear and bri.
August 28, 2020, 9:53 AM · I dithered about paying 4K (in the context of a uke club where $200 was enough) until it was pointed out to me that plenty of people spend that on their vacation every year.
August 28, 2020, 10:39 AM · Joshua Bell bought the Huberman strad, and Anne Akiko-Myers bought the Molitor strad, as have a few others this century. It's becoming less and less common, though.
Edited: August 28, 2020, 11:57 PM · Just so you all know, my personal attorney, one Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is being sent copies of this entire thread by carrier pigeon as we speak, so as to avoid Thuggish Ruggish forces from intercepting them through the mail system. I'm also being haunted by the ghost of Antonin Scalia, who feeds me advanced legal advice in real time.

Using my Ouija board, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Leopold Auer, Joseph Joachim, and Schumann himself have instructed me to seek digital reparations by metaphorically destroying on-line statues with virtual pickaxes. The time for revolution is now! Join me on my Tik Tok, where we will not stop dancing until the classical music power structure is dismantled!

(EDIT: Okay, I promise that's my last one)

August 28, 2020, 1:03 PM · I will just note that it's probably time to leave off. It feels like kicking an elderly cat.

Anyway, to Evan's point: I think there's a difference between a student being held back -- i.e. progress is exceptionally difficult or impossible, and a student that is unoptimized -- i.e. they could make a major leap in their playing given a better instrument.

I have seen that directly -- placing a superior instrument in the hands of a player who already has a decent one (say a high-end workshop violin or a lesser-quality contemporary of the $10k mediocre sort) can unlock an instantly more musical interpretation simply because the instrument is significantly more responsive and the player instinctively takes advantage of it.

Edited: August 28, 2020, 3:04 PM · Folks, I think many of you unfortunately believe that price goes hand in hand with quality when it comes to instruments. I’ve tried $45,000 violins that are absolute trash that sound worse than something selling for $5,000.

Elisabeth Matesky, was in fact a classmate of my teacher Erick Friedman, in Jascha Heifetz’s USC Masterclass and performed in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Can any of you knocking her, say that for yourselves?! I was accused on here of not being a student of Erick Friedman in some discussion by a woman. I could understand why Ms. Matesky would be upset by people questioning her informed opinion when she was actually in the same room with Mr. Heifetz and Mr. Milstein and actually heard them play on ‘lesser’ instruments while still sounding great. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinions of course, but certain ones are more informed than others. This notion that in order to reach the ‘next level’, one must come from ‘privilege’ and have a ‘expensive’ violin to unlock new opportunities, is nonsense.

I personally witnessed Erick Friedman play his $200 teaching violin (which he called ‘Big Red’) and fiberglass bow from Sam Ash, which he kept in a file cabinet, in his Yale University classroom. He produced a better sound on that instrument and bow than students in that class who owned expensive 6-7 figure violins. The great lesson it taught me from witnessing that was, ability and talent overrides the instrument’s quality.

Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:39 PM · @Lydia Leong ~ #253

Re ~ Becker Family Violins!!

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky

Dear Lydia ~

I thought you might be interested in this as I've just spoken with Paul C Becker,Grandson of Carl G. Becker (fiddle =$100K) & Carl Becker & Son instruments are $65K. Carl F. Becker individual instruments are $100K. Paul C Becker violins are $35K & Paul Becker's Workshop instruments are under $25K. These are made by 2 Luthier's working in the Carl Becker & Son Shop in Chicago.

We had an impromptu professional chat & seeing your earlier Post, I asked
Paul C. Becker about it all who took extra time to share $$/$$$ of all above.

Hoping this Info is helpful now & in the future, have a peaceful week end ~

Elisabeth Matesky in Chicago *


*the least expensive under $25K might work for one of your pupil's ~

They've a newer violin shop at

The Fine Arts Building
410 South Michigan Avenue,
Suite 460
Chicago, IL 60605

Phone: 1-312-220-9700 (They can get Paul Becker on the phone!
Just mention my name as Responder on the Longest Discussion!!

August 28, 2020. #253

Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:44 PM · To All ~ #254

From EM ~

I'd like to thank Peter Moore for his warm words earlier in this Discussion & to keep in touch as well as dear Jean Dubuisson, a lovely classical person, & Nate Robinson, a 'Grand-pupil' of my Mentor, Jascha Heifetz, pupil of my esteemed JH Violin Master Class class-mate, Erick Friedman, who turns
our JH Violin Master Class Pianist, Brooks Smith's, Piano reduction pages to Khachaturian's Violin Concerto 1st Movement in my JH Violin Master Class film - Khachaturian, JH-7, Elisabeth Matesky, (type in Russian on UT)
& does so better than any (!) who was truly helpful whilst the camera's were rolling throughout my JH Film process, & who I know taught Nate Robinson most well, passing on much of Mr. Heifetz's ideas regarding left hand violin technique needed to traverse the major Violin Concert Repertoire & much musically styled approaches which we, as 2 of Heifetz's original 7 pupil's, carried & carry to this writing! Nate has awareness of the Heifetz 'mystique' & some of the 'How's' of Heifetz! Thank you, dear Nate, for posting such kind words about my beginnings as a concert artist studying w/Jascha Heifetz, & later, with Nathan Milstein, (whom I believe) was the Only Peer of Jascha Heifetz, who shared treasured NM Bow Art with me + a surreal musical environment for over 3 & 1/2 years, being managed by N. Milstein's
Concert Artist Mgmt in London, on the same Violin Roster w/Ricci & Henryk Szeryng, with H.S., being a marvellous colleague recording a Concerto for Two Violins together in London for TV w/Milstein's Grace & blessings! To be at top artistic level's requires starting from Day 1, hopefully w/a Great First
Principle teacher which God blessed me with in my Juilliard Grad Piastro & Dethier violin father, Ralph Matesky, on my way to Heifetz! But the learning process included 'normalcy' going to public school with all black & Spanish kids, who were my friends who learned instruments from Dad w/many from very poor backgrounds who aspired to better their lives through closeness to Music!! So I know that teaching goes hand in hand with violin instruction & improving whilst wondering if one is Good Enough tho' not that $ well off. Nate explained the root Truth of millions thinking one must be from a 'high' sort of family to obtain a fine instrument to Sound Good or 'Gooder' or even Great!! Erick F. had a fiddle he used when teaching making it sound as The Erick Friedman of Recording's!!

We have a Great Opportunity to Help lift many with the least to strive thru our genuine knowledge + psychological awareness of many feeling 'inferior' who are Not yet just need a Cheerleader in their lives to aid those silenced talents blossom to their obvious to everyone potential!!!

Thank you Paul D. for your kind words & interest in someday listening to an EM Recording Collection with TV & Film of what I do & have done!!! Please be Safe, Everybody, for there are crazed people with twisted ideas on how they can make a difference but haven't had 2 blessings of encouragement
from those who are MIA as parents & Mentor's ~ We must all protect each of ourselves & our dear one's in this current 'dark' environment yet remain Close to our Heroes & Heroines of The Violin and Spread The Gospel ...

~ Sending Chicago Hugs to All ~

......... Elisabeth Matesky ........

~ August 28, 2020 (#964!!!! ~) True V.com #254

August 28, 2020, 6:05 PM · Elizabeth, thank you. I'd looked at both Carl G and Carl F violins in the last few years. I'd purchased a violin from Carl F many years ago. But these days I play a JB Vullaume.

Nate, of course the player is the biggest factor. And price is not directly correlated to quality. But the truth is at $10k, you're probably going to have to look for quite a while to find something that's good enough for a soloist, as stipulated by the OP. (Or even for a serious student or pro.) The hunt itself is costly. To get to see a lot of violins, you will probably be flying to shops. And there's a cost to everyone's time.

Edited: August 29, 2020, 1:36 AM · "I personally witnessed Erick Friedman play his $200 teaching violin (which he called ‘Big Red’) and fiberglass bow from Sam Ash, which he kept in a file cabinet, in his Yale University classroom. He produced a better sound on that instrument and bow than students in that class who owned expensive 6-7 figure violins. "

I seem to recall that last time I posted a video of Fiddlerman reviewing a $100 violin, the only comments here were along the lines of "he sounds like he's driving it pretty hard".

August 29, 2020, 3:07 AM · Re: the Fiddlerman video, there's a big difference between a $100 violin in today's dollars and a $200 violin decades ago.
August 29, 2020, 3:16 AM · ditto
Edited: August 29, 2020, 4:12 AM · Nate's point was what he was comparing it with:- 6-7 figure violins in then money.

Part of my point was, you're not going to get much more than a grudging harumph here when you do put your point across.

I may have mentioned cognitive dissonance before here: When someone spends 20k on a violin rather than 10k, you won't get objectivity from them. You'll get the insistence they've got twice the violin even if they bought a turkey.

The whole music thing is subjective and impossible to discuss on the web.

Edited: August 29, 2020, 8:08 AM · I know what Nate means about a great violinist getting a good sound from an inferior violin. (You will note that earlier in this thread I also indicated that I thought it would be possible for great talents like Heifetz and Milstein to do so). I remember when my daughter was getting ready for her first solo recital; she was maybe 8 years old. She was playing a 1/2 size violin. Her teacher took the violin to tune it for her and played a little excerpt on it (just a few seconds), I guess just to make sure the violin was awake or something. The sound exploded from the violin. Even my dad, who was there in the audience, asked me afterward, "What was that? How did he do that?" And since he's a scientist too I explained it the best I could in terms he would grasp immediately: That making tone on the violin is kind of a resonance phenomenon where if you get it just right, the bow really engages very strongly with the string and it's what we call a "deep minimum" where if it's not quite right, it's way off. And I said that Vladimir is just so experienced and skilled that he can find that resonance right away, even on a small violin -- his hands just kind of fall right into the deep minimum. For him it's not really even a conscious thing, I don't believe, even though (obviously) it's a mental process -- very quick mind-to-hands coordination, you might say. Like the guru who closes their eyes and reaches samadhi before they've drawn their first breath.

I think one reason why we're more obsessed with expensive violins now than we were 50 or 75 years ago is because we can be. America's population has grown very considerably since, say, 1950, and its overall wealth has too. Our brand of capitalism, which includes outstanding innovation as well as imperialism, has driven that growth at the expense of the working and lower classes, and of course we plundered our natural resources at the expense of our environment. The result is a critical mass of people who can afford $10000 and $20000 and even $100000 violins without blinking.

In a way I'm kind of glad I didn't spend more than I did on my violin ($8500) because now I don't have expectations for tone that my hands will probably never be able to deliver, regardless of the instrument.

August 29, 2020, 9:39 AM · Just as a point of reference (according to an online calculator)
a violin purchased for 500$ in 1940 would cost 9,250$
today. That’s not accounting for increase in value for age or increased desirability.
Someone can correct me but before the last 20 years or so,
both aforementioned Becker and Poggi violin were not as highly valued,
In recent decades more sought after, because they’ve developed a reputation
as great instruments or represent something historically or aesthetically to collectors.
August 29, 2020, 10:10 AM · When I was looking roughly 35 years ago, Carl F Becker (who was still very much alive) was already selling in a range equivalent to respected "second tier" antique makers, and respected as a superb contemporary maker.
August 29, 2020, 10:31 AM · Becker's and Poggi's violins increased in value when those makers died.
August 29, 2020, 10:53 AM · Joining this very late - so I could not read all the replies (sorry if its a repeat). Just this comment on soloists and expensive violins: they are expected to OWN one not necessarily to play on it; that way the bio can say "Higginbottom plays on the 1692 'Little Piddle' Stradivarius, from his gold plated period". All the panache required. Of course, actually Higginbottom performs on his $45K, 2015 Strad-pattern Muggins - which can actually fill the concert hall and he won't cry if its stolen.
So much.

[All characters are fictitious, including the Little Piddle Strad - which has been modified by 22 luthiers... ]

Edited: August 29, 2020, 11:09 AM · The conjectures I was trying to nudge towards in my mention of the scholarly biography of Heifetz that described Auer as not very careful with his students' violins was that perhaps this was evidence that:

1. At the turn of the 20th century, lutherie may have been undervalued, perhaps leading to low prices for *relatively* high quality items--even the "simple" violins of 1905 may have been quite good; and/or
2. If every student in the reference group has an instrument of similar ordinary quality, parents didn't have to go nuts in an arms race to purchase the priciest antique, because their talented kid was not at a relative disadvantage when teachers, conductors, and patrons made decisions about who to chose.

I also imagine the recent (past 50 years or so) of buying-up of excellent antique violins by people who have more money than they know what to do with, has inflated prices for all antiques, even those of more modest creators.

But both 1 and 2 are speculations requiring knowledge of the history of lutherie, which I do not have. But I thought that Professor Kopytova's scholarly and painstaking reconstruction of life at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg at the time Heifetz was studying there made it clear that at the turn of the century, the scene was quite different than at present. We should not assume that because talented individuals could get away with studying on instruments of modest value then, they could today. Somehow, all my citation did was inflame.

August 29, 2020, 11:19 AM · Elise :-)
August 29, 2020, 11:38 AM · There were apparently many very nice German fiddles sold from the 1890s to 1920s through catalogues of Sears and Montgomery Wards. (Amazons of the era) At very cheap prices, so you can imagine if you were closer to the source at that time.....
August 29, 2020, 11:44 AM · No, I haven't read all the previous posts, but,
I remember that somewhere in Flesch's book there is a short discussion of equipment. He points out that all of the great soloists made their reputations on lesser value violins and then purchased their Strads or Guarneris much later when they could afford it. He recommended the at that time "inexpensive" Guadaninni or a better Villaume, which of course are now also not possible for us ordinary mortals.

As for the off-topic economic and cultural inequality, to be very short, inequality is the natural consequence of individual economic freedom, equal legal rights and respect for property rights. Economic equality is achieved only by force or excessive taxation. Poverty is the natural condition of man; it is more productive to look for the causes of prosperity in history than the causes of poverty.
It has been a mystery to me that the some of the high points of culture happen during hard times. Only two examples; The Greeks invented Western civilization at the same time they were fighting two big wars, against Persia, then Sparta. 2) The golden age of American pop and jazz music happens roughly 1930-1960, during the great depression, another big war, and the nuclear stand-off with the Soviet Union.

August 29, 2020, 11:44 AM · Elise nailed it.
August 29, 2020, 11:54 AM · Jocelyn has it right. I would guess that most of the students did NOT have good violins by the standards of the time. Auer's later-famous pupils by and large came from relatively poor families (or middle-class at best).

Jocelyn refers to the following book, by the way: https://www.amazon.com/Jascha-Heifetz-Russia-Russian-Studies/dp/0253010764

(Looks interesting, and is well-reviewed by reputable sources. I have not read it, but I've added it to my queue of future books to purchase.)

To Elise's point, that's both true and untrue, I think. I think soloists with copies tend to switch between the antique and the contemporary depending on circumstances. If the antique comes from a patron, they probably have some patron-induced obligations to play the antique under some circumstances.

August 29, 2020, 12:05 PM · "Thug Criminals rioting/looting & burning down shops, major houses of worship, taking axe's to break shop windows to steal money & merchandise as "reparations", is on the way Down for 'you reap what you sow'."

It'd be blind to see that as simply thuggery and not anger, triggered by what was and is sown, though it's a blindness that comes more easily to some than others. With some effort I've been able to read that the author is not that blind, yet I fear that in making such statements one harmonizes with the dog whistles. History does and will not judge America kindly for this aspect.

We also have in this instance a question of the value of property over humanity, including music, that some more strongly object to the loss of property and insurance costs over the longstanding and continuing practices of injustice that infect the country and others, and ourselves as we see each others at the surface and through associations in categories instead of the fine and ancient instruments and players we are, however played, positioned, and valued we might be in given circumstances.

I don't know how many, or even the rough order of how many, Black children and adults have died this year due to violence and neglect, but if a single Stradivarius was harmed in protest, I think we'd all hear about it. What do we value more? Is the Stradivarius actually irreplaceable and life replaceable?

How many Black violinists and conductors were there in the concert circuit in the 20th century? This? Chamber musicians? Is it a question of economics dominating the balance, or prejudice, or both? If someone has a contrary argument that it's about human ability, I'd hope at least that most here would consider the argument absurd. If a counter-argument was to be made about culture, I'd argue the same - jazz has much evidence to the contrary in composers and players. Bias plays a greater role in classical music.

Elisabeth's posts are dense, not flawless, and I don't have the same degree of reverence to historic performances, but I think she, and Nate Robinson, do us a significant service here by writing against the pervasive bias for expensive things, based on their experiences.

August 30, 2020, 8:36 AM · Lydia wrote: "To Elise's point, that's both true and untrue, I think. I think soloists with copies tend to switch between the antique and the contemporary depending on circumstances. If the antique comes from a patron, they probably have some patron-induced obligations to play the antique under some circumstances."

I miss your point - it seems to be almost exactly what I was saying. That the soloists acquire and play named violins for status (or obligation), not because they are necessarily better instruments? They could always give them back and not play them at all - but usually they don't.

Edited: August 30, 2020, 2:57 PM · One last Reply ~ #1000!!! True V.com #272!!

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky

Dear J. Ray ...

Please read my first #179 + other Replies where I write about my father, the late Ralph Matesky, ASTA Nat'l President, acclaimed String Teacher, Cond./ Composer & Violinist under Contract to RKO, Paramount, MGM & Warner Bros. Hollywood Studios w/hundreds of arrangements/commissioned orig. compositions for All orchestras from Elementary to Professional 'level's' of advancement, who Fired all 9 Caucasian Double Bassist's in one of his suburban Los Angeles orchestras due to blatant in-person voiced prejudice to my father in our home by his Principle Bassist against a young black poor American uniquely gifted 14 Yr old kid from 'wrong side of the tracks in Willowbrook part of Compton, CA', Henry Lewis, whom Dad wouldn't allow nor tolerate being discriminated against by then-bigoted double bassist's, & put his mouth & time (=money) behind his firing of all 9 by coaching young Henry Lewis, called a 'N****' at that time whom Dad taught at home while also playing in his civic symphony orchestra & minus any charge because my father believed in immense musical talent of a poorer than poor black kid w/no money nor 'status' to the point of Henry Lewis' Triumph in 'Open' auditioning for the Principle Double Bass Chair of the LA Philharmonic with on-the-spot hiring as their new 1st black American @16, Principle Double Bassist in the history of the LA Phil, making headlines all over the LA basin & parts far further, & later welcomed with Cheers by all 9 Caucasian Double Bass Players whom (begging my father for their jobs back & forced to sign Dad's Code of Professional Behaviour of Cordiality & Respect for all in his orchestra including Henry Lewis) to be re-hired back into my Dad's founded orchestra, & upon young Henry Lewis' enormous success in a final concert in Dad's orchestra, was carried atop the shoulder's of All 9 Proud Double Bassist's to Center Stage w/a S. O. house ovation cheering young Henry for his achievement as new Principle Double Bass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, going to USC studying Conducting w/my USC Prof Dad, + marrying USC class-mate, great Mezzo Soprano to-be, Marilyn Horne, a caucasian, having a child + grand career's of both, etc. Tho' 'dense',' what I'm writing (some reiterated) is Truth I lived all my youth witnessing Dad's "colour-blindness" re Talent no matter if Green, Asian, Brown, Black & even Caucasian or poor, poorer than poor, or Whatever, who always motivated & developed talent or suspected quiet talent suppressed by poor background whom he loved teaching & offering huge encouragement to, despite true open prejudice of the times which taught me to feel for & do likewise while going to public schools w/the black, Spanish, Philippine & Caucasian (a few snobby) kids, I became & try to be a more 'normal' person-violinist having been in grand hallowed company & must mention Jascha Heifetz's humility toward All his audiences & our Hero's fighting in WWII, whom he honoured with always JH Best Performances, & once, for One Lone Army wounded soldier of horrid battle, limping to the Theatre of War in rains, yet waiting to hear the Great Heifetz, despite injuries whom US Army Private 1st Class Heifetz w/Pianist, Seymour Lipkin, played a full v/p recital for & afterward assisted in getting the Soldier to an Army Hospital ~ Mr. Heifetz also hadn't tolerance for stuffiness from himself nor peers (of which there were almost none but Mr. Milstein + a few other's known to all here) insisting on respect for working no-matter-where fellow violinists & musicians doing their best and feeding their families ...

Thank you for endorsing my offerings & of Nate Robinson, 'Grand-pupil' of Jascha Heifetz through my JH Violin Master Class class-mate & friend, late Erick Friedman, in your closing synopsis! It is, to quote Nate Robinson, 'nonsense' to equate Greatness only possible due to learning on expensive violins from beginning to aged 22, & add, aged 'open' for Talent developed by a musician Cheerleader obvious to all minus 'name' violin by the violinist w/Sound, musicality, style in all Masterworks for the violin & spirituality, all sign's of true humility for Genuises of Composition throughout Classical Music & Jazz + Salsa History ~

Music & Violin Playing Can be in-print written-of & discussed online with the 'Doctrine' in Hearts of All that we agree to disagree minus slinging of mud or continuing inferences of ill will against any contributing . . .

Wishing you, J Ray, & All here the Blessings Music brings to our Better Selve's, Always ~

Elisabeth Matesky in Chicago ^

^Quoting me in your piece, please realise I've witnessed first hand, due to horrific riot's here in my City, what I wrote of earlier & have also taught kind black pupil's w/joy from very poor Chicago South-side neighborhoods w/ 2 @ACM becoming Pro Conductor's, i.e., Michael Morgan, Conductor/Music Director of the Oakland Symphony/Guest Conductor of U.S. Orchestras; Terrence Grey, of Chicago, & known Conductor of the Chicago Youth Symphony to local acclaim & parts further, + far earlier, late Henry Lewis & following him, late Paul Freeman, Founder/Conductor of the Chicago Symphonietta consisting of numerous black American w/many other int'l backgrounds of superb plus symphony musicians in the CSO Symphony Center & across Chicagoland, bringing Great Classical w/many connected Genre's of Music to the South-side Kids, which, btw, will begin & continue ever more after the Pandemic ~

*A Word: My studies/friendship w/2 Auer genuises re-living all 'Petersburg'
brought it, live, to me. Reconstructing it isn't the same as knowing mentor's
very well which were later written of by Dr. Kopytova w/research of whom?

August 30, 2020 True V.com #272

Edited: August 30, 2020, 11:27 AM · Elizabeth, what you're seeing here is very typical of how internet forums work. Welcome to the online world of 2020.

What one writes is usually the sole basis for others' responses, and these days, if you write something that contains "trigger" words or phrases, then you're going to end up wearing it, whether that's really called for or not.

When your posts are running upwards of 900 words (the one just above was 860 words, not including salutations, etc.), then you're just diluting your message. This is something that I try to teach my university chemistry students: Unnecessary verbiage, florid turns-of-phrase, and irrelevant details tax the reader's bandwidth, making it harder to absorb your key points. So if J Ray missed something earlier, I think that's on you.

I'm sorry I was terse with you earlier when I surmised that there might not be enough paper on Earth to sustain the publication of your upcoming book, but I am sincerely hoping that you have engaged an experienced professional editor because you need one for all the same reasons that your most advanced violin students still need you.

As regards the burning and the looting, there's plenty of coverage of that all over TV and the internet, and yes it must be disturbing to watch your beloved city dissolving in riots. But what of the violence coming from the other direction? The events that are recorded on some bystander's phone, such as the deliberate suffocation of George Floyd, represent the "tip of the iceberg." The problem is all the stuff we don't see. I hope you will agree that such behavior, among those we have entrusted with our safety, is at least as horrific.

Nevertheless, kudos to your dad for supporting Henry Lewis. The story was made even more interesting with the connection to Marilyn Horne, herself a highly decorated soloist. I hope this is the kind of history you will include in your memoir. Looking forward to pre-ordering that on Amazon.

Edited: August 30, 2020, 3:01 PM · Re ~ One Last P. S. #1002 !!!!!!! ~ True V.com #274 ~

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky

Dear Paul Deck ~

Thank you for your keen observations of my Replies & helpful idea!! My Chief Editor, who was a remarkable musician in her own right, & Arnold Schoenberg's Alternating Pianist w/Leonard Stein, performing & always On Call to demonstrate vast portions of Schoenberg's Orchestral & Chamber
Symphony Orchestra Scores, Impromptu, for Prof Schoenberg's Advanced Classes at UCLA in Theory; Form & Analysis + Atonal Orchestral Structure & Composition, some minus any Piano reduction parts, w/'savant' talent's in Harmony & Transposition enabling her to play all near flawlessly, in tandem with her T. A. (Teaching Assistant) duties for Arnold Schoenberg, during her full 2 year studies (circa D.WWII), often invited to The Arnold Schoenberg's West LA home for Sunday Soiree's mingling w/eminent colleagues of Prof Arnold Schoenberg's, (including Igor Stravinsky, Dimitri Tiompkin & the like, plus an adoring Oscar Levant) was also a fastidious 'Editor' if & when she was reviewing major articles written by Dad & myself plus my only Public Address on Nathan Milstein for ASTA's 2009 National Conference held in Atlanta, GA, & filmed!

Upon reading her one segment of my over 2 hour Address, by 11:00 PM, the night prior to my very early morning Honour in presenting 'The Ralph Matesky Award' to the ASTA 2009 National Solo String Competition Grand Prize Winner, 'Cellist, Deanna Talens, pupil of Prof Hans Jorgan Jensen of Northwestern Univ School of Music, my Mom-Editor told an exhausted 'Me' to "take that out now! Rewrite it as X /Y aren't here to speak for themselves & you must not make any reference to what happened because you are not a kiss 'n tell musician - daughter of your great father nor Mr. Milstein!" I truly laboured over the section she insisted upon, essentially taking it all out yet including mention of well known 'name's' in purely musical context, & to my delight, then almost 1:00 AM on the phone from Atlanta to the West Coast, she finally approved my Speech!!

Without my treasured beloved late Mother, it will be very difficult to entrust all one writes to a non musician ~ Much of what she taught me remains yet I know my father would say with Love: 'Lizzie, can you keep it to a bellow!!!' So I shall try yet without them both will most probably stumble and often . . .

Sending you every good wish, I noted your daughter is a violinist & I'm sure an exceptional musician!

Elisabeth Matesky in 'Chi-town'

Sunday, August 30, 2020 True V.com #274

Edited: August 30, 2020, 4:12 PM · I doubt Ms. Matesky agrees with police brutality. It is hinted above she believes many of these rioters are paid for/supported by someone else with ulterior motives. BLM=/=rioters: hard to process for millions, sadly.

None of us want these riots, but the protesters are right to protest. We live in crazy times where "leadership" supports murdering vigilantes-though perhaps indirectly so-because said "leadership" is beloved/supported by these deranged folks. "Leadership" does not care about lives lost by this "us vs them" proposition on either side-just the pushing of their own, self-gratifying agendas. I utterly reject said "leadership" and all of that it brings, hoping it gets switched around ASAP. The loud voice of this extreme far-right minority is grating on my ears, as much as it is their "right" to express themselves in such jarring ways. Too bad so many politicians give them such a strong presence and power, despite their lower numbers.

May "miscegenation" forever alter our beautiful country. It is only the right course of nature. Nothing wrong with bringing the "different" together.

Back to violin matters, thanks for the posts above, Ms. Matesky. Do not feel attacked. I enjoy reading your contributions to this site. You are genuinely attuned to music, the violin repertoire, and your musical heritage, which can be easily appreciated by the passion with which you type.

I do not think Mr. Deck means ill in the end, and sorry for all the more difficult exchanges or misunderstandings. If you find my post(s) offensive, feel free to disagree-no personal animosity is intended (and this goes for everyone else that may strongly disagree with my views.)

August 30, 2020, 9:32 PM · We are getting off-topic. I will note that to anyone who would like to back their beliefs in broader access to instruments for the disadvantaged, Rachel Barton Pine's foundation takes donations. And there are tons of foundations dedicated to this purpose. Your local public schools might very well take donations, as well (and if you have some basic luthier skills, appreciate help with setup and repair).

Google search: instruments for poor kids
https://lmgtfy.com/?q=instruments+for+poor+kids

August 30, 2020, 10:10 PM · RBP's foundation is awesome. I'm keeping it local.

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Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Philippe Quint in Concert
Philippe Quint in Concert

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

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