[Dixielandjazz] More on the Audubon String Quartet & Value of Instruments

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 22 07:18:22 PST 2005

What a tragic affair. Note how lucky we reed players are when reading about
the clarinet costs mentioned in the article.

I just bought a 1966 Series 9 Selmer (large .590 inch bore clarinet) for
$550 and just love that BIG sound. It is the perfect jazz horn for those
outdoor gigs, and/or others where one needs to be LOUD.


Why a Violin Isn't Just a Fiddle

ANTHONY TOMMASINI - December 22, 2005 - NY Times

As things stand now the cellist Clyde Shaw and his wife, the violist Doris
Lederer, members of the Audubon String Quartet, will have to surrender their
instruments to a court-appointed trustee in Roanoke, Va., at 4 p.m.
tomorrow. This is a dismaying result of the quartet's losing a $611,000
judgment in a lawsuit brought by its former first violinist, David Ehrlich,
over his ouster five years ago.

Now that two dedicated string players must give up their instruments and
bows, valued together at $166,000, the consequences of this seemingly
avoidable lawsuit are horrifyingly real. (The other violinist, Akemi
Takayama, faces a separate legal action.)

Music lovers surely appreciate how hard it is for a musician to give up an
instrument. But perhaps only string players fully understand the special
bonds formed with string instruments. The relationship between a violinist
and a violin is like a marriage. If the violinist's instrument is lovable
but imperfect, with quirks and temperamental qualities, the marriage analogy
is ever more apt. Compare this to the lot of pianists, who must adjust to
whatever piano awaits them at whatever concert hall they play in. Even if a
pianist encounters a splendid concert grand at a renowned hall, the
performance is like a one-night stand.

Woodwind and brass musicians also become attached to the specific qualities
of their instruments. Still, in a recent interview the acclaimed clarinetist
Charles Neidich conceded that his attachment to his primary instrument, a
Buffet clarinet made in 1986, though strong, was nothing like the bonds his
string-player colleagues had with their instruments.

For starters, a clarinet is nowhere near as expensive. It's possible to
spend as much as $10,000 for a clarinet, Mr. Neidich explained, but a
top-notch instrument can be had for $3,000.

"This makes it possible for clarinetists to change their instruments every
few years," he said. "I tend to play mine longer, and all of my instruments
are adjusted in particular ways. It wouldn't be traumatic to lose my
instrument, but it would be - how should I put this? - a terrible pain."

String instruments, by comparison, are dauntingly expensive. A prime-quality
modern violin can cost $25,000, and it's easy to spend much more. Also, the
most coveted makers today can not keep up with demand. A two-year wait for a
made-to-order instrument is common.

Older instruments are still the most desired. Spending $50,000 for a fine
violin from the 18th or 19th century is a pretty good deal. The prized 17th-
and early-18th-century European instruments are, in effect, antiques passed
down from player to player over the centuries, often costing several hundred
thousand dollars. This year, a 1699 Stradivarius violin sold at auction in
New York for $2,032,000 dollars.

What makes these old instruments so special has been widely debated. Is it
the particular woods that were used? The lacquers? The aging process of the
materials? Do the instruments mellow over time? Whatever the reasons, string
players become tenaciously devoted to their old instruments.

When I was a piano student at Yale I worked for a year with a violist
studying with the renowned Walter Trampler. During weekly coaching sessions
I was privileged to see Trampler up close. His instrument, originally a
viola da gamba (a Baroque instrument that looks like a mini-cello), had been
cut down cut and turned into an atypically large viola. Other violists might
have found it cumbersome. Not Trampler, who prized its rich and dusky tone
and handled it with remarkable agility.

Most string players who do not have major touring careers cannot afford to
spend what it costs to acquire one of the finite number of prized older
instruments. Still, realizing that only a remarkable instrument will help
them reach their full potential, many make the financial sacrifice. The
violinist Sharan Leventhal (who is a friend) did so in 1999. A member of two
chamber music ensembles, the Gramercy Trio and the Kepler Quartet, she plays
a Guadagnini violin, made in Turin in the 1780's.

When she was 18, Ms. Leventhal suffered the trauma of having a violin
stolen, an Italian instrument from the early 1900's. "I felt like I had let
go of a child's hand in a crowd," she said recently. Now 48, she said that
searching for her current violin was like "looking for a spouse."

She fell hard for the Guadagnini, which was being sold for $650,000. Besides
trading in her old violin, for which she got some $100,000, she and her
husband took out a second mortgage on their home. Her parents also made
money available that was to come to her as an inheritance. With two
daughters to put through college, spending such a sum was a huge commitment.
But it was also a good investment and a legacy that will someday be passed
on. The violin was recently appraised at $800,000. "I consider myself the
lucky and willing caretaker of this instrument," Ms. Leventhal said.

Some string players believe that the old instruments are overrated. In 1999
the brilliant German violinist Christian Tetzlaff stunned the string world
by trading in the Stradivarius he was playing on loan (valued at $2 million)
for a new violin built by Peter Greiner, a German maker, which cost about

"The new violin is a really terrific, with a full beautiful sound that is
still able to fight the orchestra," Mr. Tetzlaff said in a 2000 interview.
"The Strad I had couldn't." He said young violinists had been programmed to
believe that the only fine violins were old, rare and Italian.

Pianists can only look on all this with a jaded attitude. They have had too
many experiences showing up for concerts and being confronted with what
Juilliard students call a P.S.O. (piano-shaped object). Pianists must
develop an uncommon ability to adapt. They tend to value a piano that has a
ringing tone and, most of all, a keyboard action that is easily adjusted to.

Instrumentalists everywhere have to be distressed by the loss that awaits
Mr. Shaw and Ms. Lederer tomorrow. For a string player, giving up an
instrument is like the break-up of a marriage, or even the death of a

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