Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Modern Violin Crafters Make Mark Luthiers Work to Overturn Idea That the Quality of Antique Violins Can Never Be Equaled

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Modern Violin Crafters Make Mark Luthiers Work to Overturn Idea That the Quality of Antique Violins Can Never Be Equaled

Article excerpt

SINCE the 18th century, concert violinists have braced their chins with instruments by Antonio Stradivari. While the sound quality of these "golden age" fiddles might be nonpareil, there's a problem: They're not getting any younger.

Four years ago, Michigan violin crafters Joseph Curtin and Gregg Alf built a replica of the legendary "Booth" Stradivarius - scratches and all - which they sold to concert soloist Elmar Oliveira.

Impressed by the replica, Mr. Oliveira promptly used it to record the Joachim Violin Concerto with the London Philharmonic, and his colleagues took notice.

In November, the instrument sold at a Sotheby's auction in London for 22,000 ($33,000) to Maltese soloist Carmine Lauri. The price is the highest ever paid for a violin by living makers.

"There's a lot of mumbo jumbo about the Stradivarius mystique," says Mr. Alf. "Joe and I are working hard to dispel a lot of the myths of violinmaking and help musicians be more knowledgeable about their instruments."

Renowned soloist Isaac Stern contends that while the new instruments must prove themselves over time, "there is some very good work being done by living makers."

Mr. Stern, who owns two modern violins by New York craftsman Samuel Zygmuntowicz, encourages other violinists to give the new instruments a chance. "It's better to spend $13,000 to $15,000 on an instrument by someone you know and trust than to spend it on the pastel remains of what was once a great violin," he says.

Alf notes that collectors and virtuosos, convinced the acoustics of violins by Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri (del Gesu) can never be equaled, have driven their prices into the millions. Some artists "will live in a trailer home their whole lives just to own an antique violin that is not necessarily the highest quality," he says.

According to Adam Watson, deputy director of musical instruments at Sotheby's in London, the selling price of the Curtin and Alf "Booth" copy was significantly higher than its projection. "These violins are quite popular at the moment," he says, adding that Sotheby's will auction off another Curtin and Alf model in a few months, "but it's still too early to say these prices represent a trend. …

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