My violin and The Man from U.N.C.L.E

My violin and The Man from U.N.C.L.E


norman lebrecht

July 27, 2015

Jeremy Constant, concertmaster at Marin Symphony and assistant concertmaster at San Francisco Symphony, has discovered his 1850 Vuillaume has history – movie history, London legends, happy days of father-son bonding. Read Jeremy’s story exclusively on Slipped Disc.

jeremy constant

It was nice to have my violin acknowledged from the stage during the concert today! We’re playing with Classical Mystery Tour, a Beatles tribute band. Backstage I told them the story of my violin (a J.B. Vuillaume, del Gesu model from 1850, numbered 1801) and how, after buying it, amongst its papers was a letter from Hill and Sons in London stating that it had been the favorite violin of the late David McCallum. The only David McCallum I knew of was the actor who played Illya Kuryakin on the Man From U.N.C.L.E. I used to jokingly refer to the violin as the ex-Kuryakin. 

A few months after buying it, Sir Neville Mariner was conducting us and I was Concertmaster. He glanced at my violin and exclaimed “I know that violin!” I told him about the papers and he said “no, no, no…you’re thinking of David McCallum junior, the actor. His father, David McCallum senior was Tommy Beecham’s concertmaster!”

david mccallum sr

Well that got me doing some more research and it turns out that in addition to being Beecham’s concertmaster or leader in both the London Philharmonic Orchestra and later with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he was a much in demand studio concertmaster and led the sessions for the Beatles’ track A Day in the Life and quite likely many other Beatles sessions.

Well, A Day in the Life, Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby all had fairly prominent violin solo parts during these past 2 days of performances of all Beatles music and it just felt right to be playing it on the violin that helped to bring many of those immortal pieces of music into existence.

After learning all this I started the process of trying to get in touch with David McCallum junior and after many months of clearly getting filtered/vetted by folks that were concerned with keeping the creepy people away from him, I got a lovely email from him saying “I would love to talk about daddy’s violin with you”. It took a while before our schedules lined up, but he very graciously drove to our hotel while we were on tour in LA and he was available to take a break from the set of N.C.I.S.



I showed him the instrument and played it for him (very badly unfortunately) and he was clearly pleased to see it and hear it again. We had lunch together and he told me stories of his growing up with his parents playing violin and cello and going to Hill’s shop and his dad playing the game of “spot the Strad” when he would play a handful of instruments and it was Jr’s job to identify which one was the Stradivarius.

It was really great to meet such a gracious man and to connect the history of my violin to its past. It occurs to me now that in the tradition of naming violins after well deserving former players, this violin should now be christened the ex-McCallum Vuillaume.

(c) Jeremy Constant/Slipped Disc

jeremy constant


  • Fred says:

    wonderful story!

  • Danny says:

    David Sr was also Leader of the Scottish National Orchestra. It’s lovely to learn that David Jr was so connected with his family’s musical history.

  • Eric says:

    David jr led an album of easy listening Music for EMI back in the 60’s. IIRC, he also played Clarinet, so music runs in the family.

    • Lisa Liscoumb says:

      He actually did four albums in total, and arranged several of the pieces on them. They’re pretty good, although a bit dated these days. I listen to them while I write, as they make wonderful background music.

  • Eric Koenig says:

    That sounds absolutely “Ducky”!

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    The amazing part is Sir Neville Marriner glancing and saying “I know that violin”

  • NYMike says:

    Years ago in NY, I ran into Jr. in a building housing both actors’ rehearsal studios and luthiers’ shops. I remarked that his Dad was a really fine fiddler, and he thanked me.

  • linda s. says:

    David Mc. Sr. with your violin while David Mc, Jr. looks on.

  • David Kyle McCallum says:

    David McCallum Sr was born in Stirlingshire in 1897; my dad, another David McCallum, conductor of the Glasgow Lyric Orchestra was born in Stirling in 1899. The former died in 1972, my dad in 1971. The former’s son, the actor and musician, is David Keith McCallum and the latter is me, also a professional musician, David Kyle McCallum (known as Kyle). Both of us sons were born in Glasgow. I’ve always wanted to know if we are related. There seems to be too much coincidence not to be! Any further info greatly received.

  • Emma Pilling says:

    I believe I also have a violin from the McCallum family! Passed down by my late, great aunt Hilda McCallum, who is related (but not sure how). She played in the Scottish National Orchestra as well. Was told that it was David Snr’s ‘practice’ violin, but have no one to ask. Possibly a 1785 Benjamin Banks?