The formidable violinist writes to Slipped Disc, suggesting that tests of Strads against modern instruments are founded on false premises:
My dear Friends! if I may add anything:)
My first Strad I ever touched, I was 10 years old. It was 1984 and I was preparing myself for the Junior Wieniawski Competition. My teacher at that time professor Bron, helped me to get the Stradivari from the Soviet Union’s State rare instrument collection. It was Strad’s half-size unique instrument. When I took this instrument for the first time, I thought that like with a wave of magic stick, I would start making miraculous sounds. Next minute, I could not believe my ears when the violin sounded so terrible to compare to my modern instrument that I “mastered” playing at that time. I compared the two instruments playing the same piece over and over again to my father, seeking his approval that the whole Stradivari thing is a total myth!!!
My Dad was working as an oboist of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also a professional piano tuner. I shared with him my first shocking Strad experience. He smiled and said to me that I should not be disappointed. “Just learn how to play it, close your eyes, open your ears and listen to the overtones. Find that sound, find your own voice in Music, this instrument will teach you everything you need to know”. From that moment on my life in Music began…
Today, I am lucky to say that I played perhaps over 40 Strads and other precious instruments like Guarneri Del Jesu.
All Stradivari’s violins I have had fortune to touch, all his instruments with almost no exception are also a treasure. There is however quite a bit of work involved. First, you need a player that is willing to be flexible to go as far as to change his or her own violin technic for the violin that he or she is playing. Then, you need a superb violin maker to perform a fine tuning – an adjustment of the instrument for a player’s taste. In other words, it’s a partnership, like a trio: violin, violinist and a violinmaker. But then, the most interesting happens when you go to the concert hall! Not even during rehearsal, the ultimate test of the instrument and your ability to play it, is awaiting you together with thousands of spectators when you enter the concert stage. Only then, real work begins.
The first time I played my own “Kreutzer” Strad was playing in Chicago with Rostropovich conducting me in Shostakovitch’s violin concerto. After the concert my beloved Slava asked me: Maxim, what instrument are you playing? I proudly declared: Strad, 1727, used to be owned by the legendary Kreutzer!
With no hesitation Rostropovich threw at me: Change it!!
It took me, and two of my violin makers Florian Leonhard and Nahum Tuch about half a year to “lift this unique violin up” to the absolute Everest. The process was a truly unbelievable roller-coaster that is hard to describe!
When you play phenomenal Guarneri “Del Gesu ” violins, you can play it as you wish. The instrument will realize all your dreams and expectations about the sound, providing you are a skillful player. All those magic violins made by Antonio Stradivari I got to know, made me into a more flexible player I am today. Flexible, because when you hold Strad, you do not play it – it teaches you how to sing it, with his violins you are able to discover the magical palette of colors and more over, every day it’s a bit of another instrument. It is alive, truly mystical, like a person. Strad is my daily life changing experience!
I hope it helps:) For more, do come to my concerts or get my new cd’s. They will soon be available. I will keep you posted. Best wishes to All Music lovers at Slipped Disc and not only:) Yours with love, Maxim Vengerov
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