Hilary Hahn: Why I need two Vuillaumes

Hilary Hahn: Why I need two Vuillaumes


norman lebrecht

May 29, 2019

Sometimes, the upper echelon of violinists forget the struggles others have to afford a single instrument.

Hilary is writing on her dealer’s site:

It’s hard to compare them; I’ve had such different experiences with each, at different points in my life. I do know that the 1864 doesn’t feel quite as natural to play as it used to. Something changed about it over the years and I haven’t changed in the same direction. But these things can reverse on a dime, so I don’t discount it at all. It’s a powerful violin with a luscious but clear sound. The 1865 is right for me these days. It’s nimble but strong, responds to my subtler nuances, moves with me. It’s like an extension of myself. That difference may be psychological; a player-instrument relationship is as complex as an interpersonal one….

Read on here.





  • Simon Scott says:

    Most violinists have and need two instruments. This has always been the case

    • Wladek says:

      She can own as many violins as she can afford to
      buy,but by writing on a dealer’s site one can question the motive of the article …is she a shill
      for the dealer ? it is bad enough she telephones
      in her encores but this nonsense with a discreet
      notice of an upcoming recital is a little much.

  • Julius says:

    If she can afford two violins, why not use them both and write about it? There is nothing wrong with that, especially on a violin dealer’s website, where expensive musical instruments are the whole subject!

  • M McAlpine says:

    ‘Life isn’t fair – get over it!’

  • MusicBear88 says:

    Isaac Stern played on at least a dozen violins throughout his career. Is it such a big sin for one of the greatest violinists of our time to have two instruments by an excellent maker whose best violins have sold for around a quarter million dollars instead of several million, especially when there are private collectors who don’t play at all who own multiple instruments by Stradivari, Guarneri, Bergonzi, Amati, and many lesser-known makers who don’t let real musicians play their private stash?

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Yeah, the Benz is a great daily driver but nothing beats the Porsche for a sunny Saturday in the hills. Choices, amirite?


  • Stephen says:

    She didn’t even pay for the 1864 one. It was left to her from Jascha Brodsky. WTF.

    Some people are just do out of touch.

    • Supra says:


      You’re incorrect. Hilary purchased her 1864 Vuillaume Del Gesu copy (known as ex-Lande) from the Lande family. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, please don’t post things just for the sake of it.

  • Been Here Before says:

    This is the last call:
    I still have an extra ticket in the first row for Hilary’s Bach solo recital at the Wigmore Hall tomorrow evening. If anybody is interested to attend with me, please respond below. Frequent, well informed and kind SD commentators will be given preference.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Hilary Hahn is one of the few “upper echelon” violinists without Strad-del Gesu snobbery and I celebrate her for it as well as for her wondrous playing.

  • musician says:

    i’d rather have hilary hahn have two vuillaumes than a lawyer, doctor, engineer, businessmen own 10 strads they can’t even play.

  • Chris says:

    Apart from Ms Hahn’s personal predilictions regarding the instruments, they will be a pretty sound investment.

  • Wladek says:

    so self serving publicity seeking

  • Qwerty1244 says:

    Yes, and? Many string players have several instruments and many more bows, seeing it as both a financial and personal investment. If she or anyone else can afford it, then why not?

  • steven holloway says:

    Hilary is writing on a dealer’s site, and there is not jot nor titter in what she says to suggest that she is unaware of the struggles of others to buy a first-class violin. Your opening sentence is a totally unwarrented slur, something of a specialty of SD. I suspect you have a mightily expensive music system. I knew a musician who couldn’t afford a stereo at all. Did you think of such as she when you bought your set-up? I doubt it.

    • Shimi says:

      Plus the two Vuillaumes together don’t cost more than half a million. Not like she has a Strad worth 11 mil and del Gesu for 15 mil. As always it’s NL who seems out of touch

  • Bill says:

    Having a hard time seeing where she says she NEEDS two Vuillaume violins. That’s a much different thing than finding it useful to have another.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I disagree. A soloist of her caliber and popularity does truly need two (at least) great violins, and ideally they need to be very comparable. When it’s time for an instrument to go into the shop for work, and that is a regular thing even with far newer and far lesser violins than these — my own for example — you need to play on something (I have 5 violins, all of equal mediocrity). Hahn in contrast to me needs to keep playing her dates at the exact same level of quality that the audience expects and pays dearly for, meaning an equally fine violin she is fully comfortable with. Some fiddle work takes weeks; serious work might take months. Meanwhile the touring soloist is thousands of miles away from that fiddle. For soloists, two (or more) fine violins as similar as possible are indeed a “need to have” not a “nice to have.” And as she points out in the article they have to be set up just the same. They are tools of the trade.

      The same goes for bows by the way. Glance into the case of a major soloist and usually all four spaces have bows, and all are fine ones. Yes, few of us can afford a Tubbs bow. I’d love to have one but I do not need one as only I would benefit from it; I have no audience to please. But if her Tubbs is being rehaired or worked on or just being given a rest, she still needs to play at her level with another top quality bow she is familiar and comfortable with. The repertoire and her reputation demand it.

      Most symphony violinists have multiple bows and instruments. They need instruments appropriate to their level, just has Hahn does, at every concert. Those who play outdoor concerts often have a lesser one set aside just for that, but apart from that, quality is a need.

      • Bill says:

        David, perhaps you should read what I wrote a bit more carefully before disagreeing. I said that I could not find the place in the referenced article where HH said she *needed* two Vuillaume violins. Two possibilities for that: 1) it isn’t there, or 2) I missed it. Are you suggesting that I am lying or mistaken? You have no basis for concluding the former; if you think the latter, please point out where she states that.

        Bow rehairs and gluing open seams are at most overnight jobs. Yes, many players have multiple bows, but often that is because different bows are better suited to different styles, not because they are unable to organize their busy lives. I can’t think of any of my string-playing friends in the Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Minnesota orchestras who own multiple comparable instruments, and neither do my friends who make their living as soloists and chamber musicians. People borrow instruments on the rare occasions (theft, accident, restoration) that the primary instrument is unavailable for more than a few days. And people who do own multiple instruments (such as HH) tend to play one at a time, not switch off frequently. She even comments to that effect in the referenced text.

  • anon says:

    “Why I need two Vuillaumes” Because I can afford it.

    On a serious note, I wonder if she’d be willing to sell her 2 Vuillaumes for a Strad.

    Timing is everything, I guess. How often do Strads come on the market? It’d be kinda like buying a new home, you really can’t sell your old one until you’ve bought the new one, but you don’t really have the liquidity to buy the new one until you’ve sold the old one…

    • Ned Keene says:

      Why would she – except for the swank value? Surely she can be the best judge of this herself.

      What is that you find lacking in this outstanding recent HH performance (of the Sibelius VC) that you feel a ‘Strad’ would add?


    • Roger R says:

      Interesting concept: Strad “coming on the market.”

    • Bill says:

      Any particular Strad may only sporadically be available, but if your desire is simply to own one, and you have the necessary funds, you’ll probably have little difficulty finding one to buy immediately. Bein & Fushi, J&A Beare, Florian Leonhard, and Tarisio’s private sales generally always have something on offer between them, and with about 600 surviving instruments, there are plenty of people to call to shake one free when money and interest are both present.

      If you are working through a dealer, and you bought the previous instrument from that same dealer, it may be possible to hand over the previous instrument as part of the purchase price. There can be substantial tax and liquidity advantages to the buyer vs. selling prior instrument to finance next one, and the dealer with sufficient liquidity and inventory benefits by making it rather more likely that the customer will be a repeat customer, and possibly gets the opportunity to resell “stepping stone” instruments multiple times (collecting a profit each time, naturally). Of course, a well-heeled collector or musician who can afford to buy without selling or trading will often get calls when something really interesting comes available, and the instrument often sells before the larger public ever has a chance at it.

      It is very unlikely that she would find a Strad she wanted for “only” what she might realize for the two Vuillaumes. Hard to argue that she’s being held back by her current instruments, and not the case that all Strads are better than all Vuillaumes from the perspective of a player.

    • Shimi says:

      I don’t know what world you live in, but I would seriously love to meet a dealer who would exchange 2 Vuillaumes for a strad. How about you bring an extra 6-8 million in cash? No matter the quality, even the worst sounding strads with sound post cracks ect. cost around 2 million. An average price for a good fiddle with little or no damage is around 6 million and the great ones top 10 million these days. The really few great Vuillaumes hardly ever get over 300k. She could have 10 really good Vuillaumes for the price of 1 bad strad.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    She could comfortably afford a dozen Vuillaumes, and ten 19th C French bows, and still have money left over for a decent Manhattan apartment and much more…
    when compared to the Vieuxtemps Guarneri, which six years ago was over 16m USD, and is on loan(?) to Anne-Akiko Meyers

  • Garnett says:

    She has earned the right to have as many violins as she wishes to have. One of the greatest soloist of our day, no doubt! Vuillaumes are a fantastic investment…

  • GG says:

    An upper echelon musician like H. Hahn would easily find a Stradivarius or Guarnerius on free sponsorship loan, if she really wanted to. She’d have dozens of offers – it’s H. Hahn, one of today’s very top names, not a young nameless struggling violinist. So it seems pretty clear to me that she plays her Vuillaume(s) by choice and personal preference.

  • David Rohde says:

    I’d like to somewhat defend Norman as well as those commenters who are getting a lot of thumbs down, as I probably will as well. I haven’t got a thing in the world against Hilary Hahn owning both of these fiddles, but there certainly is a humble-brag quality to her essay which can be a little grating – or humorous, as it is to me. We could debate which lines those are, although you can tell which one or two got to Norman. And I can imagine what might get under another violinist’s skin, even if many of the points are quite valid. Really, the dealer could have controlled for the airs that are being put upon – presumably they asked, and she responded – but maybe it’s not in their interest to do so, perhaps especially in the non-practitioner market for these instruments.

    Like a lot of things in classical music, though, what’s really underlying this is less about Hilary Hahn than about promoting the non-superstar level of outstanding talent so they can afford more things appropriate to their profession. Speaking as I always do from an American perspective, every season I see the pressures that concert presenters think they are under to load up on the same names at the “point of purchase,” rather than making serious art music part of the daily cultural conversation, which is way more important than the last dash of extra color in the season brochure. There are of course many exceptions to this in both innovative and active presenters and outstanding and interesting new performers, but that is still the overall dynamic that will inevitably lead to the disconnect that Norman is talking about, one way or another, in my opinion.

  • Roger R says:

    About 55 years ago, Szeryng walked into a little recital for us with a DOUBLE case in which he carried “his Guarnerius del Gesu and his Strad” and we heard them both. Imagine! All that musical genius and craftsmanship in one little room for about an hour!

    • NYMike says:

      Heifetz and Kreisler always toured with two instruments while owning many more. For the touring virtuoso, this is normal. BTW, Hahn PREFERS Vuillaumes – it’s what she grew up playing.

      • Bill says:

        Not normal, but not unheard of in the past. Almost 50 years since Heifetz last performed, almost 60 since Kreisler last drew breath. Szeryng has been gone for 30, Menuhin 20. Plenty of touring virtuosos may have use of more than one violin, but almost no one carries more than one. And if it is so essential, how does Yo Yo manage with just one cello on his tours?

        • Mr.Knowitall says:

          Are you comparing a violinist carrying two violins in a double case to a cellist carrying two cellos in a double case? Are there double cello cases? Does Yo Yo Ma travel with a valet?

  • Roger R says:

    I play on a 1734 Gorganzola.

  • muslit says:

    The Hahn is not one of the ‘great violinists of our time’. And who really cares about how many bows or violins she owns.