Monday, October 31, 2011

A Violin Shop Ghost Story

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

As musicians, we all know how close we can become to our instruments. There really is a deep spiritual and physical connection a lot of us have to a particular instrument. Just how close it can be was shown to me several years ago.

We hang all our instruments on racks that have slots in them for the instruments' necks to slide into, with the scroll resting on the top side of the rack.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Greatest Bow Maker You've Never Heard Of- Nicolaus Kittel

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Tourte,Vorin, Vuillaume, Hill, Nurnberger, Sartory, Kittel. Wait, Kittel? What's that name doing in the ranks of great bow makers?

Here's another list: Heifetz, Seidel, Vieuxtemps, Elman, Stern, Kochanski, Rosand, Erica Morini, Zimbalist, Kogan, Menuhin, and Vadim Repin. What do they have in common? (OK, besides that most of them are MOTs!) They are all violin soloists that used and loved Kittel bows. And preferred them over any of the French bow makers, including Tourte.

Yehudi Menuhin preferred Kittel bows

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Artaria String Quartet

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Here in Minnesota, we are lucky to have a vast array of very talented and amazing musicians. We've got the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, as well as many smaller groups and individual artists. In fact, on most weekends, it can be difficult to decide whose concert to go to.

Annalee Wolfe, Nancy Oliveros, Laura Sewell, and Ray Shows of the Artaria String Quartet

One of my favorite small groups, in fact some of my favorite all-around musicians, is the Artaria String Quartet. Composed of Ray Shows as first violinist, Nancy Oliveros as second violinist, Annalee Wolf as violist, and Laura Sewell as cellist, each member is an accomplished musician with an impressive performance pedigree behind them. Collectively, they have performed in many of the major symphony orchestras across America as well as in Europe (both eastern and western), and they have been recipients of such awards as the McKnight Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pushing the Boundaries of Modern String Performance - The Brooklyn Rider Quartet and The Knights Chamber Orchestra

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and Stefan Aune

The Brooklyn Rider Quartet, composed of violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords, and cellist Eric Jacobsen, is a modern string quartet that manages to stay rooted in the classic quartet repertoire while pushing boundaries through creative programming and collaboration. All the members are veterans of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, with which they have recorded numerous records, performed all over the world, and participated in an invigorating blend of music and multiculturalism that encompasses traditions from all over the world. With Brooklyn Rider, they combine classical training with the sort of DIY work ethic more commonly found in the punk underground, touring constantly, putting out their own records, and collaborating with like minded artists across different mediums.

The Brooklyn Rider has performed everywhere from concert halls to clubs to pubs. Their particularly busy schedule in recent years has taken them to the Cologne Philharmonie, the American Academy in Rome, the Malmo Festival in Sweden, and the SXSW Festival in Texas, where they were the only classical group invited to perform amidst a who's who of punk, hardcore, indie rock, noise, and hip-hop. They performed at the US Open tennis tournament, toured Europe with Persian musician Kayhan Kalhor, and toured North America several times. This sort of grinding performance schedule seems more reminiscent of hardcore punk band Black Flag's "get in the van" tour philosophy than your average string quartet, but it goes to show that hard work and taking matters into your own hands can pay off in the classical work just as much as anywhere else. Be sure to keep an eye on the Brooklyn Rider website for up to date tour information, as they are probably coming to a city near you sometime soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy Halloween!!
The Ghoulish Side of Classical Music:
Conductor & Performer Deaths

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 Angie Newgren, and Kevin Berdine

The music world is not immune from the vicissitudes of life. Bring life to music and life returns the compliment. All the way to the bitter end. Throughout history there have been some strange deaths associated with performances. Below is a list of conductors and performers who unfortunately fell into this category.

Many of these musicians and conductors were wonderful people and made great contributions to music. Death, in itself, does not have any entertainment value... but it is the season of Halloween. So while it's on your mind....

Friday, October 21, 2011

Learning to Love a Piece of Music

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Music is an incredible thing! From the first reading, to the hours spent practicing, to performance, a piece of music can become a part of your life in a way that few other things can. Most of the time, a piece of music will be a great partner from start to finish, but there will be those rare instances when you just don't seem to connect with a piece no matter how hard you try. How, then, do you find a way to make that piece of music something that you can relate to and find beauty in?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pegs For Violins, Violas & Cellos- Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood?

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Violins4you Violin Peg Ebony One 1 With Pearl Dot Inlay / Parisian Eye
Ebony Violin Pegs with Parisian Eyes

Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood. Those are usually the three choices of wood for pegs on stringed instruments. What's the difference? Probably not much beyond wood color and looks. But in stringed instruments, everything makes a difference. Considering that your pegs are the functioning unit on your instrument that enables you to tune, the pegs are very, very important.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Ahn Trio. Beauty & Talent.

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Angie Newgren

The Ahn Trio

Who are the best the best looking Juilliard graduates? Hmm, that might be difficult to decide. OK, who are three of the best looking Juilliard graduates that are sisters and have a fantastic trio? If you want to believe People Magazine, it would be the Ahn Trio! I would agree.

Angella, Lucia, and Maria Ahn are three sisters who make up the Ahn Trio. Born in South Korea, each sister was accepted into Juilliard, the performing arts conservatory in New York City. Angella on violin, Lucia on piano, and Maria on cello. For the last decade, the Ahn Trio has traveled internationally to perform. They have released five albums, and have started their own production company. They teach at workshops, appear in advertisements, and have won several awards. Their chamber group has given inspiration to many contemporary composers. The Ahn Trio, in turn, performs many new works.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hilary Hahn - Professional Violinist, Girl Next Door

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

If there were such thing as a "young person's classical violinist," well, Hilary Hahn would definitely be that! In a time where the violin is getting more and more popular, by being used in more and more kinds of music, and yet less and less refined in its traditional sense, Hilary has managed to be able to combine both of those things. Firmly planted in the classical world, she wanders blissfully along the pathways of other artists and genres when the opportunity arises, never really leaving her ties to the classical world, but yet never really trying to be anything other than what she is when playing with others.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Realist Violin:
Electric/Acoustic playing at Its Finest!

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

I am a violinist who is always looking for new and different things to do, both musically and technically. As a result, I have found myself in many situations where I needed to play amplified. I have used fully electric violins, acoustic-electric violins, and various pickups on my own violin, all for different reasons and to different effects. One of the reasons I have used so many different kinds of instruments is that I never really found one that satisfied my yearning for a rich, warm, full sound while playing plugged in. That is, until now.


The David Gage Realist RV4 Violin

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Violin Maker of Piacenza, Milan, Cremona, Parma & Turin

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
& Angie Newgren

Italy's Po River Valley figures prominently in the history of great violin-makers, as well as the Fein family history.

The towns of Cremona, Piacenza, Parma, Milan, and Turin are all beautiful towns along the Po, or one of its many tributaries. In 1944 and 1945, Bert Fein, Andy's father, along with thousands of other brave soldiers of the U.S. Tenth Mountain Division, and joined by local Appenine fighters, pushed the Nazi army out of the Appenine Mountains and other strongholds along the Po River.

About 230 years earlier, in the small village of Beligno, at the foot of the Appenine Mountains, Giovanni Battista (J.B.) Guadagnini was born on June 23, 1711. J.B.'s father Lorenzo was a violin maker, the first in a long line of violin makers that stretched into the twentieth century.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

New or Old. Which is Better for Violins, Violas & Cellos?

Written by Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

I'm often asked: "Which is better? A new instrument or an old one?"

There is a mystique about old instruments. After all, Stradivarius & Guanerius were making instruments in the 1700s. Aren't all old instruments better than new ones? Well, yes and no. It depends on what you are interested in.

Stradivarius and Guarnerius made new instruments. Seems like a simple and intuitively obvious statement, but not everyone realizes that. Yes, Stradivarius, Amati, the Guarneris, Guadagnini, Montagnana, Vuillaume, Lupot, and the Chanot/Chardons were all real people. Real people making brand new instruments. Did they sound good when they were made? Probably, but we have no real way of knowing that. But judging from the people that played them and loved them, they were very nice sounding new instruments.

There were also a bunch of other makers from the 1500s on through the 1900s ( and even today)  that made passable, mediocre and downright lousy instruments. Are those old instruments better than a good sounding new instrument? Probably not.

Here are some considerations.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yo Yo Ma - Virtuoso Cellist, Collaborator, Educator

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

October 7 is cellist Yo Yo Ma's birthday (happy birthday!) - and just in case you've been living under a rock and don't recognize him from the orchestral stage or your own television, we thought it fitting to pay tribute to one of the best cellists ever in today's blog.

Yo Yo Ma is widely considered to be the preeminent cellist of our time, and he is certainly the most famous. Unlike many classical virtuoso performers, Ma has managed to transcend the insular classical world and become a household name. He has even appeared on television programs such as Arthur, Sesame Street, The Simpsons, The West Wing, The Colbert Report, and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. My personal favorite is in the television show Seinfeld, where the character Kramer exclaims "Yo Yo Ma!" whenever he is surprised by something. It is this accessibility and name recognition, combined with his towering skills on the cello, that have made Yo Yo Ma a superstar of the classical world.

Yo Yo Ma, with some help from Elmo

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Messiah Stradivarius

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

Antonius Stradivarius is easily the most renowned violin maker in history. His name has a magical quality that makes it recognizable to people who have never picked up an instrument or seen an orchestra perform. It is not uncommon to get a call here in the violin shop from someone who thinks they have found a "Stradivarius" in their basement and wants to know if they found the real deal. Although highly unlikely, turning up a genuine Stradivarius in your basement would be akin to winning the lottery - this past summer the Lady Blunt Stradivarius sold at auction for an astounding 16 million dollars. When it was auctioned the Lady Blunt was called "the best preserved Stradivarius to be offered for sale," and this was certainly true, but it isn't the best preserved Stradivarius in existence. That title belongs to the "Messiah" Stradivarius, which many people call "the consummate violin" for its astounding craftsmanship and perfect preservation.

File:Messiah Stradivarius.jpg
The Messiah Stradivarius of 1716

The Messiah was made by Antonius Stradivarius at his shop in Cremona, Italy in 1716. It remained, unsold, in the shop until Stradivarius' death in 1737. Stradivarius' son Paolo sold the Messiah to Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775, and famed collector Luigi Tarisio purchased the violin from the Count in 1827. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris purchased the Messiah upon Tarisio's death, and the violin eventually made its way to the Ashmolean Museum of London where it remains to this day. As the Messiah passed from owner to owner, it remained relatively unplayed, which is why it is in such spectacular condition today.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pinchas Zukerman and a Circle of Friends

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

My life has brought me many interesting intersecting circles.

The neighborhood I grew up in, Haddontowne in Cherry Hill, NJ, was filled with working musicians and artists. Many of my neighbors and parents of my friends were in the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was through neighborhood gatherings that I first met Herb Light, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and his wife, a fine pianist Yoheved (Veda) Kaplinsky. Veda is now a piano professor and chairperson of the piano department at Juilliard. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I knew her as a really, really good piano teacher and performer.

Veda is from Israel and knew Pinchas Zukerman from their days as young star musicians in Israel. I first met Pinchas through Herb & Veda. But, honestly, I was a somewhat oblivious kid and it didn't really register on me who I was meeting.

When I was in college, Herb casually told me about a great violin maker in the town next to ours. Sergio Peresson was working in Haddonfield, NJ. Many famous musicians were commissioning instruments from him. At the time, he was working on a violin for Pinchas Zukerman. I was interested in violins and violin making and Sergio graciously let me visit him in his workshop. While I was there, I watched him work on the violin that would become Pinchas'.

image from