Friday, December 28, 2012

Orch. Dork Vacations - Where to Travel to See Stradivaris, Guarneris & Amatis. Part 1- U.S.

A violin by Nicola Amati, Cremona 1669, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

For hundreds of years, the best violins makers have been making exquisite works of art, and Music Geeks around the world can fully appreciate every detail of these fine masterpieces. But where are the best places in the world for us Orch. Dorks to gather and learn more about the finest violins ever made? There are fantastic violin museums all over the world.

The first place I would recommend is the The National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

A viola by Andrea Amati, made in Cremona circa 1560

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why Do Instruments Have Names?

By Ben Schuneman with Andy Fein

Sometime in the year 1827, Luigi Tarisio acquired a violin from the late Count Cozio di Salabue and added it to his private collection. Both men were avid collectors of prized violins, and Salabue was well known for buying a large quantity of Stradivarius instruments.
                                                                                    The back of 'The Messiah' 1716 Stradivarius violin

In fact, the instrument was in such good repair and such high quality, that Tarisio would refuse to bring it out of his collection to show anyone, and instead just preferred to boast about it whenever given the chance. In fact, Tarisio was so well known for this perplexing habit, and he played the game for so long, that the famous French violinist Delphin Alard had joked, "Your violin is like the Messiah...One always waits for him, but he never appears!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stanley Steamers, X-Rays, and Violins! Huh?

Written by Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

A long time ago, an elderly woman brought in a violin she wanted to sell. Like many old violins, this one had a story. When she was a girl, her family had owned movie theaters during the silent movie era. They hired musicians to play music during the movie. One musician, a violinist, stayed with her family until about 1933. One day in 1933, he just disappeared. He took almost all his belongings, but he left this violin under his bed. Since that day, no one had played the violin. I opened up the case and there was a beautifully made violin with a wonderful varnish. It was made by F.O. Stanley in Newton, Massachusetts in the year 1889. The top was made from Spruce that looked very similar to Spruce on Cremonese instruments from the same era. The Maple on the back, though, reminded me of European Maple I had seen on the dashboard of an early automobile, a "Stanley Steamer". Strange, but this is a strange business.
A Stanley Steamer Automobile

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kreutzer (?) Sonata: An Inspirational Work

Written by Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

The birthday of the great French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer is on November 15. This year, his birthday inspired a discussion in the shop about the Kreutzer Sonata, The Kreutzer Sonata, The Kreutzer Sonata, the Kreutzer Sonata, and a few more 'Kreutzer Sonata's. Of course, we mean, the sonata, the novella, the painting, the string quartet, a ballet, and several movies and plays. Too bad Rodolphe Kreutzer never played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Title Bout: Guarneri del Gesu versus Stradivari. Which is Best?

Written by Kevin Berdine, with Andy Fein

Be careful what you ask for. This morning, while taking photos (to send to a customer) of an Atelier Cremone del Gesu model, I asked Andy "what's the difference between the models of del Gesu and Stradivari?" And, in Andy's usual fashion he exclaimed "Great idea! You have figured out your next blog posting!" Then he showed me some resources and sent me on my way.
1703 "Lady Harmsworth" Stradivari

1743 "Il Cannone" Guarneri del Gesu
The violins of del Gesu and Stradivari are at the utmost pinnacle of violin making. Each innovated violin making and broke away from the highly arched traditional forms of Stainer and Amati. Interestingly, however, the strides that both makers achieved were completely different from one another. Stradivari is known to have executed his violins with extreme physical elegance. Because of their extreme beauty, Stradivari's violins were immediately sought out by the courts and nobility of Europe. A Desiderio Arisi manuscript, written in 1720, lists many nobility, from princes and dukes, among those who purchased instruments from Stradivari. In contrast, del Gesu's instruments were rougher and much more unique. Each instrument left the shop with a much more adventurous design. Although rougher in design and workmanship, his instruments yielded a wonderful tonal palette that was both beautiful and powerful. His instruments, unlike Stradivari, were used by the the common musician who required a great sound without the high price tag.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beethoven and Bonaparte. The Eroica Was Almost the Bonaparte

Written by: Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine
What does a cantankerous musical genius and a man of short stature with plans of taking over the whole of Europe have in common? 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Can't kick the tires of a violin-What to look for when buying an instrument.

Written by Kevin Berdine, Andy Fein, and Amy Tobin

Looking for a "new-to-you" instrument is a daunting, but exciting task. There are many items that must be factored in before taking the leap. Cost, quality, warranty, trade-in, condition, and playability all contribute to the overall impression an instrument makes upon you, but we believe the most important factor has to be sound. Sometimes, however, cost is a very important limitation. Below, I delve into cost's contributing factors.

Many things contribute to the cost of an instrument; maker's reputation, wood quality, workmanship, condition, location, and yes, even appearance.

Friday, October 26, 2012

All in the Family

Written by Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

Yo Yo Ma, in PBS's Face of America with Henry Louis Gates, states "It takes three generations to make a musician: the first to leave poverty, the second to go to school, and the third to master an instrument." This quote inspired us to delve into musician families and to see just how many famous musicians have become successful, in some part, due to their upbringing. The results are a wonderful testament to the power of family.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What viola do they play?

Written by Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

When you hear a violist, ever wonder "what viola are they playing?" We have compiled a small list of violas that famous musicians have played or continue to play.

William Primrose

1735 Nicolo Gagliano Violin
"ex-Primrose" Amati, now played by Roberto Diaz
1697 "ex-Lord Harrington" Guarneri, now called "ex-Primrose"
1950 William Moennig Jr. now played by Peter Pas

Yuri Bashmet
1758 Paolo Testore

Ida Kavafian
1751 Guadagnini Violin
1987 Peter and Wendela Moes Viola

Atar Arad

Nicolo Amati

Helen Callus

Gabrielle Kundert-Copy of the Primrose Amati

Roberto Diaz
ex-Primrose Amati
Kim Kashkashian

1617 Brothers Amati

Paul Neubauer

Nobuko Imai
Peter and Wendela Moes

Nils Monkemeyer
Peter Erben

Melia Watras
Samuel Zygmuntowicz Viola

Lionel Tertis 

1717 Domenico Montagnana (17 1/8 inches!) 
Lawrence Cocker "Tertis Model" viola

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Violin Making in Germany

Written by: Kevin Berdine and Andy Fein

Lion's Head Scroll Carving by Jacobus Stainer, 1674

German violin making all began in Fussen, Germany. The German school of violin making, however, managed to infiltrate all areas of Europe: George Epp, the Hollmayrs, and the Fichtls took on Vienna, Andreas Ott and Bathasar Kogl were the founders of the the Prague cohort, Caspar Tieffenbrucker introduced violin making to Lyon, and Naples was home to Georgio Bairhoff and Eberle, while Michael Platner and David Tecchler lived and worked in Rome. The most famous of all German makers, to this day, remains Jacobus Stainer. His instruments became the model of excellence before Stradivari's instruments became the ultimate.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Maestro Rodolfo Cazares - Kidnapped

Written by Andy Fein & Kevin Berdine

Maestro Rodolfo Cazares
In the sophisticated world of classical music, we often feel immune to the chaos and violence that grips much of our world. Unfortunately, no one is immune to the violence and brutality of the gangs and organized crime of northern Mexico. A member of our musical world, Maestro Rodolfo Cazares was kidnapped more than one year ago and is still being held for ransom.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What Violin Are They Playing? Is That A Strad?

Written by: Andy Fein & Kevin Berdine

When you hear a great performer, do you ever wonder, "What violin are they playing? Is that a Strad?" A common assumption is that all violin soloists are playing on the violins of Antonius Stradivarius. Many are, but not all.

Then there are those lucky few that own and play on more than one great instrument. Two Stradivaris or a Stradivarius and a Guarnerius. Hmm, what should I play tonight?


1710 Lord Dunn-Raven Stradivari

Playing the 1703 Emiliani Stradivarius

Friday, September 28, 2012

What Cello Are They Playing? Is That A Strad?

Written by: Andy Fein & Kevin Berdine

When you hear a great performer, ever wonder "What instrument are they playing? Is it a Strad?" 

If you hear a great solist on violin, chances are good that they will be playing on a Stradivarius or a Guarnerius del Gesu. Not so much with great cellists. Sadly, the great Guarnerius del Gesu never made a cello. And many of Stradivarius' cellos, particularly the cellos he made before 1700, were very large and not particularly well suited to the demands of a modern soloist. All but two of those large pattern Stradivarius cellos have been "cut down" and reworked into easier playing modern instruments.  Luckily, two great Venetians, Montagnana and Gofriller, made great cellos that meet the demands of today's great cellists.

Here is a list of some wonderful cellists and the instruments they play.


1733 Domenico Montagnana-Nicknamed "Petunia" by a student in Salt lake City, Utah.

1712 Antonio Stradivari, "Davidoff"-formerly Jacqueline du Pre's cello

1722 Gofriller-Being played by Valentin Erben
1673 "ex-du Pre/ex-Harrell" Stradivari

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Orchestral Etiquette -- An Uphill Battle Worth Fighting

Written by: Matt Lammers

Having spent a summer and nine orchestral performances with the Brevard Music Center Orchestra this year, I was dropped headfirst into a culture of high standards and professional level playing. Eager to study orchestral playing technique and musicianship, I was not expecting to make any modifications to how I went about acting during and around rehearsals on a non-musical level. This, however, can come between a job and unemployment for even the most competent orchestral players. Getting on the wrong person's nerves--or your entire section for that matter--may have devastating consequences when tenure, or being hired in the first place, is on the line, and in a festival situation it can be what separates you from being an asset to the ensemble and the object of collective hatred. It seems to me that this is something worth paying attention to.

While a great deal of the do's and don't's are either intuitive or were told to us as we sat down in elementary school string orchestra, many of them require experience and the inside line to recognize, and are generally unnoticeable to the outsider. It would be an oversight to not mention these that are seemingly obvious, so here we go: don't eat during rehearsal, don't talk back to your conductor or principal, don't smell bad, know your part, don't talk during rehearsal, be on time (EARLY) to rehearsal, and turn the pages on time. With that out of the way it's time to dive into the finer points of playing in an orchestra that I noticed during my time with the faculty of the BMCO.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Parker Quartet. Playing Their Hearts Out!

Written by: Andy Fein & Ben Schuneman

3/4 of The Parker Quartet with their GRAMMYs
     GRAMMY! A fair number of people are nominated for GRAMMYs. Not that many people win one. Even fewer  GRAMMY winners are from or are based in Minnesota. (Well, OK, Bob Dylan has a few under his belt.) In Classical Music, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra was awarded a GRAMMY in 1980. And in 2011, the dynamic Parker Quartet was awarded the GRAMMY for Best Chamber Music Performance!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Archetier, or in England-Bowmaker

Written by: Andy Fein

Predecessor to Cramer and Tourte Bows
The English have as old a love for stringed instruments as anyone else in Europe. English musicians have patronized and cultivated some of the finest violin and bow makers the world has seen. We previously looked at Early English Violin Makers. But without bows, these fine stringed instruments would just be plucked!
c.1800 School of Dodd Ivory Mounted Cello Bow 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Musical Olympiads

Written by: Andy Fein & Kevin Berdine

Buglers Dream-Leo Arnaud

Every four years the world gets excited about seldom seen sports. Perhaps the old saying is true, "absence makes the heart grow fonder." We sit in our comfy homes and watch others, halfway around the world, put their talents, stamina, and heart to the test. It is an extremely engaging act to watch, a few of us are even lucky enough to travel to the events and witness the valor first-hand. Someday, I hope to join the masses and sit in the stands and root for my countrymen. But what if we could see this same mania aimed at the arts?

Monday, July 23, 2012

How does one Handle Handel? British Violins, of Course!

Written by Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

The W.E.Hill violin shop was by far the greatest violin shop in England, if not in the world, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But they did not rise out of a vacuum. There were wonderful makers in England long before the Hills and there remain great shops since the Hills closed shop. The Hills simply took the best of those talents, added their immense knowledge, and brought out a tremendous violin shop.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dog Days of Summer - Keeping Your Instrument Safe

Written by: Amy Tobin

It's hot this summer. Even here in Minnesota, this summer has already seen several days with a heat index above 100 degrees, not to mention those days where the actual temperature is in the 100's!
It is early July as I write this, so I know that there will be quite a bit more of this before we get into the cooler autumn months. In light of this, I thought now would be a great time to write a quick reminder about caring for your instrument, keeping it safe, and continuing to be able to enjoy it for years to come!

Let's talk about what is probably the most important consideration about the summer.....traveling in the car. While you are riding around with the windows down (or the A/C on), you probably feel a little bit like this.......

Photo from Tori Stuart Photography

However, once you park the car, roll up the windows and walk away, things inside quickly turn more like this.......

Yes, those are actual cookies being baked on the dashboard of a car!
In fact, we have a little rule about string instruments and cars around here. It goes a little something like this:


It's a pretty easy rule to remember, actually. In fact, the beauty of it is that it holds true in all circumstances, at all times of year. You wouldn't leave a baby in a car, car seat or no, if you were going shopping at the mall for an hour or so. Don't leave your instrument in there, either. In the winter time, you wouldn't leave your child or pet in the car, with subzero temperatures, so don't leave your instrument in there either. 

But here's the really important thing to remember - the trunk of your car is not climate controlled!!!! No matter where you are, remember that your air conditioning does not reach the trunk and cool it down (or keep it warm in the winter, for that matter).

There are several things that can happen if you leave an instrument in the car. First, the varnish can bubble up and melt, like this:

Violin with bubbled varnish
and this.......

Violin after varnish melted from inside of a hot car

There are other tragedies that can happen from leaving a violin, viola, or cello in a hot car as well. The glue, which holds the instrument together, can melt, like this crayon......

Crayon melted on the inside of a car

And the wood itself can crack, like this......

Violin damaged by heat inside car!

I know that I am preaching to the choir with many of our readers, but if I can help even one instrument be protected from needing extensive (and expensive) repair work, at best, and being completely unfixable, at worst (and believe me, your instrument insurance would not cover leaving it in a hot car in the summer!), then this post is worth it. 

Oh, and by the way.......the bow is equally as delicate and important, so treat it with the same amount of care and diligence as you do the instrument!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Elizabeth Pitcairn, The Red Mendelssohn Violin, and Wittner Finetune Pegs

By: Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

What is the common thread between the Battle of Bunker Hill, the 1720 'Mendelssohn' Stradivarius, 'The Red Violin', Wittner Finetune violin pegs, and Gamma Phi Beta Sorority? Elizabeth Pitcairn, of course!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Violin Makers of Milan- Elite Artisans or Cheapjacks?

By Andy Fein and Kevin Berdine

On a recent visit to the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota,  I was overwhelmed with the beauty of some of the oldest instruments in the violin family. Most notably those of Andrea Amati, his descendants, and their students. Towards the back of the room housing the Amatis, Guarneris, and Stradivaris, there is a beautiful five string violin. The shape of this five string violin is unusual as its contours are deeply influenced by viol family instruments. This violin was made in Milan by Giovanni Grancino circa 1685. As you can see from the picture below, this was an elaborately made violin by a very skilled maker. Yet the great violin experts at W.E. Hill & Sons, many years ago, used the term "cheapjacks" to refer to many of the Milanese makers. What was happening with the art of violin making in Milan for its luthiers to deserve such an appellation?

Grancino 5-string Violin, c. 1685

Monday, June 25, 2012

Assault on Brevard 2012-- Brevard Music Center Week 0

By Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

It feels like it's been just a couple days, but Brevard "week 0" has come to an end. I jumped on a plane in Minneapolis, flew to Charlotte, took a shuttle (...Honda mini van) to the quaint Asheville Airport a couple hours away, and boarded a school bus to complete the sojurn to Brevard, NC, just seven days ago. Here I was greeted by a phenomenal collegiate student body and faculty (high school students and pianists didn't arrive until yesterday).

Scenic Brevard, NC

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birdsongs of the MidWest - Meet Andrew Bird

Written by: Amy Tobin

What do you call someone who is classically trained as a violinist, an innovator in using electronics with the violin, a multi-instrumentalist, and can whistle nearly anything? Well, besides 'incredibly talented,' you call him -

Andrew Bird - photo by John Anderson
A native of Chicago, IL, Andrew actually began playing the violin, at the age of 3, with the Suzuki method. Years later, he went on to Northwestern University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in violin performance. Yes, our Mr. Bird is an actual, real live performance major! The same year he graduated (which was 1996),

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Assault on Brevard 2012 -- Introduction to the Brevard Music Institute and Festival from the Eyes of One of its Performers

By Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

In February, I was comfortably seated in my chemistry lecture when I felt my phone buzz. I glanced at it quickly, trying not to miss the finer points of organic intermolecular interaction and polarity, but the text caught my attention. My teacher and quartet coach from home, Ray Shows, a generally enthusiastic though not alarmist individual, left me a message saying, "cakl mw imnediatuly". I did some code-breaking and realized that he wanted me to give him a call as soon as possible. Hoping that something hadn't happened to him or his wife, Nancy, I ducked out of class after being informed that we were learning about colloids for the novelty of it, even though they wouldn't show up on any test. I dialed him up and was relieved to hear an anxiously excited Ray instead of a morose Ray. He ordered me to write down a phone number and call it as soon as I emerged from the Stevenson Center basement, which is irritatingly void of reliable cell service. He told me I'd be discussing a valuable summer opportunity with someone he ran into earlier that day, and that I would be a fool to ignore it.  

The extent of the day's chemistry education: milk is an organic colloid

 I called the number, not knowing what to expect, and it rang through to voicemail. Having taken my fair share of orchestral auditions, I'd listened a lot to a recording by William Preucil, revered concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra and former member of the Cleveland Quartet, which outlines the objectives of commonly requested orchestral excerpts (Don Juan, Brahms' 2nd, etc.). When that same voice came spilling out of my phone, I was dumbstruck and so speechless that I hung up without leaving a message! After I collected myself, deciding how to concisely and intelligently introduce myself via voicemail, I tried again. After one or two rings, I was talking to the man himself:

     "This is Bill Preucil, I'm sorry I missed you the first time, may I ask who's calling?"
     "This is Matt Lammers, Ray Shows suggested I give you a call" (in my head: "whoa, whoa, whoa, wasn't planning on this, what business does he have answering his phone? How is someone too busy to answer and then free five minutes later?")
      "Ah yes, I spoke with Ray about you this morning, thanks for getting in touch. Has he told you about the situation?"
      "No, I'm sorry--"
      "No worries, no worries. I'm on faculty at the Brevard Institute, and the spots in my studio are usually spoken for by this time. This year, though, I have one opening left, and after my chat with Ray I'd like to give you the opportunity to claim it."
      "Oh, that would be fantastic! I'll certainly take you up on it." (in my head: "surely not, what's Ray up to? Who did he find that sounds just like Preucil?")
      "Don't you want to check your summer schedule?"
      "No, to be honest I'd cancel anything that conflicts regardless."
      "Alright, then I'll call admissions and have them put you on my list. Glad to have you round out the studio."
      "Great, thank you. I'll email you and be in touch as we get closer to the summer."
      "Sounds like a plan. By the way, I think applications and tapes are officially due tomorrow."
      "Okay, no problem. I'll talk to you later."

It was a problem. They were due tomorrow. Thank you to Dorothy in admissions for the extra week. 

Bill Preucil in Severance Hall

Concertmaster Bill Preucil at the helm of the Cleveland Orchestra

After throwing together recordings of the first movement of the Mozart A Major Concerto, the first page of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, the infamous page of Brahms' 2nd symphony, and the Allegro of Beethoven's 6th symphony, I was accepted to the college program.

Now, after working at Fein for the last month and a half, I will be flying out to the Brevard Music Center  for six weeks of musical immersion. Armed only with my violin, some resilience, and a computer to continue blogging about it (I'll be posting updates every week or so) I will be taking on all that the Institute's College Program has to throw at me; the Brevard Orchestra will perform full programs on a weekly basis, I've opted into a violin-clarinet-piano trio, private study with one of America's leading concertmasters, which is by no means something to be taken lightly, and scholarship obligations will consume the energy I have left after performances, rehearsals, practice, and parts-learning. I will be rubbing shoulders and learning from some of the best chamber, solo, and orchestral musicians and students in the field, which will stretch my technique and musicianship like bow hair on a pea-soup humid day. 

Brevard Music Center orchestra in performance

My teacher at Vanderbilt, Chris Teal, and I decided that I would let the Mozart simmer until Brevard to use it in a concerto competition. Mozart will also be an interesting topic with Mr. Preucil, given the blend of orchestral and soloist playing required to play it effectively. It would be a shame not to pick the man's brain for some words of orchestral playing wisdom, so I've also prepared excerpts from Strauss' quintessential Don Juan, Beethoven's 6th and 9th, a couple of Mozart symphonies, and the Mendelssohn and Brahms once again as well. As far as additional solo repertoire goes, I will be bringing Bruch's Scottish Fantasy to audition for orchestral section placement, and the Brahms G Major Sonata, at Mr. Preucil's request. On top of this, the Brevard Orchestra's concert calendar is significant (see Brevard Orchestra repertoire). I've also opted into chamber music and will be studying Bartok's Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano with a fellow Vanderbilt student and pianist to be determined.

Bartok Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano (mvmt 1-2)

Bartok Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano (mvmt 3)

So, it is with excitement that I bid Minnesota adieu for six weeks. Keep an eye out for my updates from the BMC where I'll share and discuss the trials, tribulations, terrors, vices, victories, and virtues of one of the great national music festivals.