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  • Ariane Todes

Arnold Steinhardt: ‘Don’t put your parents in hock to buy a violin’


A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Arnold Steinhardt, leader of the Guarneri Quartet for 40 years, for the Cozio website. Steinhardt is articulate and warm, and he doesn't need an interviewer asking questions to draw him out – indeed, his Key of Strawberry, is one of my favourite blogs and his endearing wisdom should be read by all students and lovers of music.

The Cozio article is about the instruments he's owned over the years and Steinhardt is forthcoming about how he fell in love with his Storioni and the 'del Gesù' he played before that. He had plenty to say that I didn't have room for though.

He had wise words for young players who have ambitions for instruments and bows beyond their scope. 'I have students who come to me and say, "Mr Steinhardt, I have this bow that costs $35,000 and my parents are willing to get a homeowner's loan to buy this bow. What is your opinion? Will you try this bow for me and tell me whether I should buy it." I say: "First of all, if I like it, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you, or if I don’t like it that it’s not good for you. The second thing is you’re putting your parents in hock. I play a bow that I paid $3,000 for – I’ve played 500 concerts on it and it's served me very well. Yes, when you’ve got the loot and you’re a wonderful concert violinist and you can afford to get your Peccatte or your Tourte, or whatever, that will be the absolute perfect bow. But there are so many fantastic contemporary bow makers now and they all make bows that are different, so you can go to a shop and try them all."' At a point in time when prices of old instruments and bows are rocketing out of proportion, such sanity and perspective is vital. Steinhardt is also an advocate of modern instruments, and describes the modern instruments he plays in my interview.

He also explained how it can take time to get to know how to play any instrument, new or old, and this involves a certain humility: 'A musician and their instrument has to be a partnership. I can’t just say, "You there, I want you to do this." I have to say, "Excuse me sir, is it possible to do this?" You have to learn how you do it. You have to work your way round an instrument and it’s a process. Every instrument is hard to play at the beginning because it’s as if you don’t know Portuguese: it’s hard to know what people are saying until you learn the language. Every instrument is another language that you don’t know at the beginning. Of course not completely – you can pick up a violin and play it, but each violin does have a different language to learn.'

Read the full article here.

See some pictures of Steinhardt's Storioni here.

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