Old or New, Violins Still Make Music

Like many concert artists, the concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony doesn't own the instrument she plays. Hers is on loan from the Chicago-based Stradivari Society.

Sheryl Staples plays a 1720 Joseph Guarnerius "del Gesu," an instrument considered by many concert artists to be preferable to a Stradivarius.

"Fifty years ago, musicians could afford the better instruments. Now they're priced out of the market," says violin maker Rena Weisshaar of Costa Mesa. "Now wealthy people buy as connoisseurs and loan them out to musicians."

"I am partial to the old instruments," Staples says. "However, there is a significant and growing number of musicians, in some cases quite serious artists, who believe very strongly in the new instruments being made these days."

At chamber music festivals over the summer, Staples discovered that the Emerson Quartet's David Finckel, who owns a Stradivarius, and the Orion Quartet's Daniel Phillips, who owns a 1754 Guadagnini, perform more often on modern instruments.

"There's a very necessary place for modern makers," Staples says. "There is a limited number of older instruments, and as time goes on, that number has to decrease."

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