What’s Old Is New Again

It has been awhile since we examined the world of rare string instruments but a recent post by fellow Inside The Arts blogger Lynn Harrell has kick started the conversation. His article, Dealers And Stealers, examines the issue from a perspective not often discussed in an open forum. Lynn starts out talking about “…dealers out there who scour the schools and prestigious music festivals in search of innocent young very promising string players for the purpose of cultivating a prospective sale of one of their fine instruments.” It just gets better from there…

As someone who has been there and done that, Lynn makes it clear that he’s not railing against rare instruments at all, in fact, he performs on a 1720 Montagnana, but that artistic success/accomplishment and rare instruments are mutually exclusive, especially at different stages of an artists’ career (emphasis added).

What I take issue with is the implied necessity of one of these priceless masterpieces in making a career. So a young player before he/she is near full potential musically or technically or earning power is led to believe that without that Stradivari or Guarneri they will not be able to compete and their very career will be in jeopardy.

Discussions on the value of and business surrounding rare string instruments surfaces on a fairly regular basis and Lynn’s contribution adds a new perspective worth considering. With an eye toward developing musicians, Lynn offers what some might find surprising advice:

The best new instruments are in many playing points superior to all but the most exceptional old instruments. Moreover, the cost is often laughably less expensive…young players should play new instruments until their musical personality has fully developed. Only then should they even think of searching for a great old instrument to own and play as his/her primary instrument.

It would be interesting to go through the ranks of programs like New World Symphony or any conservatory graduate program with a higher than average placement rating to see what students think. Perhaps New World Symphony should invite Lynn to conduct a master class and lead a group discussion on the topic.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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