There are violin 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 that they may own or have “on consignment.” This I have no problems with since, as a string player, one of the great joys of a life in classical music is to own a great instrument from one of the masters of the Cremonese or Venetian or Brescian periods.
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. Throughout the entirety of my more than 50 year playing career I have yet to encounter a string player under the age of 20 with enough knowledge, musicality, and technique to bring everything out of a master instrument.
Assuming they were able to accomplish these tasks, I doubt that more than two percent of any given audience would be able to decipher the difference in sound between a contemporary instrument and one from the master era. Even Jascha Heifetz, who I believe to have been the greatest single performer on a string instrument in the last 100 years, used a Tononi violin when he made his Carnegie Hall debut in the early 1900’s.
What comes into play more often than not these days is so much prestige that dealers have when they sell a great instrument that maybe has a significant provenance has nothing to do with the artistic value of the new owner. To assume that one must have a great instrument that sells for $2,000,000, (Aaron Rosand, in his late 80’s, just sold his violin for $10,000,000) instead of a fine new instrument made in the last 20 years, is ridiculous.
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. The price range of $5,000- $50,000 will yield superb instruments. The renaissance of great new makers in the last 20 years proves this. It is therefore folly to assume at the onset of a career that one must have an old instrument to succeed. What succeeds is musical and technical brilliance.
The 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.