Finding A Soulmate
SWF(iddle) looking for LTR with playful, soulful musician.
Thursday, September 23, 1999
"The bottom line is its sound," declares Rochelle Walton, a Monterey violinist and teacher--and former New Yorker--who has elevated many students to top orchestral string sections. "Of course," she adds, "a Strad has proved itself over hundreds of years." How, then, does a violin buyer reconcile the difference between a good sound-at, say, $10,000-versus a Stradivarius, selling for $3 million?
Cynthia Mei, a concert artist from Oakland who formerly played in the California Symphony, solved her problem by choosing a 1994 violin from the studio of David Morse of Soquel. "I needed a new violin quite badly," says Mei, "but as a musician I couldn''t afford one of those pricey old Italian instruments." Mei learned about Morse from Victor Romasevech, a member of the San Francisco Symphony and concertmaster with the California Symphony. On Romasevech''s urging, Mei played on Morse''s Stratus--as the maker named it--for two weeks before making her decision. "When you buy a new instrument, you always take a risk," explains Mei.
As a teacher, Walton is often asked for guidance by her students when they wish to upgrade their instruments. Typically, the student will go shopping at a dealer or maker and return with one or more instruments on loan. Does Walton want to know who made the instrument she is about to hear? "No," she says emphatically. "I just want to listen to it. I don''t want to be biased by knowledge of a famous name, or how much is the price." But even Walton is not without bias when it comes to her own instrument, which she takes for service only to Roland Feller of San Francisco. "There are very few I would trust with my violin. Feller was recommended by people at the University of California, private teachers in San Francisco, and a friend of mine who owns an Amati. Once made, an association with an instrument is a very personal matter."
Luthier Morse agrees. "I''m a matchmaker," he says, holding up one of his instruments. "I want to find a lover for this violin. It''s about arranging nuptials. I rely on the perceptions of my customers to make an appropriate decision." According to Morse, what attracted Romasevech was the sound and responsiveness of the Morse instruments. "Victor has a great ear. He hears things that I haven''t heard. A shortcoming of most violin makers is the evaluation of tone. Thanks to his talents and enthusiasm, I have a number of instruments in the San Francisco Symphony."
Mei draws a similar conclusion. "Any maker needs a musician to sell his stuff. That''s the way it works in this business." As Walton explains it, "I can''t tell you how well-made an instrument is, just as the makers often can''t judge good sound. One famous maker-dealer in New York got a marvelous cello, but only trusted Yo-Yo Ma to evaluate its sound."
Mei got her Morse violin three years ago. "It sounded definitely impressive. It had a very big, very smooth sound considering that it was brand new." Like all Morse instruments, the violin also has a distinctive look, with artistic details that the trained eye will spot instantly. Mei''s enthusiasm for her instrument has only grown. In fact, last year she used it to make a CD recording with her Chiaroscuro Duo partner, pianist Aileen Chango-Everett. Sonatas by Corigliano and Beethoven, and the Bach Chaconne show off the Morse instrument.
But, as Morse himself points out, "the sound of my instruments is not meant to be heard up close. I make concert violins that can fill a room. Many modern instruments are either real loud and unsophisticated or, if sophisticated, not of concert quality. With a true concert violin, the more you put in, the more you get out."
Morse cares so much about getting the optimum response and sound from his instruments that he prefers to form a service relationship with his clients, before and after the sale. "We spent hours readjusting my instrument," explains Mei, "adjusting the sound post, installing a new bridge. Gradually, it has found its ideal voice." Not only has her violin "opened up nicely," as Mei puts it, but "it''s much easier to play now."
As his violins mature, "two things should happen," says Morse. "The violin can play louder with the same sensitivity, and it will increasingly respond to your own dynamics. Your ''chi'' energy will come through."
As the legendary antique instruments of Cremona have priced themselves beyond the reach of most players, attention has shifted toward the high quality instruments being made today. But investment values are of secondary importance (at best) to working musicians.
"It wasn''t really a concern," she says. "I needed a good violin to play on and work with." For student instruments, Walton has referred her pupils to Chinese-born maker Scott Cao of Cupertino and dealer Hideo Kamimoto in San Jose.
"My instruments are not for everyone," warns Morse. "However, players a bit below the professional needs of my violins have chosen to buy them. In any case, you''ll find out what kind of musician you are." Lowering his voice seductively, he adds "They will reveal every bit of your soul."
Last Week''s Quiz: To whom was he referring when critic Harold Schonberg wrote, "There never was a sound like his; that heroic attack, that velvet suavity, that sheer, exultant joy in singing"?
Answer: Enrico Caruso.
This Week''s Quiz: What well-known wag noted, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is."?
Santa Cruz County Symphony Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 3pm. John Larry Granger conducts Ravel''s Alborada del Gracioso, Prokofiev''s Piano Concerto 3 in C with soloist Aaron Miller, Amy Beach''s Symphony in E Minor "Gaelic". Saturday: Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Sunday: Mello Center, East Beach & Lincoln, Watsonville. $17-32. 420-5260.
Hartnell Community Chorus Sunday, 2 and 3pm. Linda Taylor Keill conducts 30-minute program of Broadway favorites. National Steinbeck Center, 1 Main St., Salinas. Free, after regular admission ticket to Steinbeck Center. 775-4720