Monday, November 22, 2010

The Violin Society of America 2010 Convention

The 2010 VSA Convention was our biggest and most successful convention ever, with over 500 instruments and bows entered in the competition. The list of winners are here. Congratulations to Jeff Phillips who won Gold Medals for his violin and viola, and Peter Goodfellow who won a Gold Medal for his cello! Congratulations to all the other medal and certificate winners as well, and all those who competed. The standards rise every year and there were some excellent instruments that did not even win awards!

There was simply not enough time, even over a whole week, to attend all of the interesting activities and presentations and catch up with friends and colleagues. There was a wonderful study exhibit of Old Italian and French Masters organized by Jim Warren which showed the fascinating connections between the various makers: I was drawn to an exquisite Rogeri next to one of his Maggini copies which had previously been attributed to Maggini himself.

My favorite instruments were in the Hors Concours and Innovation Exhibit room, which I help organize. We had a gorgeous exhibit of VSA Hors Concours winners (VSA Competition winners who are no longer eligible to compete because they won too many Gold medals!) plus other past competition winners and the competition judges. I saw for the first time a bow by bow judge Stephane Thomachot, one of the most influential living bow makers. I spent many hours with Hors Concours bow maker Gregor Walbrodt: his viola bow was so fantastically balanced and handled so well that it could have been mistaken for a violin bow! Hors Concours bow maker and newly elected VSA President Rodney Mohr had a large selection of bows on display, the most interesting and fun being his 4G bass bow. It is so beautifully made that one only noticed on closer inspection that it was made out of recycled materials and pieces of pernambuco laminated together. Embedded in the frog was a 4Gigabyte memory chip that can be hooked up to a computer USB port!

One of my favorite violins in the exhibit was by Joseph Grubaugh and Sigrun Seifert, but the star of the show was a bass guitar they made inspired by an old guitarron. Look at that gorgeous back (picture of Joe and bass guitar at right)! Joe had a cardboard model of a viola they plan to make using a similar technique of bending the plates.

Here are some interesting presentations I heard: Christina Linsenmeyer, curator at the new Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix, Arizona…Innovative bass maker Jim Ham who has turned his attention cellos, violas and violins…Alex Sobolev and John Bell on rapid manufacturing techniques for the 21st century, and their digital violin project…The latest research results from our “Vieuxtemps” del Gesu project, with Joseph Curtin showing the apparent importance of the acoustic response due to the excitation of the bridge in the previously neglected vertical direction, and Terry Borman showing modal animations integrated with CT scan data…Hors Concours bow makers David Samuels and Yannick Le Canu discussing Dominique Peccatte… Bernd Musing of Arcus discussing carbon fiber materials for violins and bows, and how the frequency of the first bending mode for a bow stick affects sound…Violin maker and historical researcher Carlo Chiesa on little known facts about Cremonese makers delivered in his unique entertaining style…David Gage on bass setup…Tom Croen on fingerboards…Ned Steinberger showing his latest lightweight NS Electric violin…Jeff Van Fossen and Roger Zabinski of Coda Bow discussing how they design their carbon fiber bows.

Other memorable activities: playing Doug Martin’s latest ultralight balsa violins – their aesthetics remind me of the instruments portrayed in Picasso and Braque’s Cubist paintings…Discussions and debates on violin acoustics, competitions and other topics with many people, often at midnight…Watching competition judge Bill Scott giving critique to competition competitors with the utmost patience, tirelessly …Watching David Samuels plane a bow blank at the Bow Forum…Playing most of the 200 violins in the competition!