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The Cleveland Quartet, founded in 1968, was among the top string quartets in the world until it disbanded in 1995.   Originally in residence at Cleveland Institute of Music, the four musicians moved together as a quartet to State University of University of New York at Buffalo and then to Eastman School of Music. During the quartet’s history, some musicians left the quartet and were replaced.   But in 1995, the quartet decided to disband. Years of international travel had taken their toll, and the musicians wanted to…
A fine string instrument is an expensive purchase. Professional level instruments are hand-made by individual luthiers. Each instrument is unique and has its own history. Sometimes, that history is reflected in scratches and repairs. Many blemishes and repairs only add character to the instrument, but others impact the sound quality or value.   Violinists may select a violin based upon how it sounds and how well it fits the individual musician’s playing style. But better sound or condition don’t necessarily translate to a higher cost.  …
Professional classical musicians typically have a lot of education and training. Most have master’s degrees, and many have doctorates. They are the original “gig economy.” Many are over 30 years old before they land a professional orchestra position or full-time teaching job which provides them with a living wage. Even then, the musicians must absorb their own costs for an instrument, repairs, and supplies like strings, reeds, and rosin. As a result, most professional classical…
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, wandmaker Ollivander notes that each wand is different and that “the wand chooses the wizard.”  Despite the unique relationship between a wand and wizard, Ollivander was the most sought after wandmaker in the wizarding world. The relationship between violinists and their violins is so special it might be said that the violin chooses the violinist. Yet, like wizards sought after Ollivander wands, generations of top violinists have aspired…
Many people stereotype musical instruments. For instance, people think of the flute and harp as feminine instruments while the trumpet and drums are considered masculine.  Some teachers and parents steer children to instruments based upon gender. Instrumental stereotypes result in gender imbalances in professional orchestra.  A survey of the top 20 US orchestras revealed that ninety-five percent of professional harpists and 68% of professional flutists are female. But only six percent of professional percussionists…
Recently, the New York Philharmonic’s music director, Jaap van Zweden injured his shoulder and wasn’t able to conduct the orchestra when it performed Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Simone Young, a well-established, female, Australian conductor came to the rescue, and with short notice, conducted the Philharmonic for the first time in twenty years.  A last-minute pinch hit is impressive for any conductor. It is even more impressive when the performance is of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. At 90 minutes in length, Mahler’s Sixth is a true endurance piece. Comprising four movements,…
A few years ago, I was amused to learn that playing the violin registered as steps on my Fitbit, sometimes adding up to thousands of “steps” in a single practice period. I didn’t even think of counting violin playing as my daily exercise, but then I thought again. Playing the violin requires a strong back and core. After all, holding one’s arms in the air for extended periods is hardly a natural position. Other instruments…
In an orchestra, it wouldn’t work if individual musicians played whatever notes they wanted. They need to play the notes the composer wrote. It also wouldn’t work for individual orchestra musicians to infuse their own musical interpretations into the music. The conductor is the ultimate arbiter of musical interpretation. It is the orchestra musicians’ job to perform the music accurately and to deliver the conductor’s interpretation. Orchestra musicians who don’t follow the conductor are likely…
Handel’s Water Music is one of the most famous pieces of classical music. The Water Music is actually about 21 orchestral pieces, which usually are published in three suites. But many people do not know that the music was composed for performance on water. The Water Music was composed for King George I. At its premiere on July 17, 1717, a 50-member orchestra, performed the music on a barge while floating up the Thames, with…
Sometimes, contract provisions result in unintended consequences. In Cobras, Mortgages, and Violas: What are Your Contracts and Policies Incentivizing?, I discussed how a contract provision might incentivize (or disincentivize) human behavior. In that article, a music teacher had disincentivized students from switching from violin to viola by giving them poor grades when they couldn’t immediately play the new instrument well. I discussed how modification of the incentives might have changed the result. Sometimes, policies also…