There were 12 instruments, six old and six new, with new ones “antiqued” to appear older. The violinists, 10 professional soloists, had more time: 75 minutes in a rehearsal room and 75 minutes in a 300-seat concert hall, both in Paris. They used their own bows, compared the test violins with their own, and could choose to have a listener provide feedback, and to have a piano accompanist. At one point, an orchestra accompanied them; the results of that segment will be published in a later study.
Six soloists chose a new violin for a theoretical concert tour. One particular new violin, with a loud, assertive sound, was favored by four, perhaps because as soloists, they thought about projecting sound over an orchestra, researchers said. The soloists rated new violins higher, on average, for playability, articulation and projection. And their guesses of which violins were new or old were no better than chance.
However, old habits die hard:
Earl Carlyss, a longtime member of the Juilliard String Quartet, said subjectivity and individuality were key. “It isn’t just the instrument, it’s the player,” he said. “If you’re comfortable with an instrument, automatically it’s a plus, and the newer instruments, they respond easily.”
Nonetheless, he said, “I don’t know any great soloist who has a Strad or Guarneri who is trading it in for a new instrument.”
That makes sense. If a performer is confident in his/her instrument (whether it be a violin, a pair of shoes for a dancer, or a particular baseball bat for a player), he/she will probably do better.
By the way, although the sponsors of the study refuse to say which new violins were involved, new-violin manufacturer Curtin was one of the originators of the research, so I’m guessing that at least one Curtin violin was involved in the experiment (I’d guess that another might have been a Rhonheimer, the fungus-treated violin). Lest you think Curtin violins are going for a song (as it were), prices start at $40,000. Still that’s a whole lot cheaper than a Strad.
[Hat tip: Instapundit.]