Instrument Bank grants rare violins, cellos to young artists

Posted September 27, 2012

The VCM is so excited for our alumni and this incredible honour. This story courtesy of CBC News.

Instrument Bank grants rare violins, cellos to young artists

Canada Council contest awards 3-year loans of fine instruments worth up to $11M

Two sibling violinists from Victoria are among the latest young Canadian classical music stars getting their hands on rare stringed instruments worth up to $11 million.

Nikki and Timothy Chooi, along with 16 others, have won three-year loans of valuable cellos and violins from the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank, which revealed the latest recipients Wednesday morning.

Elder sibling Nikki, 23, made the council’s cut for a second straight term.

Siblings Timothy, left, and Nikki Chooi have won three-year loans of the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù and ca. 1700 Taft Stradivari violins, respectively.Siblings Timothy, left, and Nikki Chooi have won three-year loans of the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù and ca. 1700 Taft Stradivari violins, respectively. (Donna Santos/Canada Council for the Arts)

In 2009, he chose the dark and powerful-sounding 1729 Guarneri del Gesu violin (valued at $5 million). This time around, he hoped to be able to pick something with a brighter sound to reflect the more “sparkling” repertoire he’s currently learning. He ultimately chose the ca. 1700 Taft Stradivari (also valued at $5 million).

“Playing the del Gesu for the last three years, it was an amazing journey… This time, I wanted to look for something that had kind of a brighter side,” Chooi told CBC News on Wednesday morning.

Currently pursuing a master’s degree at The Juilliard School in New York, he’s already discovered he must adjust his playing technique for the Strad, for instance using less pressure and increasing his bow speed — but he’s looking forward to expanding and developing his skills.

“How many people have the chance to change over from a del Gesu to a Strad? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and so I thought I’d take advantage of that,” Chooi said.

Valuable instruments

Many musicians prize the violins and cellos made in Cremona, Italy, by famous luthiers such as Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu, for their unique tonal expressiveness and projection. Despite centuries of technological advancement, modern violin-makers have been unable to duplicate their sound.

Instruments built by Stradivari, for instance, are especially prized. He built more than 1,100 instruments in his lifetime, about 650 of which survive today. In addition to the famous violins, there remain violas, cellos, 10-string guitars, mandolins and an arpetta, a small ornamental harp.

For Timothy Chooi, 18, having an older brother who knew the ropes of the competition’s audition and selection process was a bonus.

“It was a really great experience for me. It was really exciting,” he said from Philadelphia, where he is studying at Curtis Institute of Music.

“We always were together when we were trying out the violins. We played for each other. He told me what I sounded like and I told him what he sounded like.”

Timothy Chooi ultimately picked the del Gesu, saying he favoured the instrument after hearing his brother playing it. Also, once in his hands, it instantly felt comfortable, he added.

“It has a very dark and deep sound. I’ve always enjoyed that darkness in a violin … it has a lot of bass to it.”


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