“This spawned worldwide discussion,” says Glen Kwok, IVCI executive director, as it had long been assumed a qualified violinist would be able to instantly tell the difference between an Old Italian–made instrument and a contemporary one. Twenty-one musicians, ranging from IVCI contestants and jurors to ISO members, were presented with three modern violins, two Stradivarius, and one del Gesu to play for 20 minutes in a dimly lit room while wearing dark goggles, with the goal of discerning which instrument they would most want to keep. In the end, 13 participants chose a new instrument to take home—and a circa-1700 Stradivarius was distinctly disliked. Convinced of a fluke, the violin world demanded a recount when these results were published, and Fritz obliged with another experiment in a Parisian concert hall with 10 world-class violin soloists in 2012. The results were the same.
Before you develop buyer’s remorse on your $4 million Strad, Kwok explains, “It’s not taking anything away from the Old Italians to say the contemporary guys have raised their making skills to such a level that had never existed before. It’s a real test of modern makers.”
Wood It Matter?
Theories on why your violin will never sound as good as a Strad:
Wet Wood: Stradivarius might have stored his wood in a Venice lagoon prior to crafting, allowing a perfect amount of rot to create pores in the wood for wonderful resonance.
Cold Wood: Thanks to the Little Ice Age (1645–1750), tree growth was stunted, resulting in extra-dense wood and beautiful tonality in violins.
Holy Wood: Some say Stradivarius salvaged wood from old cathedrals to get that angelic depth of sound.