The violin-making commission that helped convince luthiers Gregg Alf and Joseph Curtin to move to, and set up a violin-building shop in, Ann Arbor nearly 30 years ago recently set a new world auction record for an instrument made by a living artisan.
Violin maker Gregg Alf repairing a violin in his workshop last year. (Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News file photo)
By Jenn McKee | firstname.lastname@example.org
on October 29, 2013 at 11:00 AM, updated October 29, 2013 at 11:07 AM
The violin – made by former business partners Alf and Curtin in 1985 for then U-M music department faculty member Ruggiero Ricci (now deceased) – sold at Tarisio in New York for $132,000. Previously, the auction record was $130,000, for a violin sold in May 2003.
“These days, if you have 2 or more bidders who really want it, that can happen,” Alf said during a recent phone interview. (Alf is now living and working in Venice, Italy, having extended what was originally slated to be a 1-year stay into a 2-year stay.) “ … With relatively new violins, if it sounds good, and has a nice appearance, people consider it as an option to older instruments.”
Alf doesn’t know who ultimately purchased the violin at last week’s auction. “But I will eventually, since the buyer asked for me to write a letter of authentication,” he said.
What is it about Ricci’s violin that drove up the auction price, and made it so appealing to buyers?
“It’s a really great sounding violin,” said Alf. “I tried it … a couple of weeks before the auction and got some really amazing sounds from it. … And it was played by a great artist. Someone with a concept of sound who created that consistently as a concert artist.”
Yes, a popular theory (among luthiers and string players) is that the skill of a player can have a long-term impact on the quality of an instrument’s sound.
“That’s a controversial thing to say,” said Alf. “ … It’s like the violin remembers the way it was played, the way it was vibrating, and this makes it easier to play and make a beautiful sound. Scientists would note there’s zero evidence for this, but if you ask a room full of string players, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, that happens.’ … Making violins is a mysterious craft.”
Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for The Ann Arbor News. Reach her at email@example.com or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.