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Notes on VSA winners

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Might anyone have observations to share about any of the winning instruments? Any surprises? Trends? Fun facts? I noticed Andrew Ryan's facebook has a photo of a winner's list with someones notes scrawled in the margins...things like model, straight or antiqued, setup choices, visual observations. And I figure everyone there noticed something interesting about the winning instruments. So spill it. Please and thank you.

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I wasn't at the convention, but friends who talked to me afterward commented on the stinginess of the judges to hand out the really high marks. Only one gold I believe for violin. Not a lot of tone awards either apparently. People who I talked to weren't necessarily upset with that, just their observations.

I would be curious to hear some of the older makers on the forum comment on the level of competition between recent years and years past.

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In all of the years when I tone judged at the VMAAI, there was only one violin that I recall - which absolutely blew all of us away.

Not that there wasn't a whole lot of beautiful violins there, and great sounding violins.

 

And yet, when something extraordinary comes along, as it will, every once in a while, well, usually everyone there (with a practiced ear) recognizes it when they hear it.

As well, I believe, as the instrument players, playing for the competition, do also. Some competitions were 'the norm', and awards given were always , it seemed to me at least, very fair.

 

But when that one extraordinary sounding instrument comes along, it's hard NOT to hear and award it very high marks for excellence.

Some years, though, it was (and probably still is) pretty ordinary. 

I don't think that judges are usually "stingy" - but many times, they simply don't hear much of what it is they strive to hear.

(and yes I have been to VSA competitions also.)

 

An extraordinary tone that really stands out.

One that, for whatever reason grabs you and pulls you in.

So, even though I cannot comment on very recent years, I can comment on what it it that I have heard and judged.

and why some years seem fairly usual or ordinary, and some years, infrequently, rise above the "norm" or the usual.

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I want to pass on Todd Goldenberg's comment to me: Anyone focusing solely on VSA Awards is missing the whole point of the Convention. For me, this was the best VSA Convention because I learned a lot and made more friends.

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I want to pass on Todd Goldenberg's comment to me: Anyone focusing solely on VSA Awards is missing the whole point of the Convention. For me, this was the best VSA Convention because I learned a lot and made more friends.

 

:-)

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My first competition attendance.  Wonderful time with a full fork of brain matter from all those I picked.  And hanging with Mike Molnar and Don Noon was great fun as well as greatly informative.

 

While I can't make any comparisons with previous years, a few of my observations:

 

1.  The whole meeting was very well run, thanks to Lori Weinberger Kirr, outgoing president, and the rest of the board and staff.

2.   A wide range of quality in the instruments submitted, both fresh and antiqued.

3.  I was struck by the balance between the two styles among the instruments making it into the violin workmanship medal round.

4.  I had the privilege to scribe for Robert Cauer, one of the workmanship judges.  I can't recommend the experience highly enough for those who are willing to make the commitment of time.  Yes, I missed the presentations on those days, but came home with the bags on the bags under my eyes holding back the mountain of information crammed into my cranium.

5.  The willingness to share information and insights was not limited to MNers.  I would have a hard time counting on more than one hand the number of folks who it seems might not been willing to do so.  

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Hi Julian,

 

I echo many of your sentiments.  I just got back and as with most VSAs, the overwhelming feeling that I come away form these conventions is the sense of wanting to push my work in reactiokn to some of the instruments and makers whose work made me think in new directions, or feel a jot of inspiration.  This was my first time judging; it was difficult, and an honor, and I was deeply impressed with the level of the some of the new instruments, particularly, this time, the pristine finishes.  The top five pristine cellos were incredibly strong.  I hope that younger makers took a long look at Goodfellows, Kostovs, Levaggis, Dobners, and Nagaishi's cellos and had some take-aways.   A pleasure to judge such technically fine and personal work.  Thanks again to all the scribes who stuck in there even during the wee wee hour of the night! 

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  The top five pristine cellos were incredibly strong.  I hope that younger makers took a long look at Goodfellows, Kostovs, Levaggis, Dobners, and Nagaishi's cellos and had some take-aways.  

 

Could you please elaborate with some specifics ? 

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I would be curious to hear some of the older makers on the forum comment on the level of competition between recent years and years past.

 

With Jeff Phillips and Feng Jiang kicked out of competing for being too good, that makes 2 less high-quality entrants.  Not a huge percentage, out of nearly 200 violins.  However, it was my impression that there were a lot less of the low-level hobby makers... perhaps due to the elevated entry cost.  So, I thought the level is continuing to go up.

 

Did the tone judges express what they were looking for but didn't find? It seems that they should have offered some explanation.

 

The following day, the string quartet (all of them were tone judges, I believe) played some of the winning instruments (and at least one non-winning instrument) and discussed what they found.  It was interesting that they agreed that they were unanimous in their decisions in the final round, yet also found some instruments that they liked... but didn't win anything.

 

I nabbed Elmar in the competition room and had him critique my violin.  His main complaint was restricted dynamic range... reaching a high output at moderate (for him) bowing, but then unable to get more power when "really digging in"... which is impressively energetic and far beyond any level I ever reach.

 

The quartet players I suspect were more focused on tonal balance rather than ability to handle massive power... and perhaps the lack of tone awards in violin is due to looking for different things, with less chance to satisfy them all.  I nabbed Fan Tao (not a judge, but quartet player and a great resource for tonal critique) to play my violin, and the complaint was not about dynamic range, but too much snap and grit on the low strings.

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The winner violin had a very strong sounding third finger note on the E string, in my impression, playing it. Besides that, it was very even. According to Fan Tao the maker is associated with, or have an background from, the Florian Leonard workshop. It basically looked like a fine old violin.

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The winner violin had a very strong sounding third finger note on the E string, in my impression, playing it. Besides that, it was very even. According to Fan Tao the maker is associated with, or have an background from, the Florian Leonard workshop. It basically looked like a fine old violin.

That is Gabor Draskocsy....an incredibly talented maker and humble guy....The level is raised yet again

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I nabbed Elmar in the competition room and had him critique my violin.  His main complaint was restricted dynamic range... reaching a high output at moderate (for him) bowing, but then unable to get more power when "really digging in"... which is impressively energetic and far beyond any level I ever reach.

 

This is the best little jewel I have read about the competition.

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 ...His main complaint was restricted dynamic range...

 

...the complaint was not about dynamic range, but too much snap and grit on the low strings.

 

...perhaps the lack of tone awards in violin is due to looking for different things

I thought I read the judging criteria involved suitability for a professional player in some general way instead of personal preference.  But you got first-hand evaluation on personal preference twice...

 

But I think it should be possible to make a violin that everyone likes even if it wasn't particularly their cup of tea (yet), like one that was just unusually smooth and with the right amount of depth and projection.  As a formerly experienced player...one thing that seems to help with an overall impression of cohesiveness is 4th finger that is practically indistinguishable tonally from the next open string.  All the way from the G to the E. 

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 4th finger that is practically indistinguishable tonally from the next open string.  All the way from the G to the E. 

I am not sure 4th finger could (neither should) be totally indistinguishable form the next open string. In such case there would be not much sense to create any "musical-phrasing" fingerings. Moreover, such feature is related also to the strings the instrument is equipped with. 

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Haha!...come on.... a violin competition is a fair bit less serious and more stupid than a dog show!

...When you guys are at a conference sniffing each others bottoms I will be down the road actually interacting with musicians

That is Gabor Draskocsy....an incredibly talented maker and humble guy....The level is raised yet again

Would that be the level of the dog show or the bottom sniffing?

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I am not sure 4th finger could (neither should) be totally indistinguishable form the next open string. In such case there would be not much sense to create any "musical-phrasing" fingerings. Moreover, such feature is related also to the strings the instrument is equipped with. 

I agree. Part of the potential, and the excitement of a violin is that it doesn't sound the same on all strings (why else would someone play in 5th position on the G string, when the notes could more easily be played on the A string?)

 

And a violin doesn't sound the same on all notes, having a potentially wide range of tonal color, even within the vibrato range of a single note. Vibrato which consists of frequency modulation alone can sound rather boring, compared to vibrato which also involves frequency spectrum (tone color and volume) modulation. This can really make the sound "pop"!

 

It's just one more example of how simplistically defined "ideal" sound, such as the sound being uniform and seamless, doesn't always cut it in the real human listener interest world.

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You're taking it too far.  I said it's highly desirable if 4th fingers tonally match the open string.  I didn't say the outer limits of the G string need to sound like the E string.  And no need to bring up vibrato.

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  And no need to bring up vibrato.

I really think there is, and the spectrum and directional spikes which can be a part of vibrato on violins. I wouldn't consider these to be anything at all trivial, when it comes to perception and enjoyment of violin sound.

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