Player An active soloist and chamber musician based in New York, Stefan Jackiw is a graduate of Harvard and the New England Conservatory, and a 2002 recipient of an Avery Fisher career grant.
Bow F.N. Voirin from sometime in the mid-19th century. “My bow is quite light and has an octagonal stick. It is a bit difficult to control because it is so sensitive, but the trade-off is that it is capable of producing a huge range of colors, due to its sensitivity.”
Condition “My violin is in remarkably pristine condition, partly because it was not played very intensely before I started using it. It has a lovely dark-brown varnish and a beautiful one-piece back.”
Is this your primary violin?
Yes, my one and only.
How does it compare to your previous primary violin?
I acquired this instrument when I was 16. From ages 14 to 16, I used a violin made by a violin-making student at a luthier summer camp. So, needless to say, the Rugeri was quite a step up. Still, I had some nice experiences with my previous violin.
What gift does this violin bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other instrument?
What I love most about this instrument is its versatility and range of colors. It does not have the largest sound, and there are violins out there with a more intoxicatingly gorgeous intrinsic tone. But, I often feel that my own voice gets lost in the sometimes monochromatic beauty of other instruments. My violin is a flexible vessel for my own musical voice and personality, and I feel its range has helped me grow as a player and interpreter.
How does it inspire you as a performer?
I don’t derive much inspiration from the instrument itself. I’m inspired by the music I’m playing, and the people I’m playing with, and I view my violin as a tool to express that inspiration.
What is its history?
I don’t know much about whose hands my violin was in, before it came to mine. We leave our emotional baggage at the door.
Have you thought about the people who have handled it before you?
I’m grateful that whoever had it took such good care of it, but beyond that, I’m more focused on figuring out how to make it sing and speak.
How did you come into possession of this violin?
Finding an instrument is a complicated, and often long, process. I searched for about two years, during which time I used the violin I mentioned by the luthier-in-training. During the search, I probably tried over 100 violins. Some I knew right away weren’t for me. Others I loved at first but tired of them or simply fell out of love with them after a while.
This violin I loved from the beginning, partly because I felt comfortable with it, and also because I felt it merged with my own musical voice.
This symbiotic relationship grew during my trial period with it. (The dealer was very generous to let me try it for a couple months in concerts before making a decision.) I’ve never second-guessed my choice of this instrument. Some days it sounds better than others, like all of us, but I know I made the right decision.
I searched all over the United States and Europe and ultimately found this violin at Reuning & Son Violins in my hometown, Boston.
Do you own it? Is it on loan? Can you share the value?
I own it and, for me, it is priceless.
What is your instrument’s personality?
My violin has a darker tone, but beyond that, I don’t feel it has a particular personality. It feels more like a flexible tool that can take on all my different personalities.
What are its strengths and limitations?
Its greatest strength is its versatility. It has a tendency sometimes to have a narrow core to the sound, so I’m often conscious of adjusting my playing to overcome that. For example, I’ve started paying more attention to playing with flat bow hair, as opposed to a tilted stick, which yields a fuller sound.
What are its likes and dislikes?
My violin is not a fan of change. Traveling from one climate to another can make it cranky for a few days, but it’s usually able to settle down and make peace with whatever environment it ends up in. And, like me, it hates terrible concert halls.
Have you given your instrument a name?
Yes, but it never responds when I address it.
When and how did you truly learn who your violin is, the soul of the instrument?
I feel that the soul of the violin is really my soul. I’m the one playing it, and drawing sound and colors from it. It’s a reflection of who I am as an artist and what I value and love in music. I think—and hope—my soul is continuously growing and changing, and I know that my violin reflects that change.
Have you ever done anything that might have robbed your instrument of its “mojo?”
I’ve experimented with different setups. Different strings, different tailpiece, soundpost, bridge, even pegs make a difference.
Although I now live in New York, I have a luthier in Boston whom I visit regularly, and he has improved the sound through small changes over the years. Some changes immediately yield a better sound, while others seem to confuse the violin for a while and take a couple weeks to settle. But, I’ve never gone wrong following my luthier’s advice.
If given the ability, what would your violin say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
It’s hard for me to imagine this scenario, since my violin only drinks espresso.