Thursday, June 10, 2010

Behind the Music: Brooklyn Rider's instruments

Together, they're worth more than your house

Posted by Erica Jackson on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 3:35 PM

nicholascords.jpg

At their concert Tuesday night, Brooklyn Rider proved themselves to be masters of their instruments. And while the Brooklyn-based quartet’s skills impressed us, we couldn’t help but wonder about their hard-working violins, viola, and cello. Violist Nick Cords took a few minutes this afternoon to introduce us to the unofficial members of their group: The instruments.

The two violins and the viola were made as part of a quartet by Sam Zygmuntowicz, also based in Brooklyn. (Yo Yo Ma owns the set’s cello, which is why it’s called the Silk Road Set.) “He’s considered by many, if not most, as the greatest living maker,” Cords says. “A lot of the great chamber makers and soloists are playing Sam’s instruments. A number of the musicians this year with Chamber Music are playing his instruments.”

And they’re not easy to come by — there’s a five-year waiting list for Zygmuntowicz’s creations, and they’re pricey, too. As Cords puts it, you could purchase a brand new BMW 5 Series for about the same price.

“Violin making is a tradition, but at some point Sam wasn’t happy with that,” Cords says. “He wanted to know why this stuff was actually true. He’s reinvented the project for himself, which is pretty cool — it’s what we do in music all the time, making it relevant for the present.”

Zygmuntowicz uses high-tech methods for understanding and creating his instruments, including the Strad3D Project, which took three Cremonese violins to a lab for CAT scans, laser imaging, and acoustic analysis.

“It’s pretty stunning,” Cords says. “He has this intellect and capacity to process all of this. They’re not radically different from great makers of the past ... And as great as a Stradivarius is, you’ll never be able to work with Strad.”

The question is, can listeners tell a difference between a Zygmuntowicz, a million-dollar Stradivarius, or something more affordable?

“It’s really the product of the musician,” Cords says. “I look at the instrument as a great tool and friend to accomplish what you see in the music, and to communicate with people, not as a thing unto itself. Sam’s instruments are great tools.”

We didn’t get a chance to speak with cellist Eric Jacobsen about his instrument, though Cords says it’s a very rare Italian piece from the early 18th century. We imagine you could buy several BMWs for what it’s worth.

Brooklyn Rider is set to play once more before heading back north. They’ll be at the Simons Center Recital Hall at 9 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $25. Don’t miss the chance to hear some amazing musicians, and their equally amazing instruments.

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