Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Of Violins And Cameras Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 March 2017

We awoke this morning to the sweet strains of violinist Mira Wang playing the newly-restored Totenburg violin. Stolen by a student 36 years ago, the Stradivarius was recovered by the FBI last year and returned to the stage in Wang's hands March 8.

The Violin. It's like meeting a stranger.

We were still in that dream-like state when lousy ideas seem like genius and we began to wonder what would happen if our camera had been stolen only to be recovered by the FBI decades later. Would iy make pictures as sweet as the music Wang coaxed out of the Strad?

In the NPR story, Wang made an interesting point about getting acquainted with the instrument in her interview with NPR's Nina Totenburg, which we feel obliged to quote at length:

"It's like meeting a new stranger, but the most fabulous stranger you can imagine," she says.

Musicians know that every great instrument is like an individual, she observes. "So when I first got it, I truly thought the violin hated me. Great masterpieces like these they have their own character. They don't let you do anything you like. So as a player, being able to control the violin, it's always a tricky business."

"You need time to learn how ... to be friends with the instrument, and what it likes and what it doesn't, and to discover the beauty of the true great master, you just need time," she adds.

Just like with a camera, we thought, groggily. Or a new lens. (Or even, we whisper parenthetically, software.) They are strangers at first, strangers you like, you want to get to know. You spend time with them. You learn what they can and can't do. What makes them sing.

Oh, that would be a great piece for Photo Corners, we thought, turning over and burying our head in the warm pillow.

But then we remembered our hands-down favorite violin recording of all time.

But then we remembered our hands-down favorite violin recording of all time.

"For Regina Carter," the story begins, "it was the chance of a lifetime." She was allowed to play the Italian composer Niccolo Paganini's 260 year-old Guarneri violin, known affectionately as the Cannon for its deeply stirring sound.

Paganini left the Cannon to the city of Genoa, which has kept it in a vault, let out only rarely and only then to play classical music. Carter first was invited to play it for a concert in December 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks as a (nervous) show of solidarity with the U.S. There was some fear that playing jazz on the Cannon would temper its fire.

Carter didn't get much time with the treasure.

"It was pretty scary," she says. "I got to the city hall where they were keeping the violin and they put me in this small room and I'm waiting. Then they brought it in and it was very dramatic. They came into the room and snatched the red velvet curtains closed because the sun was too bright. They checked the heaters, they brought in a table and put a cloth on it. It was the wrong kind of table, so they changed the table and laid the velvet cloth out and opened it."

"Oh, my God," Carter thought, "what's going to come out of this case?"

A year later, she was allowed to play the Guarneri again and recorded that CD we were telling you about: Paganini: After a Dream. If you haven't heard Carter play Piazzolla's Oblivion and Ennio Morrricone's Cinema Paradiso theme on the Cannon, you are missing a rare treat. Put a towel around your shoes. You will melt.

The Camera. Like water to a duck.

Of course, this sort of screws up our premise about gear being a stranger you have to get to know. Carter, after all, didn't get to practice on the Guarneri for a month like Wang on the Strad.

And just to rub a little sea salt into the wound, guys like Kirk Tuck (who we link to regularly in our Around The Horn articles) seem able to jump from one brand of gear to another, one lens to another, still to video, walking to swimming as if it were all second nature to begin with.

So we're not sure this argument of becoming acquainted is at all what it seemed at first. It could be just another terrific procrastination aid for putting off some attractive purchase.

We got up, made some coffee and decided we'd have to think about it a while. You know, get acquainted with the idea first, before we wrote about it.

BackBack to Photo Corners