By Philip Kass
Strings Magazine, July 2010

Strad vs. Guarneri

How complicated are the dynamics of a professional violin? A legendary head-to-head battle between dueling rare old Italians helps to illustrate this point.

Bill Moennig, Jr., told me years ago that Isaac Stern and David Oistrakh came to Moennig’s Philadelphia violin shop during Oistrakh’s first tour of the United States. Stern played the “Panette” Guarneri, Oistrakh a Strad on loan from the Soviet government. At one point during the visit, the two violin virtuosos traded instruments and discovered that they couldn’t get a decent sound—their playing styles were partially dictated by their instruments and were completely incompatible with one another’s.

Of course, Strads are notoriously finicky and require fabulous skill and control, but this head-to-head battle illustrates that each of these coveted instruments has its own personal style and requires the player to play it by its own rules. —Philip Kass

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