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    Newton South sophomore plays one-of-a-kind violin

    Posted Feb 26, 2008 @ 12:34 PM

    Her brown eyes fixed on the sheet music in front of her, 15-year-old Calla Tse carefully draws her bow across the small violin tucked under her chin, repeating a single note from Gustav Mahler’s first symphony over and over until the conductor is satisfied.

    Lost among a sea of violins, Calla’s instrument looks like any other. If anything, it appears a little dark and worn-looking compared to the glossy, new violins of the other performers.

    Carefully built over three months by Cremonese violinmaker Marco Coppiardi, the violin is a replica of a 1734 Guarneri owned by Roman Totenberg. Everything about the violin — from the color of its varnish to the warmth of its tone — has been customized to Calla’s preference.

    And it didn’t come cheap: Coppiardi’s violins generally fetch around $25,000.

    But Calla’s father, restaurateur Billy Tse, has no doubt that the investment was worth it.

    “Some people say music is a luxury,” said Tse. “But for me, music for a kid is necessary, because it’s something the kid will own forever.”


    Having joined the elite Boston Youth Symphony at the age of 12, the petite teenager is as uncommon as her instrument.

    Calla first picked up music when, at the age of 5, she wandered through a music school where her older sister was learning piano. By the time she left, Calla knew she wanted to play violin.

    Ten years later, she’s still not sure why.

    “I guess I just fell in love with violin,” she said.

    Though shy in person, Calla is at home on the stage. Over the years, she has performed at the Suzuki School of Newton and the New England Conservatory, and competed in the Lasker Young Soloist Competition and the Bay State Competition.

    “It’s, like, intense work, but it’s all worth it in the end, when your hard work pays off,” the Newton South sophomore said during a break at Boston University’s School of Fine Arts.

    Before she was even a teenager, Calla’s teacher began pushing her to audition for the Boston Youth Symphony, the most advanced ensemble of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. At the age of 12, she became the youngest member of the symphony, which includes nearly 100 students up to age 18.

    “It was difficult, it took some getting used to,” Calla said. “It’s not just you, you have to pay attention to everyone.”

    Calla’s longtime teacher, Jin-Kyung Joen, said the teenager is a natural.

    “She has a good sense of sound, she had that from the very beginning playing with me,” she said. “You don’t always see that good sense of sound from the younger students.”


    About a year after joining the symphony, Calla was walking out of a lesson at the New England Conservatory when her teacher, Jin-Kyung Joen, called her back into the classroom.

    One of Joen’s friends had stopped by with a replica of a violin designed by Antonio Stradiavari, an Italian who is said to have perfected the instrument in the early 18th century. Joen thought Calla should give it a try.

    So Calla picked up the instrument and played a few notes. She was sold.

    “I fell in love with the tone and the quality,” she recalled. “I wanted one of my own.”

    So when her family decided the young prodigy needed to trade in her rented three-quarters violin for a full-sized instrument, they called Marco Coppiardi, the Italian violinmaker Calla had met in Joen’s classroom that day.

    Born and raised in a the same Italian city where competing families of violin makers gave birth to the modern violin nearly 300 years ago, Coppiardi has devoted his life to building and restoring violins. On average, the master violinmaker makes only four instruments in a year.

    Not long after their first conversation, the Tse family came into Coppiardi’s studio on Newbury Street in Boston to talk about Calla’s violin. Though she had fallen in love with a Stradiavari, Coppiardi recommended she consider the smaller Guarneri, which was made around the same time, but might be a better fit for the young violinist.

    To build the violin, Coppiardi worked from an original Guarneri owned by Roman Totenberg, a Polish-American violinist who, like Calla, performed with his first symphony before he turned 13.

    Coppiardi took care to use the same materials that Giuseppe Guarneri used to make the instrument three centuries earlier: spruce from the Italian Alps, maple from Bosnia and a varnish made from linseed oil, damar rosin, amber, mastic and shellac.

    When the violin was complete, violinmaker and violinist sat down to find the sound Calla was looking for, moving a spruce “sound post” within the body of the violin to adjust the sound and color.

    “While on the surface she appears shy, she actually has a strong personality, so she was looking for that in a sound,” Coppiardi said of Calla. “As we’re adjusting the instrument, there’s no words that need to be exchanged. All of a sudden we know, when the sound is best.”

    “I saw her eyes and I know, ‘Ah, now we have it.’”

    The result, Calla said, was a violin with a richer “color” and softer tone. Joen, her teacher, described it as “peculiarly dark and dramatic.”

    Joen said that Calla, with her mature sense of sound, can appreciate the Guarneri violin in ways that other young students might not.

    “A player who has good sense of sound is naturally attracted to a instrument that has a good sound, which is distinctive,” she said. “It is a good combination of the player and instrument.”

    But Calla speaks casually about her violin, and even more casually about her talent. When asked if she would like to play violin professionally, Calla is unsure.

    “I’m not sure about that,” she said. “I’d like to keep it going.”

    Neal Simpson can be reached at


    NPR - Sale of rare Stradivarius 

    Marco Coppiardi, the only U.S. violin-maker working exclusively with the materials and techniques used by the violin-making masters of 16th-centruy Cremona, Italy, announced today the sale of an original, early Stradivarius violin priced over $1 million. Coppiardi served as broker between the instrument's seller, and buyer.

    The sale, the first by Coppiardi of a Stradivarius, represents a unique fusion of the violin-making/restoration profession, and the brokerage of collectible instruments. A native of Cremona, Italy, where Stradivari ran his shop, Coppiardi has been studying, restoring, and producing exact replicas of Stradivarius instruments throughout his 31-year career. His thorough understanding of their characteristics, their sound and their value make him an ideal intermediary in this type of sale. He has previously brokered the sale of several other vintage, Cremonese violins.

    "I am honored to have been entrusted with the sale of this early Stradivarius violin, and pleased to announce that the transaction is complete. As a violin-maker, I regularly handle some of the world's finest instruments and am in touch with many musicians and collectors around the globe, so I often find myself in a position to match buyers with sellers. In these difficult economic times, both buyers and sellers seem to be more eager than ever, whether for liquidation or investment purposes. It is extremely gratifying to see this arrangement come to fruition, and I look forward to implementing similar deals in the future," said Coppiardi.

    The violin, circa 1671, is one of a small handful produced by celebrated violin-maker Antonios Stradivari over the course of that year and one of only about 700 Stradivarius instruments in existence. Early Stradivarius violins have long been favorites of soloists including Joshua Bell and David Oistrakh.

    The seller and the buyer both wish to remain anonymous.


    Channel 5 July 29, 2009