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Violinist and Metropolitan Opera concertmaster Benjamin Bowman has spent his entire playing career in search of ever more subtle and responsive bows. Here, he charts his journey to finding his ‘forever bow’, and advises string players on how they, too, can invest in this most important of assets
Almost everyone knows what a violin is. Many people know the name Stradivari. Some people want a Strad, for a variety of reasons. Strads represent and embody sheer power, beauty, mystery and, ultimately, an ideal. Most non-musicians know what a violin looks and sounds like. They know that it goes on your shoulder, under your chin, and that it’s high-pitched. When they mimic a violinist, they usually extend one arm outwards to represent the instrument, and almost invariably they also pinch together the index finger and thumb of their other hand, hanging the wrist downwards in front of them and moving the arm back and forth. What they lack in technique, they possess in intuition. One must create sound on the violin with a bow! But even among string players, the bow’s reputation lurks in the shadows waiting to be recognised as an equal partner. Bows are mysterious. But bows are our voice.
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